R.M.S. Lusitania, 1915 versus September 11, 2001
R.M.S. Lusitania, 1915 versus September 11, 2001
In the course of human history, people have felt the cause and effect of disasters many a times. Natural or manmade disasters have caused immeasurable damage to human lives and property that they evade all reasons and logic. Natural disasters cannot be avoided or prevented because they are nature's outburst. Whereas the effect of manmade disasters is more profound because in the reason for their occurrence is completely human folly. Manmade disasters range from wars, terrorism, chemical warfare, and human errors. This paper tries to explore the nature of two such manmade disasters namely sinking of R.M.S. Lusitania (1915) and September 11 incident (2001). Though widely spaced in time these disasters have evoked similar psychological after effects. They affect not only the immediate victims but also secondary ‘victims’ who are displaced from them yet feel the pain. This paper understands the similarities or dissimilarities that mark these two incidents and analyze the effects based on psychological factors namely Terror Management Theory, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Phases of Disaster Recovery, and Culture as Casualty.
R.M.S. Lusitania was a British ocean liner built in the 1907 and operated between Liverpool, Great Britain and New York, United States between the years 1907 to 1915 (Chris Trueman, 2000 ). It was a merchant navy ship, transporting passengers and goods for many years before the World War I. It had hidden capacities like munitions on board that could change it into a war ship. During these times, the World War I had started in 1914 and United States maintained neutral stance calling it a ‘European War.’ Germany was attacking European countries and had created a naval blockade zone around British Isles. Germany declared that any ship be attacked if not bearing the flags of its country of origin, carrying weaponry, or going too slow. On May 1, 1915, R.M.S. Lusitania left New York port for Liverpool en-route to Europe. It was carrying 1,959 passengers and crew when a German U-boat (submarine) hit it with a torpedo near southern Ireland waters. Within eighteen minutes, the ship sank with a secondary explosion inside the base not having any opportunity to lower lifeboats or save lives. More than 1100 people including men, women, and children died in the cold, Pacific seas out of which 128 were Americans. It was against the merchant trade rules to attack neutral countries or their ships and so public fury was intense. President Woodrow Wilson demanded apology and compensation from Germany but in vain. Six more merchant ships were sunk by Germans before US joined the war. United States joined the Allies in the WWI in 1917 after escalating public opinion and a controversy surrounding German telegram to Mexico.
On September 11, 2011, terrorists in airplanes attacked the famous twin towers of World Trade Center, New York City. Two commercial Airplanes moving at tremendous speeds rammed into the tall towers killing the occupants of the buildings as well as the passengers of the airplanes. Al -Qaeda terrorists conducted these attacks. They had a long-standing grudge against United States for their alleged anti-Islam strategies in general, particularly in Iraq, Russia, Somalia, and India. While the towers fell, numerous police and firefighting teams were also killed trying to save the occupants of the buildings. Simultaneously one more plane crashed into the Pentagon. Targeting the White House, a forth plane crashed in Pennsylvania. About 3000 people were killed in the attacks including building occupants, First response personnel, citizens of New York City, airplane crews, and passengers (CNN Library, 2013). Live coverage of the whole disaster on the television carried the horror into the homes of millions of viewers and the outcry rose to punish the guilty. United States declared war on Afghanistan on October 2001 and President George Bush approved several National Acts to protect the security of the country. Department of Homeland Security was one of them. The Chief of Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden who master minded the attack, was killed in a military crackdown on his hideout in Afghanistan during 2011.
Similarities or Dissimilarities between the two disasters
R.M.S. Lusitania was attacked after warning, where as September 11 incident happened without any fore warning. The sinking of the ship was controversial because there is a suspicion in research circles that it was a ploy to drag USA into the war. United Stated involvement in the World War happened two years later. Other war crimes against prisoners of war, and genocides followed the war. Technological advancements improved the war fare but post war affects like death of family members ,long term injuries, sadness, despair, disease and post traumatic stress disorder were evident in the war veterans. War recovery was slow and lasted for generations.
The attack on Twin towers had conspiracy brewing for long before it was actually executed. However, neither government nor press suspected the threat or risk. The after effects were more prominent in the secondary victims, people who have seen the attack on TV, had close family members or First response personnel killed in action, and visuals were very disturbing. The War on terrorism was declared immediately and restitution took longer. The leader of the terrorists was killed ten years later. Both disasters outraged the public for attack on innocents and in both cases, government took military action. The difference was a full-scale war in the World War I and War on Terrorism in the Twin towers case.
Psychology Concepts of Disaster
The disasters of this scale create mass anger and seek revenge. Immediate family members feel the loss of lives or injury with fortitude but many more unconnected, ‘secondary’ victims feel the pain. Normal day-to-day activities are disrupted by discussions, anti-war rallies, and media coverage but the psychological impact is deeper. Effects like fear of death (Terror Management Theory), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Phases of Disaster Recovery, and Culture as Casualty surface.
Euphoria generated after a disaster triggers fear of death in most people. This fear induces unwarranted actions like fear of strangers - Muslims or Asians in the case of 9/11 and Germans in the case of the ship sinking. Feeling of suspicion, distrust and prejudice surface. Attacks on anyone with a beard, suspecting someone carrying explosives, fear of travel induced due to ship sinking or plane crashes, are some of the affects. Whether the disaster occurred with or without a warning does not matter, the only thing that matters was how people died or how death is inevitable in human lives. This recognition drives many sane people into a crisis and fears trigger. Improved self-esteem helps counter these fears of inevitable death (Eddie Harmon-Jones, Linda Simon, and Jeff Greenberg., et.al., 1997).
“Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that's triggered by a terrifying event. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event (Mayo Clinic, 2011). War veterans are in a daze for years together, otherwise called PTSD. They suffer body pains, headaches that cannot be explained by modern science. The continued exposure to death, injury, lack of mercy and inhuman activities in wars trigger the mind into a daze that this disorder does not wear-off. The ship sinking may not have triggered this problem in secondary victims since it happened at sea. Few survivors lived to recount the deaths at sea but there was not much media coverage on them. However, in later years the sinking of more merchant, passenger ships by German u-boats would have brought back the memories of Lusitania and so fear persisted. In the case of 9/11 the victims jumping from the 20th or 30th floor of the twin towers, planes crashing into the buildings, people running in all directions are images permanently captured in camera and also in the minds of television viewers. Not only the immediate victims and their families, but also many people in the world are affected by these repeated telecasts. Anxiety related body pains, stress while flying in airplanes has ingrained into many a mind.
Following the disaster, people go through several Phases of Disaster Recovery (North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, 1999). The first is heroic, when they act and feel the need to save others lives and property, followed by honeymoon period when they realize their actions appreciated and rewarded. Disillusionment is the last stage that takes longer to recover. This stage makes people venerable and disappointed with their own state, despite the work they may have done earlier. Reconstruction and reorienting themselves towards their own lives becomes the need of the day yet seem impossible. In the Lusitania case, the first two stages all well documented but the disillusionment stage is also evident. It took two more years for US to decide to join the World War I, as the recovery was not evident in countries that were participating in the war. Since it was a compulsion to join the war, as well as a necessity, the recovery lasted for years and generations.
In the case of 9/11, the heroic acts of First response personnel have been stories of a live time. Movies showed the series of events happening. Some of the survivors may be still in the honeymoon period recounting the acts of bravery, camaraderie, and cooperation. Reconstruction phase may take longer than imagined because the twin Towers were a symbol of prosperity and trade and their physical absence is long felt by many people. The number of people who died is also fresh in the memory, as the event occurred in the recent decades. Commemorative days celebrated every year reminding the survivors of fateful day. This makes recovery of the survivors even more difficult.
Human mind is a power- house, which digs into memory when needed, but cannot discard bad thoughts unless seriously damaged. It is endowed with the powers to discern and think yet there are disagreements amongst people. People disagree on many principles which result is war or war-like situations. The magnitude of physical war has reduced over course of time, but the affect on human minds remain. It only shows that disasters whether fabricated or otherwise will end in the same by-product – disoriented, dazed people who cannot decipher their daily needs. Treating the disaster victims and their families needs to be a multi-pronged approach. Communities and families have to come together to remove fear, prejudice and revengeful attitudes from people’s minds. It is also a time to cure the source rather than remedy the remains.
Chris Trueman, 2000.” The Lusitania.” Wolrd War One. History learning Site. Available at: http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/lusitania.htm
CNN Library, September 11, 2013. September 11 Anniversary Fast Facts. CNN U.S. Available at: http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/27/us/september-11-anniversary-fast-facts/
Harmon-Jones, Linda Simon, and Jeff Greenberg- University of Arizona, Tom Pyszczynski- University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Sheldon Solomon- Skidmore College, Holly McGregor- University of Arizona (1997). “Terror Management Theory and Self-Esteem: Evidence That Increased Self-Esteem Reduces Mortality Salience Effects.” American Psychological Association, Inc. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1997, Vol. 72, No. 1.24-36. Available at: http://www.socialemotiveneuroscience.org/pubs/hj_etal97tm.pdf
Mayo Clinic (Apr 08, 2011).Post-traumatic Stress disorder (PTSD), Definition. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/basics/definition/con-20022540
North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, 1999. Common Stages of Disaster Recovery. North Carolina State University. Available at: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:mlVtXiAi2iEJ:webmedia.unmc.edu/bioprepare/2008Symposia/StagesDisasterRecovery.pdf+&cd=13&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us