That is the sort of feeling I get when reading silly newspaper articles full of sensationalist speculation as to the motives and failings of the Captain of the Costa Concordia, Francesco Schettino. Of more interest is the article (not yet online) entitled “Making a Monster of Human Frailty” by Theodore Dalrymple. Dr. Dalrymple starts:
“Courage is a virtue and heroism is admirable, but do we have a right to demand them?”
He then goes on to say of Captain Schettino:
“Could he have know in advance that he was not up to the mark, that no man was less fitted than he for an emergency?”
I have heard this argument many times. Heroism can not be expected of people – this is absolutely true. But what is expected of someone like Schettino is that he should be able to do his job. Let me explain.
Let us picture someone coming upon an accident. They know some basic first aid and could probably help, but they decide not to. We could point to the faults in this person and criticise them, but we could not expect them to render assistance, as they are not obliged to. Consider, however, the same accident victim rushed into the emergency department. What would you think of the doctor if he decided to take his lunch break at that moment? Or if the nurse said that she didn’t like all that blood and left the resuscitation bay. Rightly, we would not merely criticise but condemn the doctor and the nurse for abandoning their duty of care.
The difference in our expectations of the passing stranger and the doctor and nurse, is not due to our expectation of heroism from either, but our assumption that the doctor and the nurse have both been trained to deal with these events. We do not condemn a civilian from running away from gunfire, but we would certainly condemn a soldier.
Schettino is clearly in the latter category. He is not a lay person thrust into an unexpected situation, he is supposed to be a professional who has been trained to deal with precisely this situation – a sinking ship filled with passengers that he must evacuate. There is no doubt that he has been well trained – he did extremely well initially by swinging the ship round and beaching it in shallow waters. He probably saved many lives doing this. He then promptly abandoned ship leaving 4000 people to mill around in panic. Metaphorically, the doctor took a lunch break.
No one expected Schettino to “go down with the ship”, or some such romantic nonsense. No one expected him to attempt heroic rescue missions for trapped passengers. No one expected him to be a brave person.
We just expected him to do his job.