Friday, February 24, 2012

Brain Droppings: Why "Run Silent. Run Deep"?


When I want, or better, NEED, to probe the depths of my soul, I use the metaphor Run Silent. Run Deep. On the surface (pun intended), it's rather obvious. To be truly introspective, one must seek out a quiet spot so as not be distracted. One should also be prepared dig deeply into the root meanings of things to, perhaps, find the answers to the questions that brought you there in the first place. But where does that term come from and does it give us insight into what it REALLY means? I think that you might find the explanation interesting and, hopefully, enlightening.

The term Run Silent. Run Deep. comes to us from the title of a best-selling novel written by Commander Edward L. Beech and was published in 1955. He wrote the novel based on his experiences serving on a US submarine in the Pacific during WWII. In 1958 it was made into a movie starring Clark Gable and Burt Lanchaster. Although fiction, it is considering accurate in its depiction of the tactics employed by a WWII submarine and the effect those tactics had on the men who served on them.

One of those tactics used to avoid attack by a surface ship was to rig for silent running and prepare to dive! Surface warships would use sonar (that annoying pinging sound you hear throughout a movie about submarines) to locate submarines when they were submerged. Sonar uses reflected sound waves to locate an object. Another devise used by attacking surface ships was ultra-sensitive sound listened equipment that could detect even the slightest noise that was emitted underwater. This includes even a cough aboard a submarine! If a surface warship detected a submarine, they would attack it by launching depth charges to destroy it. WWII depth charges where typically 300 lbs. of TNT packed into a container that looked like a trash can. They used a depth sensitive fuse that could be set to explode at various depths with a maximum range of 300-600 feet. They ship's commander would order the charges to be set to explode at a depth where he felt the sub might be located. The hope was to cause a direct hit, but if not, to be close enough to the sub as to create irreparable damage from the impact. Although the attack was based on retrieved date, it ultimately came down to guess work.

To combat these measures, submarines were extremely limited in their response. At this time, all they could really rely on was their stealth. After sighting an attacking surface warship, the sub's commander would order to rig for silent running at which time alarms would blast and the boat (submarines as always referred to as a boat, never as a ship) would dive as rapidly as it could. Once it reached a depth the commander felt would safely hide the boat from the attacking force, the sub would become totally quite - no noise at all. No motors. No alarms. And NO talking! Total silence reigned. Without noise or movement, the sub could not be detected by sonar or listening devices. Now, here's where the cat and mouse game would begin in ernest between the two commanders. The surface commander now had to guess at which depth the sub might be lurking and set his charges accordingly. The sub commander had to hide his boat at a depth where the explosions would not effect them. And there's more intrigue. A typical WWII sub could dive to a maximum depth of about 660-900 feet before the intense pressure at those depths could potentially crush the hull of the boat. Some depth charges could be set to explode at depths of about 600 feet. So, the margin of error for the sub commander was very small; dive too deep and your boat gets crushed. Dive too shallow and be annihilated by an exploding charge.

So, the submarine would find a depth they believe shielded them from attack, hunker down and wait. Run Silent. Run Deep. Often the surface attackers would set their charges at various depths to blanket entire undersea areas with their explosions. Aboard the submarine, all the men could do was wait, think, and often pray. Their lives were literally not in their own hands; it would be determined by others like their commander and that of the surface attackers. And fate would be a major player- either they would make it, or they wouldn't. And they could do nothing to alter the outcome. They could only wait and surrender to their fate. I'm sure that it had to be terrifying. There is a great scene in the Academy Award winning film on a WWII German U-boat, Das Boot (The Boat), that depicts the shear terror of weathering such an attack. In addition to the palpable fear, their is also a sense of resignation in the crew to their fate. This may also be called courage. It the face of such terror the only response is to let go - to accept EVERYTHING that life offers, even until death. There is peace in such release.

The metaphor is strong for me. Because I live so strongly within my own mind, I often believe that I can reason or think my problems away. However, some things in life are beyond our control. We must allow things to take their course, often while all we can do is hunker down and wait for the explosions to pass. We are resigned to our fate while we Run Silent. Run Deep.

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