Saturday, April 14, 2012


On this fateful day 100 years ago, 14 April 1912 at approximately 2340 hours, the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg and began taking on water. Less than three hours later, at 0220 hours on 15 April 1912, Titanic would sink beneath the surface forever. Only 710 of those on board would survive: the other 1,514 passengers and crew would perish.

The collision itself can obviously be attributed to a loss of what military professionals call "situational awareness" (this very useful concept and term has since spread to many other fields, because it is an extremely valuable tool for any situation requiring analysis, particularly the analysis of situations requiring decisions in conditions of uncertainty, especially decisions in which mistakes could entail grievous loss of life or property).

In a military environment, situational awareness entails having an accurate picture of the friendly situation, the enemy situation, and the terrain situation. While this may sound easy, it is not. The famous strategist and military analyst Carl von Clausewitz once said, "in war, everything is simple, but the simple is difficult." Anyone who looks back on complex situations such as the command of a massive trans-Atlantic liner or any combat situation in history and says to himself (or herself), "but it was so obvious! that should have been so simple!" should take care to fully understand this insightful observation by Clausewitz.

It has in the past been the case that a battalion or brigade commander has begun a battle at the US Army's most sophisticated force-on-force training centers thinking that all his subordinate units are ready to go, only to learn later that one of his tank companies actually began the battle with critical shortages of ammunition. This would seem to be impossible -- impossible that it would actually happen, but even more unbelievable that the commander would think everything was just fine when in reality the situation was completely different from the picture in his head. This is an example of being unaware of the true "friendly" situation.

It is also quite often the case that the enemy in a combat or training situation deliberately feeds hints that he is doing one thing, only to do the opposite. It is understandable that the friendly commander might interpret the data points he sees as confirming the picture he wants to see in his mind. When the enemy suddenly shows up out of a totally different direction than the friendly commander anticipated, reality comes crashing in and corrects the false picture that the friendly commander had been carrying around in his mind (although often by then it is too late). This is an example of being unaware of the true "enemy" situation.

Again, it is often the case that a friendly commander will believe that his unit can advance through a certain piece of terrain (perhaps a riverbed that affords him a concealed avenue of approach) but when his vehicles actually try to negotiate that terrain, they discover that they get bogged down in soft wet ground and cannot proceed. Conversely, there are times when a commander will conduct analysis which leads him to believe that a certain avenue is impossible for the enemy to negotiate, only to discover too late that the terrain could be traversed by the resourceful opponent (this happened to the Germans at Pointe du Hoc in World War II, when the US Army Rangers demonstrated that there is literally no terrain that cannot be negotiated by a well-led group of Rangers). This is an example of having a failure of situational awareness regarding the terrain.

In the case of Titanic, it is quite obvious in hindsight that the mental picture of the "friendly" capabilities was altogether too optimistic. Everyone knows that the ship was believed to be "unsinkable" by many -- an unfortunate description in the prestigious British journal Shipbuilder published at the occasion of the launching of Titanic's sister ship Olympic in 1910, which declared that these ships were "practically unsinkable" (Daniel Allen Butler, 11). As Daniel Allen Butler says in his 1999 history Unsinkable: The Full Story of RMS Titanic, "Before long, and perhaps inevitably, the qualifying adjective was forgotten by the general public" (11).

This failure of situational awareness is related to the egregious failure to provide enough lifeboats for everyone aboard. As Chris Berg of the Institute of Public Affairs in Melbourne, Australia wrote in an article entitled "The Real Reason for the Tragedy of the Titanic" (and as Butler's 1999 book also points out), the reason for this terrible failure of situational awareness stemmed from the belief that lifeboats were not needed for every passenger, because they were primarily used to shuttle passengers to rescue ships. This was exactly how they had been used in the relatively rare incidents in the decades prior to the Titanic disaster.

As the Clausewitz quotation above cautions us, we should be very careful to avoid falling into the trap of believing that we would have seen the true situation where those alive in 1912 failed to do so. As Daniel Allen Butler writes:
If builders, owners, and officers of the Titanic were complacent and overconfident, they were simply reflecting the attitude of every shipping line in the North Atlantic trade. If the passengers believed that the Titanic was indeed unsinkable, it wasn't because they had succumbed to the blandishments of the shipping line's advertisements or the pronouncements of the experts: in the forty years prior to the Titanic's maiden voyage, only four lives had been lost on passenger ships on the North Atlantic trade. Imagine how blithely air travel would be regarded by present-day travelers, who usually seem to express little enough trepidation about the hazards of commercial flying, if the major airlines possessed a similar safety record. never had any form of transportation been so safe and hazard free. xi.
As for the "terrain," so to speak, we now know that an extensive and dangerous field of ice stretched across Titanic's path, much further south than the captain anticipated (he had already adjusted his course ten miles further south based on warnings received, but not far enough).

Recent analysis suggests that an extremely rare proximity of the moon, combined with the earth's passage through the point in its orbit where it comes closest to the sun, just a few months prior to Titanic's collision with the berg may have created larger tides which enabled larger icebergs to stray further south by April of 1912 than in previous years. This unusual situation may have in some way contributed a bit to the incorrect mental picture in the mind of Captain E. J. Smith (who had successfully plied the Atlantic for forty-five years, beginning at the age of 12, and had been the Captain of the sister ship Olympic for about a year before Titanic's maiden voyage), but as even those who proposed the exceptional-tides hypothesis are careful to state, Titanic sank because she steamed at night into an ice field her captain could have known about, and without slowing down.

Even after the collision, however, a lack of situational awareness appears to have played a decisive role. Daniel Allen Butler provides evidence that -- while the passengers may have been kept from knowing the seriousness of the situation in order to prevent a panic -- the leadership on board were not given a briefing on the grave condition of the ship, although they could and should have been. He writes, "One of the most remarkable aspects of Titanic's sinking is that very few people on board regarded the situation as serious for more than an hour after the collision -- in fact it was nearly 1:15 before Fourth Officer Boxhall was told the ship was going to sink. While no doubt Smith wanted to avoid a panic among the passengers, and quite possibly the crew as well, not letting his officers know just how serious the emergency was may well have contributed to a false sense of security among them, which in turn caused them to allow a number of the boats to leave the ship less than half full" (250 - 251).

An even more awful failure of situational awareness (perhaps not as well known to the public because not included at all in the 1997 film) involves the nearest ship to Titanic, a small liner of 6,000 tons (Titanic was 45,000 tons), the Californian. There is significant evidence that Californian was stopped at the edge of the ice field just five to ten miles north of Titanic (see map above), that her officers including Captain Stanley Lord visually saw Titanic when she first came into view at 2330 on the night of the 14th (only ten minutes before the brush with the iceberg) and in fact even tried to hail her with a Morse lamp, that Captain Lord ordered his wireless operator to tell the other ship that Californian was surrounded by ice and stopped (this message was received and rebuffed by Titanic's operator, who was busily sending a backlog of messages at the time and angry that Californian had failed to ask permission to break in), and that the officers of the Californian saw the other ship come to a stop (not thinking anything unusual about this, which is understandable).

However, after Captain Lord retired for the evening (giving instructions to let him know if the other ship altered course or moved closer), the officers on duty saw the ship extinguish its lights, and later fire eight white rockets (the distress signal). They report that they informed their captain, who told them to note it in the log, and that Captain Lord then went back to sleep. The official log prepared by the captain later did not report anything about the rockets, and the "scrap log"(a sort of rough draft log from which the official log would later be compiled) for the night of the 14th - 15th was later discovered to be missing.

Had Californian's captain perceived the true situation, or taken appropriate action, the terrible loss of life might have been completely avoided or at least greatly reduced. Afterwards, of course, the true situation became quite clear, and it appears likely he tried to hide the evidence of the rockets and to alter the reported location of his vessel to make it seem farther away at the time of the Titanic disaster. The evidence surrounding this aspect of the disaster is presented in Mr. Butler's book in a chapter entitled "Watching Eight White Rockets" and in an Appendix entitled "The Titanic, the Californian, and the Culpability of Captain Lord."

A very good source for those interested in the events surrounding the Titanic, including the inaction of the Californian, can be found online in the 1912 report issued by the US Congress entitled "Loss of the Steamship Titanic." It concludes that Captain Lord was culpable of failing to respond to the white rockets of distress. Some continue to work to exonerate Captain Lord to this day (this web page describes some of the controversy) but the weight of the evidence does not seem to be in his favor (defenders of Captain Lord have tried to argue that a third ship came between the Californian and the Titanic during the time in question, and fired off flares -- perhaps a fishing boat communicating with its longboats -- before sailing away again, but there is absolutely no evidence to support this assertion).

The human tragedy of the Titanic story is enormous in scope, and the entire story far bigger than can be discussed here. However, the perspective of "situational awareness" is extremely valuable, and one which bears directly on all forms of analysis, including the analysis that is the subject of so many of the discussions in this blog and in the Mathisen Corollary book as well. The difficulty of perceiving the true situation, even when evidence is available that should make it possible to do so, is evident at every turn. The importance of examining the data points available, and of looking at different ways to "connect the dots" (not just the first one that suggests itself) comes through quite powerfully.

There is always a human tendency to want to "confirm" the picture we have in our minds -- to confirm the picture that we want to see -- with every new data point we encounter (and to push aside those data points that might disrupt our desired picture). We see this in the events described above, but it is also in operation among supporters of the conventional theories (such as the geological theory of tectonics, or the picture of human history that involves slowly evolving and slowly progressing stages of civilization, even though substantial data points appear to call these theories into question). And, if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that this tendency to want to confirm our own pet theory with every new data point cannot fail to be operative in our own mind as well.

Carefully pondering the Titanic story is therefore a very valuable exercise, and never more appropriate than on this, the one hundredth anniversary of that tragic night.

Respect -- RIP.

Note: for my most recent thoughts on the Titanic tragedy, see "Titanic conspiracy, due diligence, natural law and mind control," 04/13/2014.