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. See:
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
Some would say that the chivalry
that is commemorated by the Titanic
Memorial is an anachronistic
hold-over from a fading era of male
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.