Heroes and Villians. That was the title of a Springfield Youth Symphony concert that I printed last year, and it has stuck in my mind for such a time as this.
Heroes and Villians. Certainly the Titanic disaster produced plenty of both that night, from Baker Joughin and Fifth Officer Lowe to members of the ship's orchestra and Steward John Hart -- all undeniably heroes, to "villians" such as Quartermaster Hitchens (certainly not the most likeable character in a lifeboat that night), Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon (a minor villian at best, and that debatable), and Bruce Ismay (a villian of William Randolf Hurst's making).
A true villian is hard to find. Would it be Captain Smith -- he who supposedly ignored ice warnings? Wireless Operator Jack Phillips -- if he hadn't blown off Cyril Evans, might history have been changed? First Officer Murdoch -- for not ramming the ship into the iceberg? None of these would be true villians, and frankly, I toss Phillips into the mix only for sake of argument -- I hold him as a true hero of the night; Murdoch did what nearly any other ship's officer would have done -- try to miss an obstacle in front of him; Smith did what virtually any other captain would have done up until that time -- charge ahead until out of danger.
Like I said, a true villian is hard to find. Yet here is Captain Stanly Lord, a hard-bitten looking fellow, described as a disciplinarian who just happened to be on a ship that I believe was within sight of the Titanic's lights and socket signals. His defenders were few, and his guilt was only eclipsed by that of Bruce Ismay (another topic, please -- and you'll find me a defender of his) in the newspapers. Lord was seemingly evasive in some of his earliest statements to the press, and the nearness of the Californian to the Titanic was easily seized upon by anyone looking for a scapegoat.
I happen to believe that Lord should have done much more that night, and that the Californian -- even if it couldn't have reached the site of the disaster until after the sinking -- should have shaken off a stupor and done more than just watch strange lights and signals on the horizon. Others believe just as strongly that Lord was well out of range, and that nothing further could have been done to help rescue passengers and crew of the Titanic.
It becomes decisive because of the personal attachment that various researchers have to one point of view or the other. I've seen discussions that go almost nuclear over the guilt or innocence of Lord, and all participants strongly believe that they are on the side of the right. Is Lord the villian of the evening or not? That question may never be answered to anyone's satisfaction. All I can do is urge any student of this subject to read the source material that is available, discarding none of it (even if it brings up points that you would rather ignore) and avoid the posturing and editorializing that many have participated in through the years. As with any political speech where I listen to through the end of the speech and then turn the television off so as to avoid the talking heads telling their version of what I've just heard, use your own mind to go through the volumnous material and decide for yourself what happened.
The THS may have a reputation for being a pro-Lordite group, but at the same time, I can point to article after article and letter after letter that have been printed in the Commutator that are critical of Lord. I can also state that this issue is hardly the focus of the group; the vast majority of the material presented in the Commutator deals with the many other aspects of the Titanic, other ships of the line, and the occasional report on other matters of maritime history that are important. My position on the Californian is well known, and yet still I have numerous book reviews and the odd article printed -- and I can point to other well known Commutator contributors that hold to the same point of view and are still contributors to the journal.
This is a troubling subject, and one that has inspired millions of words written both pro and con in regards to Captain Lord. This post will hardly be the final word on the matter, and, putting on a moderator's hat for the moment, anyone who wants to engage in rancorous debate with personal attacks will find that this message board is not the place for such.