Sinking of the Titanic -
The World's Most Famous Disaster
Written by Rick Archer
May 1, 2012
sinking of the Titanic one hundred years ago is
still considered to be the most famous Disaster of
Why is the Titanic disaster the most famous of them
article will attempt to answer that question.
One warning - this article is not light reading.
Reading about disasters can be pretty depressing.
"Iceberg, Right Ahead!!"
At 11:40 pm on April 14, 1912, those
words rung out on the bridge of the Titanic. Reacting
Murdoch ordered an abrupt turn to port and full speed
astern to reverse the engines
driving the outer propellers.
Thanks to the sharp turn, the
ship's starboard side
clearly missed the visible part of the
iceberg. However, beneath the water, the massive
iceberg was much wider.
The underside of the Titanic brushed
against the deadly edges of
the iceberg. This buckled
the hull in several places and popped
out rivets below the waterline. The
glancing blow created a
total of six leaks in the first five watertight
compartments. Murdoch then ordered hard right rudder, which
swung Titanic's stern away from the iceberg.
The Titanic could sustain damage to four
compartments, but the fifth compartment was breached
for 10-15 feet. This was the killer
blow. The watertight doors
were shut, but this only postponed the
At 2:20 am, the
Titanic would permanently disappear beneath the freezing
waters of the Northern Atlantic.
IS THE TITANIC THE DISASTER OF ALL DISASTERS?
It has now been
100 years since the sinking of the Titanic. Since then
there have been disasters with a far higher casualty list
and much greater financial loss. And yet the Titanic
story is one of the most enduring disaster tales all of
question I asked myself. Why, for example, is the
Titanic story more important to us than the San Francisco
earthquake or the Galveston Hurricane that both take place
in the era of the Titanic? How does the Titanic story
manage to stay relevant today 100 years after it took place.
In order to
answer my own question, first I decided to investigate all
the famous disasters of the last 100 years or so.
Here at Casa Archer, my lovely wife Marla is the
Master of Disaster. She watches End of the World movies with
the same regularity that kids watch cartoons.
Marla's favorite time of the day to watch
disaster movies is the wee hours of the morning. Marla is a lousy
sleeper, but for some strange reason she automatically goes
to sleep one hour into any disaster movie. So she keeps four
disaster movies on our DVR just in case she needs a sleep
aid at 2 am.
Marla watches them on a rotating basis. On any particular
night of the week I might wake up and see Marla watching
The Day After Tomorrow. The next night it might
be 2012, Outbreak or Dante's Peak. Godzilla is
without a doubt her
Everyone knows I
am strange, so any information revealing that Marla might be
a little strange too apparently comes as no surprise to
anyone. Everyone remarks about how "weirdly compatible" we
are, and then they roll their eyes. I haven't figured out if
they are giving us a compliment or trying to tell us to do
society a favor and seek help.
I first began to suspect Marla had a dark side when I
noticed how drawn she was to Salem Village back
on our 2006 New England cruise. Draw your own
Stephen King, of
course, is Marla's favorite author along with Anne Rice. Few people know
this, but Marla wanted us to get married at the Stanley Hotel
in Estes Park, Colorado. The Stanley Hotel is this amazing
old hotel that is rumored to be haunted. Stephen King said
that the spooky night he spent at the Stanley Hotel gave him
inspiration to write The Shining.
And what is Marla's favorite TV show? The Zombie
classic Walking Dead.
Marla goes deep into mourning every time the show ends a
cycle. She frantically asks, "When will it return?"
And what is the
number one night of the week for Marla? Saturday. Can you
Because Saturday is the night when the Sci-Fi Channel debuts a
new disaster movie. Marla can barely wait. If
there is a monster or a meteor, she's all in.
I love to tease
Marla about her morbid streak, but let's face it, I am just
a half-step behind her. Truth be told, I like monsters and disaster
Given our twisted natures, I suppose it is no accident that
both Marla and I are both powerfully drawn to the Titanic
In my opinion,
an opinion probably shared by many others, the sinking of the Titanic is the
"Disaster of all Disasters".
I have pretty
much taken the Titanic's celebrity for granted for a long
time. Thanks to the recent 100th Anniversary of
the sinking, the Titanic has been on my
mind. To me, the
Titanic remains the yardstick against which all other
disasters are measured.
Stop and think
about it. If something terrible happens and it is bad
enough, sooner or later it gets compared to the Titanic
disaster. Anytime there is another disaster, what do we say?
"It was a Disaster of Titanic proportions."
But one day I began to wonder "why"
I believe the
Titanic became the most famous. What are the reasons?
After all, the
Titanic is not the deadliest disaster of all time by a long shot.
Nor is it the worst disaster of all time. Nor the
costliest. Nor do I even
Titanic changed the world the most. Nevertheless, I
still think the Titanic is the most famous.
So why have I been
thinking so much about the Titanic lately?
Recently a Welsh
travel agent named Miles Morgan put together a Titanic
Memorial Cruise to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the
disaster. Morgan rented two cruise ships - one leaving
from Southampton UK and the other leaving from NYC - and
invited people who are descendants of Titanic passengers and
Titanic buffs around the world to participate. The two
ships would meet at the Titanic grave site in the North
Atlantic to hold a service commemorating the event.
Marla and I were
fortunate to be asked to be the guest dance teachers on one
of the two ships that sailed in April 2012. Thanks to
our somewhat twisted natures, we didn't not hesitate to
The moment Marla
and I stepped onto the Azamara Journey, we were swept away
by the solemnity of the occasion. Sure, there was some play
and laughter, but there were also a lot of people on this
ship who took the Titanic event very seriously. Far from
being the "Fun Ship", this cruise trip had the large shadow
of tragedy hanging like a dark curtain in the back of our
Every day for seven straight days I meditated on the Titanic
disaster. The organizers did something very clever - they
dedicated one of the TV channels to show Titanic
documentaries on a 24-hour loop. When they ran out of
documentaries, they showed replays of the informative
Titanic lectures that took place daily on the ship.
I spent every spare moment in my cabin watching those
videos. With the Titanic tragedy playing non-stop in my
mind, I tried my best to make sense of it all. There were so
many angles to consider that I had trouble wrapping my mind
around the totality of the experience. I have been in a fog
During the trip,
I realized just how deep the fascination with the Titanic
story runs with many people besides myself. But why?
Why is there so much interest in this story?
DIFFERENT KINDS OF DISASTERS
have a curious and very powerful hold on our consciousness.
As a rule, human beings are deeply fascinated by all good
disaster stories. However, there have been so many different
disasters to consider, I had to ask myself why the Titanic
story clearly rules above all the others. So I began
to review various disasters in my mind.
Shortly before the Titanic sank in 1912, the
1900 Galveston hurricane and the 1906 San
Francisco earthquake were the most riveting stories of the
In the years to come there would be all sorts of new
disasters. I rattled a bunch of them right off the top of
my head - Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Challenger, Mt Saint
Helens, Exxon Valdez, the Lusitania sinking, and the
Hindenburg dirigible disaster were among the most
captivating stories of our previous century.
More recently we have 9-11, Hurricane Katrina, Deep Water
Horizon plus the colossal Indonesian and Japanese
I began to realize there are all
kinds of disasters. For this story, I identified
twelve different types.
How do you compare them?
Good question. Let's start by reviewing the
categories. One warning - put your seat belt on.
This material is very depressing.
DISASTER - DISEASE
One criterion to
judge by would be the number of fatalities. The Titanic
disaster is nowhere near the worst. Not even close.
The Black Death
plague of 1348 that spread throughout Europe claimed at
least 75 million lives, possibly even 200 million.
In second place
comes the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918. This outbreak
claimed at least 50 million lives... and probably more.
The USA lost 675,000 people... our worst national disaster ever.
I can find no
other disaster on my list that even begins to approach these
two morbid totals. The question is: does "Disease"
count as a disaster? I say yes.
I doubt anyone
will disagree with me on this one. Anything that kills
the population of Europe to the tune of 30-60% is an
enormous disaster!! They say it took 150 years for
Europe's population to recover from this gruesome plague.
consider the Black Plague to be the worst disaster in
history. Just the picture alone makes me shudder.
DISASTER - FLOOD
honor for most deaths by flooding goes to China. In
fact, China claims the top 3 spots. Make that the top
4 spots. In fact, China has 7 of the 10 worst floods
of all time.
The 1887 Yellow
River flood took between 1 and 2 million lives.
44 years later,
China was hit with another flood that was far worse.
The 1931 flood is considered to be the worst flood in
history (assuming we aren't counting the Noah's Ark flood). The 1931 flood
is estimated to have taken an astounding total of
seven years later, China was hit with yet another flood.
The 1938 flood took almost a million people.
I have no idea
why these Chinese floods claimed so many lives. I
understand that China is the most heavily populated country
in the world, but China also has mountains.
Floods usually give some warning. Couldn't the
population have sought higher ground?
the 1927 Mississippi River flood that is considered the
worst in American history cost 246 lives.
In terms of damage, the
flood in New Orleans caused by Hurricane Katrina was the costliest
flood in American history.
35% of the New Orleans
Metropolitan Area sits below sea level. The city is protected
by hundreds of miles of levees and flood gates. Unfortunately,
the levee system failed catastrophically in numerous sections during
Tens of billions of
gallons of flood waters outside the levees spilled into vast areas of New Orleans, flooding
over 100,000 homes and businesses. This resulted in the
inundation of 80% of the metropolitan area. The depth of the
water ranged from a few inches to as high as 27 feet in the coastal
Obviously someone forgot
to stick their finger in the dike.
Speaking of fingers,
naturally there was a lot of finger pointing. In the end, everyone
agreed the primary cause of the flooding was inadequate design &
construction by the Corps of Engineers.
This is a common theme
in many disasters - when man's attempt to control nature fails, many
people die. For
example, China's Banqiao dam ruptured in 1975. 170,000 people
lost their lives. 11 million people lost their homes.
When technology and
Nature compete, Nature often wins.
As Disasters go, surely
the most spectacular of all have to be volcanic explosions.
The fire, the smoke and the lava are gripping images.
To my mind, the most famous
disaster of the ancient times has to be Vesuvius. Located in a
densely populated area, the 79 AD eruption at the height of the
Roman Empire vaporized an entire city in a flash. 16,000
people perished quickly as the city of Pompeii was buried under a
flood of lava and rock.
The eruption of Vesuvius
remains locked in all our minds as the perfect example that none of
us are ever totally safe. Disaster can hit anyone anywhere at
any time. That said, death by volcano can probably be avoided
by moving to places where there are no volcanoes.
Speaking of Vesuvius,
during my Titanic research I found a blurb on the Internet that
suggests James Cameron intends to make a movie about Vesuvius. Where
do I buy the tickets?
In 1883, a volcano
located near Indonesia exploded with so much force that the entire
island of Krakatoa was completely vaporized. Even to this day, the
explosion is considered to be the loudest sound ever heard in modern
history, with reports of it being heard 3,000 miles away.
One of the most violent
events ever witnessed, Krakatoa is sometimes called the "Modern
Vesuvius". 36,000 people lost their lives.
The eruption of Mt.
Saint Helens in 1980 was pretty spectacular, but in terms of loss of
life, only 57 people died. As a rule, volcanoes are not
big killers, but Marla informs me there is a super volcano at
Yellowstone that one day may take us all out. How cheerful.
As Disasters go,
few disasters scare us more than Earthquakes.
California residents have lived their entire lives in fear
of the Big One. Unfortunately, they have a reason to
be afraid because they keep getting reminders that the
scientists aren't kidding.
powerful earthquakes have not caused much trouble. It all depends on
where they hit. When an earthquake hits in a heavily
populated area, it becomes a serious killer.
There was an
earthquake in 1556 in Shanxi province China that took almost
a million lives. That holds the record for casualties.
The second biggest killer of all time goes to Haiti.
However there is an asterisk involved. The Haitian
government pegs the death toll from the 2010 earthquake at
315,000. That said, independent sources put the total
That is quite a discrepancy. Surely there is a story there.
The most famous
earthquake in US history has to be the San Francisco
earthquake of 1906. Although the death total was not
too bad at 3,000, the amount of destruction was unbelievable.
Just to give an
idea, the damage suffered by San Francisco in 1906 is considered
comparable to what New Orleans went through with Katrina.
Francisco earthquake and Hurricane Katrina are considered to
be the second and third worst natural disasters in US
history. Want to guess which is the worst? I'll
get to it in a minute.
the San Francisco earthquake was not even remotely the most
earthquake in US history. It comes in at
#16 in strength, but first in terms of damage.
You probably already know this, but the ten worst
US earthquakes all took place in Alaska.
earthquake of 1964 was one of the strongest earthquakes in
world history. However, only 9 people died.
As they say in
real estate, location is everything.
DISASTER - HURRICANE
In the case of
the San Francisco earthquake, it wasn't just the quake
itself that caused so much damage. It was the fire
wasn't the violent winds that damaged New Orleans. In
fact, Hurricane Katrina gave New Orleans at best a glancing
blow. Katrina saved its worst for Mississippi.
It was the flooding that destroyed New Orleans.
To this day,
Hurricane Katrina is the "costliest" natural disaster in US
History. However, the death toll was not as bad
as San Francisco's 3,000. The death total comes in at
1,800. The Katrina disaster stands at 9th place on
the death list.
second-deadliest storm to strike the United States, the 1928
Okeechobee Hurricane, caused more than 2,500 deaths.
So what holds the number one spot?
natural disaster in US history was the Galveston Hurricane
of 1900. Somewhere between 6,000 and 12,000 people
lost their lives. That makes the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 the deadliest natural disaster
in US history.
This storm was
quite a tragedy.
At the end of the 19th century, the city of Galveston,
Texas, was a booming town with a population of 37,000
residents. Simple math suggests
that close to 25% of the population died that day.
There were two
reasons why so many people died in Galveston in that
terrible storm. One reason is that Galveston was
defenseless. Since its formal founding in 1839, the
city of Galveston had weathered numerous storms, all of
which the city survived with ease.
Residents believed any
future storms would be no worse than previous events.
Oddly enough, meteorologist Isaac Cline, the so-called hero of the storm
("Isaac's Storm"), wrote an article in the 1891 Galveston
Daily News that said the same thing. In his article he argued not only that a seawall was
not needed to protect the city, but also that it would be
impossible for a hurricane of significant strength to ever
strike the island.
Since Cline was
the Galveston Weather Bureau section director, his word
carried a lot of weight. Consequently, the seawall was
not built. Galveston was growing. Development on the island
greatly increased its vulnerability to storms. Sand
dunes along the shore were cut down to fill low areas in the
city, removing what little barrier there was to the Gulf of
main reason for the death count was the element of surprise.
No one had any idea
a hurricane was coming. A few forecasters knew a
"tropical storm" had moved northward over Cuba, but they had
no way in those days to know where the storm was going.
They assumed it was heading to Louisiana.
Meanwhile conditions in the Gulf of Mexico were ripe for
further strengthening of the storm. The Gulf had seen little
cloud cover for several weeks. Now the seas were as
warm as bathwater. For a storm system that feeds off
moisture, the Gulf of Mexico was warm enough to super-charge
the storm from a tropical storm to a Level Four hurricane in just a
matter of days.
warned the Americans to watch out for this storm, but no one
took them seriously. Furthermore, back in those days,
authorities avoided the use of terms such as 'tornado' or 'hurricane' to
avoid panicking residents in the path of any storm event. As a result, there was no evacuation and no preparation.
Early the next morning, there were growing swells that
should have got someone's attention. However the skies
were only partly cloudy. Largely because of the
unremarkable weather, the majority of the population was
unconcerned by the rain clouds that had begun rolling in by
midmorning. When the hurricane hit at 5 pm, everyone
was caught flat-footed. Once the 140 mph winds rolled in,
only God could save those people now.
If you are an
American, chances are you never even heard of the word 'Tsunami'
until the terrible Indonesian tsunami of 2004.
apparently there have been a few American tsunamis. The USA even holds the record
for the tallest tsunami ever
recorded. A 220 feet wave hit Alaska in 1964 after the gigantic Anchorage Earthquake. The seismic
tsunami wave hit the southwest part of the state and claimed
Hawaii sees an occasional tsunami. On April 1, 1946,
all of the water mysteriously drained from the
three-mile-wide harbor at Hilo. Minutes later, a
tsunami rushed onshore, destroying the waterfront. The
process repeated itself twice. More than 150 people died in
That said, no
major tsunami has ever struck continental USA.
cannot be said for Europe. The Great Lisbon Earthquake
of 1755 was followed by massive fires. Lisbon, the
capital of Portugal, was in for a surprise. The fires turned
out to be the least of their worries. The city was
already reeling when a tsunami hit that almost totally
destroyed Lisbon. Estimates
place the death toll in Lisbon around 100,000, making
it one of the deadliest earthquakes in history.
the Lisbon event was not the worst tsunami in European history.
An earthquake off the coast of Messina, Italy, in 1908
triggered a massive tsunami in the Mediterranean.
40-foot waves struck southern Italy on December 28, 1908, making
it one of the deadliest natural disasters in European
history. The death total was 123,000.
the Indian Ocean has very little experience with tsunamis.
That is strange in light of the fact that the worst tsunami
in history was the infamous 2004 Indonesian tsunami.
The earthquake that
generated the great Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 is
estimated to have released the energy of 23,000
Hiroshima-type atomic bombs.
Over centuries, giant forces had been building up
deep in the Earth.
On December 26,
2004, that tension was released suddenly
in a matter of moments. The epicenter of
the earthquake was near Sumatra, the main island of
Indonesia. The ground began shaking violently.
A series of killer waves were
unleashed that raced across
the Indian Ocean at the speed of a jet airliner.
The waves moved too fast to warn people in other countries.
By the end of the day more than 150,000 people were
dead or missing. Millions more were homeless in 11
countries, making the 2004 event the most destructive tsunami in
history. Unfortunately, just seven
years later, an even worse tsunami occurred.
certainly no stranger to tsunamis. In fact, "tsunami" is
actually a Japanese word. Japan is hit by a tsunami at least
once a year. This island nation considers these giant waves
to be a national plague. Tsunamis occur most
frequently in the Pacific, particularly along the "Pacific
Ring of Fire ". Several times a year, earthquakes of at
least 7 on the Richter scale result in tsunamis.
Despite its long
history with tsunamis, Japan was practically defenseless
when the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake hit. This was the most
powerful known earthquake to ever hit Japan. It was so
strong that it was one of the five most powerful earthquakes
in the world since modern record-keeping began in 1900.
The earthquake triggered powerful tsunami waves that reached
heights of up to 133 feet. 16,000 people died.
As anyone who
saw the pictures knows, the level of devastation was
phenomenal. The World Bank's estimated economic cost was US
$235 billion, making it the most expensive natural disaster
in world history. The tsunami caused a number of
nuclear accidents, primarily the Level 7 meltdowns
at three reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power
So why are we all so afraid of a meteor?
I think I know a
reason. We know we have a fighting chance to
survive a tsunami, earthquake, hurricane, or volcanic eruption. But most of us doubt seriously we could
survive a direct hit from a giant meteor.
We are all aware that
an "impact event" as they call it is the
most likely reason for the disappearance of the dinosaurs.
million years ago, the dinosaurs suddenly experienced some
sort of "extinction event".
The nature of
the event that caused this mass extinction has been
extensively studied since the 1970s. At present, the
consensus is that a meteor crash in Mexico's Yucatan
Peninsula was the primary cause of
speaking, if I want to have an "event", I would much rather
go to a Texans Super Bowl than experience an "extinction
event" or "impact event". However, I may not have a
Any meteor crash would probably make any
arguments about why the Titanic is the most famous disaster
somewhat pointless. This horror is one of the ways
that human life on Earth could conceivably
end. However, are we all
getting worked up over nothing?
They say the odds of an asteroid strike is
one-in-a-million. Still, while I
understand it is far more likely I could be hit by lighting
than harmed by an asteroid, it
would to nice to go to my grave knowing my loved ones are
okay and that the human race will continue.
We all know very well that
million-to-one odds aren't too bad, but then again the Earth
has been here for eons. How are we supposed to know if
an asteroid is due or not? Having the spooky Mayan
calendar pointing its cycle-ending hand to "2012" doesn't help our
If we make it through 2012, then we need
to circle "2027". Scientists are monitoring
a killer asteroid known as Apophis.
Are you superstitious about Friday the 13th? If so,
this will make you sit up in your chair. On Friday
the 13th, April 2029, the Apophis asteroid
will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites.
If its trajectory on that day passes within a narrow range
of altitudes called the “keyhole,” then the influence of
the Earth’s gravity on
the asteroid orbit
could be fatal. There would be a
strong chance that seven years later on its next trip around the Sun, the
asteroid will hit Earth directly in 2036.
However, if Apophis
misses the keyhole in 2029, we’ll have nothing to worry
about in 2036.
Fortunately for all of us, the Earth has
a wonderful defense shield against small asteroids.
Thanks to our atmosphere, an
asteroid smaller than 33 feet that hits the atmosphere will
not make it down to the Earth's surface, nor will it affect
anything that happens on the ground in any meaningful or
destructive way. All you get
is a shooting star.
How often do we get an asteroid
larger than about 10 meters hitting the Earth? About once
every thousand years.
We are "fortunate," depending on
your definition of fortunate, to have had one
hit only a century ago.
event was an enormously powerful explosion that occurred in
Siberia in June 1908.
The explosion is believed to have been
caused by the air burst of a large meteor or comet fragment
at an altitude of 3 to 6 miles above the Earth's surface.
the meteoroid or comet burst in the air before hitting the
surface, this event is referred to as a meteor impact event.
Tunguska instantly became the largest impact event in
Estimates of the
energy from the blast suggest it was 1,000 times more powerful
than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. We should all
consider ourselves lucky that it hit an area that was
largely uninhabited although I am sure the Siberian wolves
Genocide can be considered a disaster, the fatality totals
of the natural disasters pale in comparison to human
atrocities. When he concentrates hard enough, Man is a
much more effective killer than Mother Nature.
Man's cruelty to
man knows few limits. In the Twentieth Century, there were
seven Genocide situations that counted their victim totals
in the millions. Stalin,
Hitler, Mao, Japan, Belgium, Turkey and Cambodia were the
parties responsible. Rwanda came close.
more recent situations in Bosnia and Sudan are lamentable,
they are low on the list at 100,000 each.
At 20 million
some deaths, I had always assumed Stalin was the league leader.
However, the real all-time champion appears to be Mao Tse Tung. Thanks in large part to his
disastrous agricultural experiments, China is estimated to
have lost between 49 to 78 million people during Mao's reign
Sorry to bring up such a depressing topic, but I don't think
we can turn a blind eye and sweep these atrocities under the
Mao Ze-Dong (China, 1958-61
and 1966-69, Tibet 1949-50)
Jozef Stalin (USSR,
23,000,000 (the purges plus
Adolf Hitler (Germany,
camps and civilians WWII)
Leopold II of Belgium
Hideki Tojo (Japan,
5,000,000 (civilians in
Ismail Enver (Turkey,
1915-20, Ottoman Empire)
1,200,000 Armenians (1915)
350,000 Greek Pontians
480,000 Anatolian Greeks (1916-22)
500,000 Assyrians (1915-20)
Pol Pot (Cambodia, 1975-79)
Jean Kambanda (Rwanda,
Worst Genocides of the 20th Century
detonation of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima was a deeply sobering
event for all Mankind. The fact that
man was capable of building a weapon with this kind of power
meant that humans now had the ability to destroy every living
thing on this planet.
Now I am
positive that I don't want to see nuclear weapons ever used
again and I am fairly sure most of you agree with me.
However, what difference
does it make if 5,999,999,999 people out of 6 billion are
totally against ever using this bomb again? The
section on Genocide painfully demonstrates that
many people who hold power are hardly humanitarians.
Today our safety
depends on a concept known as MAD - Mutually Assured
Destruction. This concept states that if one country
attacks another with nuclear weapons, the second country
will retaliate. If things get out of control, the
nuclear fallout assures that everyone will die eventually.
This scenario is so horrible that rational people will never
use nuclear weapons.
The flaw in this
concept is that it assumes rational men are in charge. The fact that madmen
like Hitler and Saddam seek positions of power is not a comforting
thought. It only takes one lunatic to start the eight ball
To me, Hiroshima
was a disaster. Yes, I am glad it ended the war
quickly. Yes, I am aware that more people would have died
had we ended the war by invading Japan. I am not
debating the moral issues here. I am simply
pointing out that 80,000 people were incinerated. That more than
qualifies this event as a "Disaster".
Disaster had far-reaching consequences. Basically it
meant that from here on out, no one was safe.
Thanks to a
variety of delivery systems - missiles, bombers, drones and
"suitcase nukes" - every person on Earth could die in a
flash without even knowing it was coming.
Now in a sense
every single person on the planet lives next to Vesuvius.
Not that it matters. No matter where the bombs land,
the radiation poisoning will catch up to us all
Today we worry
about Iran getting a nuke. We worry about an Al-Quaida
operative getting a Pakistani nuke or buying radioactive
material from a disgruntled Russian. Or maybe some nut
case in North Korea will lose it all. Fanatics don't
care if they go down too.
Although we don't
like to think about it, the world is not a safe place.
And if you think I'm worried, imagine how the Israelis feel?
DISASTER - 9-11
It has been ten years now. But I
still think about 9-11 every day. I can't escape it.
Someone will say something about a terrorist on TV or I will
read something in the paper and my mind will drift back to
9-11 was a game changer of the highest magnitude. I
think the 9-11 disaster changed the world more than any
other disaster in history. This
terrorist attack would affect the entire planet. Air
travel suddenly became a lot more dangerous. Our world
would never be the same. Anyone who is
sick of taking their shoes off in airports or being told to
throw away a perfectly good tube of toothpaste will surely
our trust level towards our fellow man. Any single
person in an airport could be dangerous. Any man or
woman with a suntan became a person of suspicion.
Anyone with a keffiyeh headdress was surely a threat.
Thanks to 9-11,
our lives became a race of sorts. Would we get to the
before they got to us? We were scared!
9-11 proved we had very dangerous enemies. Even worse, these
were evil people who made no sense to us. Their barbarism
was impossible to comprehend. They beheaded
journalists who had never raised a hand to them and they
blew up innocent people who were no danger to them.
Their hatred knew no limits. All they seemed to care about was annihilating the USA.
Americans stopped wearing the white hats for
a while. We became paranoid. We were suspicious
of people who had once been our friends. We had no idea how
many bad guys were out there and what they were
capable of. We went to war because we thought our
enemies had the ability to destroy our country.
It once took the
senseless sinking of the Lusitania luxury liner to draw us
into World War I. It took the cowardly sneak attack on
Pearl Harbor to draw us into World War II. It took the
surprise attack on the Twin Towers to spur us to action
If nothing else,
the USA has shown one thing to the world. If you hit us, we will
hit back... and harder than you ever imagined.
Now ten years
later, we can point with relief to the fact that there have been no more
successful attacks on our soil. Obviously we must have
done something right. If this means I need to keep
taking my shoes off at airports, then so be it.
9-11 was the
disaster that started another world-wide war. So far
our side appears to be winning. Let's hope it
I for one am
grateful to our amazing military for risking their lives to
keep America safe. Still, you know and I know the
fanatics are still out there. We can never let down
I therefore give
my dubious award for the worst disaster of all time to both
Hiroshima and 9-11. These two terrible events made our
planet a tough place to ever feel totally safe again.
DISASTER - NUCLEAR MISTAKES
CHERNOBYL, THREE MILE ISLAND, FUKUSHIMA
I have listed
death totals in the millions with regularity. I turn a blind
eye to these horrible body counts because they are just
numbers. However this disturbing
picture makes it harder to ignore the human cost. It is one thing
to see a volcano explode and run for dear life. At
least when it's over, it's over. Radiation is the
invisible assassin that remains behind to kill.
There is a lot
of fear surrounding the possible failure of nuclear
reactors. I am sure there are millions of Japanese
right now scared to death. Will they will develop some
form of the dreaded disease
cancer? Will they give birth to deformed children thanks to the
unseen dangers of radiation released in the Fukushima
reactor meltdown? The paranoia must be unbearable.
Chernobyl was a
Russian nuclear reactor located in the Ukraine. On
April 26, 1986, Reactor #4 suffered a catastrophic power
increase which lead to core explosions. Large quantities of radioactive fuel and core materials
were released. The burning graphite moderator increased the
emission of radioactive particles which were carried by the smoke
into the air. Incredibly, the reactor had not been encased
in any kind of hard
As the explosion and
fire released large quantities of radioactive contamination
into the atmosphere, everyone was too shocked to think to warn
the nearby city of Pripyat.
Pripyat was not
immediately evacuated after the incident. The townspeople
went about their usual business, completely oblivious to
what had just happened. However, within a few hours of the
explosion, dozens of people fell ill. Later, they reported
severe headaches and metallic tastes in their mouths, along
with uncontrollable fits of coughing and vomiting.
Due to the intense levels of radiation that lingered, the
city of Pripyat had to be permanently abandoned. Today
it is a ghost town that stands as a grim reminder to the
Chernobyl is the
worst nuclear power plant accident in history. The disaster
was the equivalent of 400 Hiroshimas. This mean four hundred
times more radioactive material was released into the
atmosphere than had been
by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
spread over much of Western USSR and Europe. The battle to
contain the contamination and avert a greater catastrophe
involved over 500,000 workers and cost an
estimated 18 billion rubles. This crippled the Soviet economy.
Some say Chernobyl did more to end the Soviet Empire than
anything Ronald Reagan ever said or did.
Now that 25
years have passed, the scientists are in a better position
to assess the long-term consequences of the disaster.
Wikipedia has a long section on the subject.
There was a
report in 2005 saying that thyroid cancer among children was
one of the main health impacts from the accident. More
than 4,000 cases are reported. A rough estimate suggested that
cancer deaths caused by Chernobyl may reach a total of about
4,000 among the 5 million persons residing in contaminated
areas during the explosion.
One of the saddest effects is psychological.
years later the population remains largely unsure of what
the effects of radiation actually are. They retain a
sense of foreboding. A number of adolescents and young
adults who have been exposed to modest or small amounts of
radiation feel that they are somehow fatally flawed. Given
their negative outlook, there is no downside to using
illicit drugs or having unprotected sex. They engage
in much self-destructive behavior because they say they are
doomed anyway. To reverse such attitudes and behaviors will
likely take years to correct."
Japan's Fukushima are the only two Level 7 events on the International Nuclear Event Scale,
but fear of more accidents has put a damper on the industry.
Edgar Cayce, the
American mystic who saw all history in a trance,
described Atlantis as a highly evolved civilization with ships and aircraft powered by a mysterious energy
crystal. This crystal was also part of a highly destructive
"death ray". Cayce said that
Atlantis was lost due to a frightening meltdown caused by
the explosion of the energy crystal.
I found it
interesting that the Cayce readings spoke of the existence
of the advanced technology in Atlantis. His account of the
final days of Atlantis seemed to eerily parallel our own
struggle to avoid destroying our planet with a nuclear
Cayce said when the island was destroyed, its refugees fled
to ancient Egypt as well as pre-Columbian America. Cayce
said the pyramids on both continents were built using
technology from Atlantis. This was
his explanation for the similarities between the Yucatan
pyramids and the Egyptian pyramids.
Obviously I am in no
position to confirm this story, but it is a fascinating
tale nonetheless. After Hiroshima and Chernobyl, we all have to
wonder if modern man is on the verge of repeating the
mistakes of ancient Atlantis.
Any Boomer who remembers the
Cuban Missile Crisis is certainly familiar with this theme.
Will man come to his senses and put down his weapons or will
we all die in some fiery Apocalypse?
If it can happen
to Atlantis, it can happen to us.
DISASTER - OIL CATASTROPHES
EXXON VALDEZ, DEEPWATER HORIZON, AND KUWAIT
Like the frightening Chernobyl
Valdez and Deepwater Horizon serve as further warnings to man's
inability to control his own technology.
disasters like oil tankers sinking and oil rigs exploding plus the
threat of the "China Syndrome" are painful reminders that human
stupidity and carelessness can trump human cleverness a lot more
often than we are comfortable with.
Exxon Valdez is the most famous oil spill disaster because it was
simultaneously one of the first
and one of the worst.
On March 24, 1989, the
oil tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William
Sound, Alaska. The tanker was traveling outside the normal shipping
lanes in an attempt to avoid ice. It spilled 11 million gallons of
oil (out of a total cargo of 53 million gallons) into the marine
environment. As the oil spread, it impacted more than 1,100 miles of
Alaskan coastline. Until Deepwater Horizon twenty years later in 2009, this would
be the largest oil spill in U.S. history.
The oil industry had
gotten permission to drill for oil in environmentally sensitive
Alaska based on their firm promise to be totally safe. Nothing
would ever go wrong.
Considering the spill occurred in a fragile, highly important
habitat for salmon, sea otters, seals and seabirds, the entire world
Three days after the
vessel grounded, a storm pushed large quantities of fresh oil on to
the rocky shores of many of the beaches in the Knight Island chain.
The images of countless
dead fish and helpless birds covered with oil-slick was too much to
take for a lot of people.
Unfortunately, the oil
slick proved difficult to contain. Within two months, the
slick had spread 470 miles to the southwest. Considering
pristine, snow-white Alaska was America's symbol for natural beauty,
the disgust and loathing was overwhelming.
Slowly but surely the
facts of the disaster were revealed. The captain was confirmed
to be asleep when the ship crashed. At the helm, the third
mate was operating without radar.
People asked why the
radar was not turned on. In fact, the tanker's radar had been broken
more than a year before the disaster. Exxon
knew about the problem. In Exxon's view, the radar was just too
expensive to bother fixing.
With one story of
negligence and carelessness after another coming to surface, a
venomous torrent of anger was directed at the Exxon oil company.
The company tried hard to pin it all on the Captain, but the story
about the radar ended that.
Just when people thought
this level of carelessness and stupidity could never possibly
be repeated, we had the terrible Deepwater Horizon event.
In September 2009 at a
spot in the Gulf of Mexico approximately 250 miles southeast of
Houston, the deepest oil well in history was drilled. Seven
months later on 20 April 2010, an explosion on
the rig caused by a blowout killed 11 crewmen and ignited a fireball
visible from 35 miles away.
The resulting fire could
not be extinguished. On 22 April 2010, Deepwater Horizon sank,
leaving the well gushing at the seabed. This caused the largest
offshore oil spill in US history.
Outrage turned to horror when it was learned that the oil spill could not be capped. The very
fact that this was the deepest oil well in history made it very
difficult to get to.
the Exxon Valdez disaster, this new oil spill took place in an
environmentally-sensitive area off the coast of Louisiana.
Ultra-valuable fishing areas off the coast all the Gulf States were
being incredibly damaged, but nothing could be done. People
were sick with disgust as the mucky oil continued to flow out of the
underwater hole day after day after day.
Five months later, the
well was finally capped. Finally.
So who was to blame?
A 2011 report stated that the main cause was the defective cement
job. It put most of the fault for the oil spill with British
faulting Deepwater Horizon operator Transocean and contractor
accident raised serious questions about the oil industry's ability
to ensure its safety. Over the past 15 years, oil companies
have drilled deeper and farther into the Gulf of Mexico, taking on
new risks in the hunt for new deposits of oil.
The experts point out that industry safeguards to prevent or
minimize spills have failed to keep pace with the increased dangers
of the risky exploration, despite a series of warnings, malfunctions and
near-misses over the years.
Strangely, the worst oil
spill in history was not caused by caused by an accident or
negligence. It was deliberately caused by Saddam Hussein of
Iraq in the First Gulf War.
The oil fires of Kuwait
were caused by Iraqi military forces setting fire to more than 600
oil wells as part of a scorched earth policy. The fires
started in January and February 1991. The last one was
extinguished in November 1991.
People asked why Saddam
would deliberately create this terrible environmental disaster.
The conclusion most people reached was that he wanted to continue to punish the
Saudis, Kuwatis and
the West for foiling his invasion. The sheer scope of this
senseless destruction was difficult to fathom.
For some reason, we can
all understand running a tanker against a reef or doing a sloppy
cement job on an oil rig, but to willfully sabotage the Earth out of
spite is incomprehensible. Saddam was surely a madman in every
sense of the term.
Saddam Hussein was
clearly a monster of the first magnitude. His actions raised
the question - what was Saddam capable of doing if he got hold of
biological weapons or nuclear material?
The Second Gulf War was
based on the quite real possibility that Saddam had weapons of mass
destruction. This man would have been more than happy to
destroy the whole planet if he had the power to do so. He made
that clear with his actions in Kuwait. If he couldn't win, he
would leave a path of destruction to remember him by.
Saddam some sort of aberration. Monsters like Saddam have existed
throughout history. For example, Caligula and Nero were the main
reasons the Romans feared using the Emperor system. Hitler
deliberately sent millions to their death without any conscience.
Mao, and Stalin allowed millions of their own countrymen to die
corrupts. Monsters exist.
Saddam is the perfect
example of the insanity we all fear. There are human beings
who are so sick they would destroy the entire Earth if it suited
Evil has existed throughout time. During the Mongol
invasions in the 13th century, these Asian savages would stop at the
gates of towns. They demanded each town surrender immediately
or face extermination. It was no bluff. If the town resisted, at the end of the
day each Mongol soldier was given 20 civilians to personally kill in
Who can possibly guess
how many people died during the Mongolian genocide? Some
estimates suggest that half the population of Asia was eradicated.
To this day, people blame the ancient Mongol blood for the
ruthlessness of Communist regimes in Russia and China.
None of us understands this level of ruthlessness,
but we know it exists.
DISASTER - FLYING CATASTROPHES
HINDENBURG, CHALLENGER, APOLLO 13
The Challenger and Hindenburg disasters
disasters caused by man's desire to test his limits in
the area of transportation. Apollo 13 came very close to
being another terrible disaster along these same lines.
The Hindenburg and the Titanic share a very close tie. Both
the dirigible and the luxury liner were on the cutting edge
of transportation technology. These two accidents were tragic
outcomes as man struggled to master new forms of
The 1937 Hindenburg
Disaster was caused by a sudden fire that started just as the
dirigible was landing in New Jersey.
With hundreds of
onlookers and newsmen there to greet the massive airliner, the
Hindenburg disaster was caught on live film in New Jersey. There is an amazing one minute video showing men running for
their lives from the burning wreck and passengers screaming.
If you have never seen the footage, you need to see it -
Hindenburg Disaster. You will get goose bumps just
listening to the terror in the announcer's voice.
The incredible footage
scared the wits out of everyone. Thanks to the horror of the
live footage, the Hindenburg accident ruined the dirigible
industry. After that, no one would set foot on a dirigible again.
After watching the tape, I can't blame them.
To me, Challenger and Apollo 13 are not necessarily examples
of human carelessness, but rather risky and quite noble
attempts to expand the horizons of our knowledge.
engineers at NASA were trying as hard as they could to make
these space launches safe. Our astronauts knew they were
taking chances. I always say test pilots are the bravest
people on earth - they are willing to fly someone else's
experiment knowing full well they might not come back.
Unfortunately, sometimes there are flaws in the design that
have to be discovered "the hard way". For example, with 100
years to study the Titanic, engineers have discovered the
Titanic had serious vulnerabilities its designers were only
vaguely aware of. For example, as I studied the reasons why
the Titanic sank so fast, one person said the "16 watertight
compartments" that were supposed to be on the cutting edge
of safety design were totally ineffective. New
technology always carries risk.
As man strives to explore his horizons, trial and error is
unavoidable. However, we
usually assume the kinks are worked out ahead of time...
certainly not on a
luxury liner's maiden voyage or the second season of
Although it is a shame to see Challenger and Titanic fall to
pieces in such a spectacular fashion, it is of some comfort
to know that in both cases the engineers made sure to learn how to do it
better the next time. Man refuses to accept defeat.
and we try again.
Man's willingness to use his mind to improve his standard of
living is what has put us at the top of the food chain.
However, when you look at the wide-spread environmental
destruction, the curse of over-population, genocide. and the threat of
nuclear winter, you have to wonder if man has
the accompanying wisdom to go along with his scientific advances.
Man's pioneering attitude often seems to race ahead of his
common sense. Will man's bold desire to conquer all
obstacles destroy us all through nuclear weapons or
Or will man's courage allow us to
someday fly through space with the same ease that
airplanes cross our continents today?
No one knows the answer.
Right now it could go either way.