Richard Eyer Smith's Excellent Adventures in Paradise

Thursday, December 2, 2010


I've done a little time at sea, and, to paraphrase Dickens, there are the best of ships, there are the worst of ships.

A few weeks ago, Cath and I spent seven days cruising the lovely Caribbean Sea aboard the GTS (Gas Turbine Ship) Celebrity Summit. On board this splendid ship were about three thousand people from over thirty five different countries.

The goal of the passengers was to relax and enjoy. The goal of the crew was to make money by helping the passengers relax and enjoy. These thousands of people got along well with one another. There were no fiery political debates, no righteous religious testimonies or heated ideological conflicts. Other than a few rowdy conga-lines of off-key merrymakers, people were well behaved and delightfully cordial to one another.

Think of it: thousands of people from thousands of places around the globe have worked over many years to build, provision and maintain this beautiful ship.

All this marshaling of human capital and material resources was for the sole purpose of giving other folks a pleasant vacation. To the extent that the workers succeed, they are able to make money to raise their families and enjoy their lives.

Is it just possible that cruise ships are mankind's greatest accomplishment?

And then, there's the other side of the nautical equation. A number of years ago, in connection with my job as an air traffic controller, I was flown out to an aircraft carrier. It was stationed about one hundred miles north of the US Virgin Islands as part of an international naval exercise.

Now, I can tell you that landing and taking off from an aircraft carrier are truly thrilling experiences. My heart beats a bit faster just remembering that day.

I can also tell you that the awesome blast of jet engines, the unforgettable smell of kerosene and the precision of the deck crew during launch and recovery periods is mind numbing. It's like watching a magnificent ballet . . . but a ballet that has gone terribly wrong.

While below decks, a feeling washed over me: I am in the presence of incredible evil; pure and unadulterated evil.

This remarkable work of engineering brilliance has but one purpose. It is designed to kill people. Lots of people.

Here, just as with the GTS Summit, thousands of people had labored, combining their singular talents and best efforts. They had built a technological masterpiece. This thing is beautiful in its display of creative genius. But in this instance, everything has been done for the purpose of spreading death and destruction.

To this day, I feel a chill at the memory of such an amazing display of humanity run amok . I know many will argue the need for such things. I say to them, I have seen the instruments of war and the instruments of peace, and, as we say aboard the good ship Summit, I'll have another piece of strawberry cheesecake, please.

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