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The Titanic sank exactly 100 years ago this week – a disaster exploited over the years by Hollywood and the ideological left. Their narrative bears little resemblance to what in fact happened in the early-morning darkness of April 15, 1912.
The Titanic storyline embraced by left-leaning filmmakers, writers, and university professors is right out of “Das Kapital.” To them, the disaster happened because heartless capitalists put profits ahead of human lives. They falsly claim that this is why the Titanic had too few lifeboats. Above all, leftist ideologues vilify the Titanic’s rich first-class passengers. They falsely claim they got first crack at lifeboats – and as a consequence, passengers in second class and steerage died in large numbers. In this interpretation, the Titanic’s legacy was not about women-and-children first. It was about first-class-passengers first.
This false narrative was embraced by filmmaker James Cameron in his 1997 epic “Titanic” — a view that many impressionable movie goers now take as fact.
The truth was quite the opposite; and in other cases the truth continues to be elusive, the facts ambiguous.
The Hollywood narrative makes for good entertainment. But it ignores the fact that many of the Titanic’s first-class passengers – the “1 percenters” of their day – voluntarily went down abroad the ship so that women and children could get aboard lifeboats.
Consider first-class passenger Benjamin Guggenheim, 46, the scion of the Guggenheim fortune. As ice-cold water flooded through a gash in the ship’s hull, he was overhead to say that he and other social elites had “dressed up in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen.”
He passed along a message to a survivor, stating: “Tell my wife, if it should happen that my secretary and I both go down, tell her I played the game out straight to the end. No woman shall be left aboard this ship because Ben Guggenheim was a coward.”
Among other rich and famous passengers who died: American John Jacob Astor IV; Irish businessman Thomas Andrews (who oversaw the ship’s construction); and American owner of the Macy’s department store, Isidor Straus, and his wife Ida.
Of the Titanic’s approximately 2,223 passengers and crew members, about 1,517 perished – and 706 survived. The ship’s 20 lifeboats could only carry one third of the people on board.
For Titanic aficionados with a leftist agenda, the numbers and percentages of passengers who got to the lifeboats — their sexes and social classes — can be crunched to prove just about whatever one wants.
“The reality of class, selfishness, and altruism in the disaster is more ambiguous,” observes Edward Tenner in his article “Titanic and the 1%” published by the American Enterprise Institute. “As Titanic scholars acknowledge, the survival rate of passengers depended in part on proximity to the boat deck. So it is no wonder that nearly all the women and children in first class were saved. Conversely, complex passageways and language barriers further delayed evacuation of third-class passengers. In all classes, as the literary scholar Stephen Cox has underscored in an essay and an excellent book, moral choices cut across social lines.
“Individual responses aside, there are surprises in the statistics. For example, women in third class were significantly more likely to survive than first-class men: 46 versus 33 percent.”
He adds: “The most surprising and least known statistic is that nearly twice as many third-class as second-class men survived – 16 percent versus 8 percent – despite the greater distance of the former from the boats. Were the second-class men the most dutiful and chivalrous of all, the true unsung heroes of the tragedy? Were the third-class men simply younger and more vigorous? Or were the second-class men the middle managers of the era, either fatally deferential to the upper crust or disfavored, consciously or not, by snobbish stewards? In any case, a larger proportion of the dogs on the Titanic survived, 4 out of 13, than second-class men.”
How come the chivalry of Titanic’s richest passengers failed get proper attention in the “Titanic” movie? Because today no one would believe the truth; so says Cuban-born author and historian Luis E. Aguilar in his essay “The Titanic and The Decline of Western Ethnic.”
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