By: Carey Roberts
It was 94 years ago this month that the unsinkable Titanic collided with a North Atlantic iceberg. Of the 1,327 passengers on board, 73% of the women made it to the lifeboats, while only 7% of the men survived. That fateful night, the bodies of 702 men settled into their watery graves.
Within days of the tragedy, women set out to build a fitting memorial. First Lady Helen Taft donated the first dollar, explaining she was “glad to do this in gratitude to the chivalry of American manhood.”
Of course not everyone was thrilled. Some argued that the fund-raising efforts were diverting attention away from the crusade to grant women the right to vote. One politically-correct person argued, “Why not, instead of having the memorial solely for the heroes of the wreck, have it also for the heroines!”
But the grateful ladies persisted. In May of 1931 Mrs. William Howard Taft unveiled the imposing 15-foot memorial, featuring a man in a Christ-like crucifix pose. The statue was located in a splendid venue on the banks of the Potomac River, just a little downstream from Rock Creek.
At the ceremony, congressman Robert Luce of Massachusetts pointed out that the survival of so many women was “the reason for this memorial and our presence here today.” Other speeches hailed the chivalry and the men who protected their families by sacrificing their own lives.
Some would say that the chivalry that is commemorated by the Titanic Memorial is an anachronistic hold-over from a fading era of male privilege.
But the truth is, chivalry is one of the strongest impulses in the male psyche. And despite the feminist browbeating of men who hold open doors, chivalry is very much alive and well.
Chivalry is one of the most potent forces that has shaped the course of human history. Chivalry impelled medieval men to rise up and shield their womenfolk from the Mongol invaders. Chivalry rings throughout the Declaration of Independence, especially its stirring conclusion: “we pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
One of the great icons of American culture is the southern gentleman who would freely duel to the death in defense of womanly virtue, or the Rhett Butler-types who spare nothing so their Scarlett O’Haras can save their splendid plantations.
Give chivalry its due for the fact that in the United Kingdom, women are allowed to retire at age 60, while men must sweat and toil another five years. It’s chivalry, of course, that motivates legislators to pass laws that exempt women from the military draft.
Even in the heat of battle, chivalry rules the day. Remember Jessica Lynch, that G.I. Jane-wannabe who passed out after her truck took a wrong turn behind Iraqi enemy lines? Nine men in her company were shot in the head, execution-style.
But when word filtered back that Lynch was being held in a remote hospital, an elite assault unit of Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, and Air Force Pararescue Jumpers volunteered to come to the aid of this 19-year-old damsel in distress.
Try to match that, Sir Galahad!
Chivalry plays out every day in our families and communities. That’s why men’s earnings shoot up as soon as they get married, so they can provide for their wives and children. These men accept risky or lonely jobs like asbestos removal or long-haul truck driving. And these men work overtime so their dearly-beloveds can live in their well-appointed dream houses.
And here’s the amazing part – these men don’t complain.
In December 1965 president Lyndon Johnson was scheduled to turn the first shovelful of dirt for the gleaming Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. But the Titanic Memorial stood in the way of progress.
So the statute was removed to an obscure Potomac River backwater. It’s not on many tourist maps. But if you ask around, someone can probably point you to it.
When you arrive, you won’t find any faded flowers placed by grieving widows. But your efforts will be amply rewarded by the poignant words inscribed on the pedestal: “To the brave men who perished in the wreck of the Titanic April 15, 1912. They gave their lives that women and children might be saved.”
Carey Roberts is a Staff Writer for The New Media Alliance. Columns by this author can be read regularly on TheRealityCheck.org.