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Is Gallantry Dead?

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In the southwest corner of Washington, D.C., at 4th and P Street, stands one of the least visited of our National Monuments: the statue in tribute to the men of the Titanic. The 13-foot tall red granite statue stands quietly alone with his arms out flung in a pose that was imitated in the 1997 movie Titanic by Kate Winslet standing on the bow of the fated ship.

It was just before midnight on April 14, 1912 that the Titanic struck an iceberg in the frigid Atlantic. Over 1500 people, predominately men, died that night. There was but one "duty" for the men of the Titanic... women and children first. And, so it was.

There was no action or drive in Congress to recognize these heroic actions or honor the men who gave their lives. It was over nine years later that the Women's Titanic Memorial Association, led by Helen Herron Taft, widow of President Taft, erected the statue at the foot of New Hampshire Ave, NW in Rock Creek Park along the Potomac. The statue, designed by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, carried the inscription on the front which read:




OF ...

APRIL 14, 1912







Women would gather each year on the anniversary to place flowers and give thanks and prayers to the spirit of these men. Today, the women no longer gather and there are no flowers or prayers of gratitude. In 1966 the statue was put in storage for two years to make way for the Kennedy Center. When it was moved in 1968 to its present location, it was done so without ceremony. No one seemed to know or even care. Recently, the Men's Titanic Society, composed of a handful of journalist, that gather at midnight on the anniversary to drink a champagne toast to the memories of those brave men.

"Tonight, we pay tribute to some of the people on that fabled ship, people who acted with grace under pressure, people who kept the lights running, people who kept music playing, and people who gave up their seats so that women and children might be saved. To those brave men! Hear, Hear!"

Is that kind of gallantry gone from our society? Did it begin to die with the death of King Arthur and Don Quixote? Did it R.I.P with the Women's Liberation Movement? The women's movement definitely skewed the lines of gender obligation. Certainly, there is now a conflict in the traditional values of men and women. The "duty" of both has become the same. Men are pulled in many directions, torn by the dichotomy of whether their actions will be perceived as: gallant or patronizing; gallant or condescending; gallant or sexist. There are different sets of rules that pertain to social situations, to romantic situations, and to the work environment. Simple actions as whether to open doors, or to carry a heavy item, or stopping to fix a flat for a stranded women become leaps of faith. The inherent danger is that if our young men are not taught the values of chivalry and gallantry then they will not come to the aid of a woman in need. There is a subconscious knowledge, in the unsavory that dwell among us, that just around the corner or next door or nearby is a man who still believes in those traditional values. That is the silent protection that all women and children have without their knowing it.

Somewhere in our nature we find comfort and closure when in the struggle between the good and the not good, truth and justice prevails. Our humanity knows it vulnerabilities. Is gallantry dead? I believe more so than not. When a statue erected by the Women of America in gratitude to the ideals of gallantry is forsaken by those same women; when a nation only cares temporarily for acts of bravery before moving on to the next celebrity scandal; when mothers and fathers cease instilling those values in their children; then we all have become diminished. What I do hope, is that gallantry's memory still lives somewhere within us and that it does not take times of extraordinary peril for it to breath once again. Yet, I do wonder, that if a Titanic episode were to happen again today, how different would the results be?

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