American researchers are firing back at a Swiss university researcher's report that “politeness” led to the deaths of 225 British passengers aboard the Titanic.
Professor Bruno Frey of the University of Zurich claims that the British passengers on the doomed cruise liner perished in the 1912 disaster because they were polite and willing to stand in line while American passengers pushed their way to the front and were placed in lifeboats.
While “women and children first” was followed as the "unsinkable" cruise ship hit an iceberg and fell to the floor of the Atlantic, Frey claims that many Britons lost their lives because they were courteous, while "uncultured" Americans were more likely to push ahead in line.
"The British were much more aware of the social norms at the time," Frey told the U.K.’s Daily Mail newspaper. "They would have been more likely to stand in a queue and wait their turn for boarding the lifeboats than Americans."
But American researchers say Frey’s claim is an example of Brits putting themselves on a pedestal.
"It sounds like post-modern revisionist history," said Karen Kamuda of the Massachusetts-based Titanic Historical Society. "To say that Americans act a certain way and the British act a certain way is racist."
Ithaca College social sciences librarian John R. Henderson, who compiled a comprehensive report on the Titanic, suggests that the percentage of casualties on the ship was based more on social status than race. The ship had been divided into three classes based on wealth.
The third class, which was most affordable, had the greatest concentration of immigrants. Only 25 percent of the passengers in the third class made it out alive, according to Henderson’s research. This was possibly due to the fact that there was no public address system in place on the Titanic. The third class also had less access to lifeboats.
"The first class lifeboats were gone by the time the third class was even told [that the ship was going down]," Henderson said.
The Titanic was making its maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York Harbor with 2,014 people aboard in April 1912 when it hit an iceberg in the northern Atlantic. The death toll from the disaster, one of the worst in maritime history, was 1,509 people. Seventy-two percent of its women passengers and 50 percent of the children on board reportedly survived.