Now I think I’ve heard it all. Luxury liner MS Balmoral embarked on April 9 for a twelve-day cruise that will trace the route of the doomed ship RMS Titanic which hit an iceberg and sank off the coast of Newfoundland 100 years ago today. Aboard are 1,309 passengers, the exact number (not including crew) from the original ship. History buffs and some descendants of Titanic victims are reported to be among the guests on board, who will experience a voyage much like that of the fated ship–minus the actual collision.
I understand that there is a certain awe and significance in round numbers. Centennial celebrations or memorials make sense. We should acknowledge a terrible maritime tragedy, in an “on-this-date-in-history” way. We should even do all we can to learn from it.
But it strikes me as beyond macabre to dress in costumes of the same era, recreate the original menu from that night, and play the same music heard on that fateful maiden voyage, while floating over the spot where 1,514 people died. In order to give the odd historic voyeuristic thrill-seeking a higher tone, a minister will lead prayers at two memorial services which will be held at the sight of the disaster. The Rev. Huw Mosford is quoted as saying, “It will bring healing, it will bring some form of closure perhaps…but I think it will also bring hope.”
Well, that’s a relief. I know I’ll be able to finally move on now that this well-publicized, glamorous and very expensive memorial has finally taken place. [The tickets varied in cost from 2,799 pounds ($4,445) to 5,995 pounds ($9,520).] The gaping wound in our collective human pysche from this century-old event can begin to heal. Our hearts can go on now, knowing that ocean-going cruise ship party-ers in fancy dress have scattered rose petals on the spot. Our hope–that audacious emotion–can be restored.
Apparently, others besides myself have suggested that this whole venture might be in poor taste (to say the least). The Huffington Post reported rather a defensive quote from cruise passenger Carmel Bradburn, who calls herself ‘fanatical’ about the Titanic: “I don’t think the cruise is morbid. It’s like saying Gallipoli is morbid or commemorating the (Crimean) war,” she said. “Remembering those who died is not morbid.”
Of course not…so we should all go have a cocktail party and dancing out at Gettysburg, right? The annual memorial service each December in Lockerbie, Scotland honors the 270 victims of the Pan Am 103 bombing. But I daresay no one dresses up in costume from 1988 and hosts a seafood buffet. Remembering the dead is valid, respectful. And recreating historic events–including bloody battles–has strong educational value, as every amateur re-enactor would agree. It can also be expensive, time-consuming and difficult, requiring travel, study and preparation. But suggesting that taking a luxury cruise is anything akin to a candlelight vigil or a battlefield reenactment, is like suggesting that we can learn about the burning of Rome by flying to Italy and attending a orgy, accompanied by fiddlers of course.
I just want to see a spade called a spade, and leave aside the veneer of populist spirituality. Over a thousand people thought it was a great idea to fork over a large sum of money for a once-in-a-lifetime cruise in an exceptionally romantic setting. If instead one had suggested commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Struma tragedy, where 769 Romanian Jews perished on a derelict Turkish ship escaping Nazi-occupied Europe…there might not be many takers.
This century alone has supplied many instances of epic tragedy, for which we can honor the dead. I personally believe we can best do so by continuing to help those who have survived. The first anniversary of the terrible earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan passed rather quietly last month. If even a fraction of the estimated one million dollars spent by passengers on the Balmoral-Titanic cruise were diverted to those Japanese who are still homeless–even townless, something significant might be done towards closure, healing and restored hope.
But instead, I expect we’ll hear of a commemorative Hindenberg flight. The 100th anniversary is now 25 years away. Start saving now.