Monday, May 7, 2007

God's in His heaven

It's the birthday in 1812 of English poet Robert Browning. My favorite passage of his is the Song from "Pippa Passes." Yeah, it's sweet, but that's it: it's sweet. I like it. It makes me happy on summer mornings.

It's also the day in 1915 that the Cunard liner Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat. More than 1,100 passengers and crew lost their lives in this attack, among them at least 100 Americans. The Lusitania was a sister ship to the Mauretania and Aquitania, and were smaller -- though faster -- than the ships of the White Star Line (Olympic, Titanic and Britannic). The ship was built in Clydebank, Scotland, and launched in 1906.

The German submarine U-20 was operating in the Irish Channel in the spring of 1915. Despite warnings of submarine activity and the discovery of three German spies on the ship, Captain William Turner continued on his voyage. At about 2:20 p.m. Captain Schwieger of the U-20 ordered fire on the Lusitania. Struck below the bridge, a subsequent explosion below decks caused the ship to sink in less than 20 minutes. Lifeboats were hindered by the ship listing dangerously because of water pouring through its side and poor design of the hull plates. The dead recovered from the water are buried in the Church of St. Multose in Kinsale, Ireland. Others still lie in the wreck, near the point of Old Head of Kinsale.

Schwieger was branded a war criminal by the international press for firing on an unarmed passenger ship. Speculations abounded in later years that the Lusitania may have actually been carrying munitions and war materiel. These have never been proven.

War is a funny thing. It causes humans to take actions that are inexplicable and irrational. I can't get my head around the idea of firing on an unarmed ship full of people in the middle of a channel. How do you live with having given the order to fire, or actually being the finger on the trigger?

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