August 7, 2003 by AK

I turned on the TV tonight and the first thing that caught my eye was a Russian atomic missile-carrying submarine getting scrapped. It turned out to be K-19, the one in that movie with Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson. A former electrician from K-19 spoke about that incident; about the repairmen who had gone into the reactor area to fix the problem and got a deadly dose of radiation in the ten minutes they spent there. He said the movie reconstructed that episode, which he witnessed, quite realistically. They even showed a few seconds from the film — the return of the hopelessly sick repair crew. It was all part of an extended news program, I think. When a military ship is sent down for scrapping (“utilization”), there is something of a burial about it, with a proper ceremony with flags and (for K-19, at least) throwing flowers into the sea. The camera closed up on them, floating in the ever cold Arctic water.

A few years after the reactor incident, K-19 collided with a US submarine; in three more years, there was a fire aboard the ship. For this trail of tragic incidents, sailors nicknamed K-19 “Hiroshima”. The “Widowmaker” is a good coin, but has no Russian equivalent, and not a drop of black humor.

I risk sounding airheaded, but I recall one scene from Thornton Wilder’s Theophilus North: the protagonist leans over his old, old car he has just sold to a spare parts dealer, and whispers:

Warte nur, balde

Ruhest du auch.


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