Why Is This Subject So Divisive?

Why Is This Subject So Divisive?

Postby Richard A Krebes on Wed Dec 10, 2008 10:35 pm

There is one thing that holds me back from walking up the gang plank onto the good historical society THS.
Cheifly, the Californian controversey.
The late Walter Lord, a THS member himself in his later days, noted in The Night Lives On that just about any article in the Titanic Commutator on the Californian was in favor of her captain. So none of my writings on this matter would be welcome in this fine journal which I look forward to start reading someday, for I am with Walter and my friend George Behe on this one. To wit: That the Californian did indeed see the Titanic that night and, for whatever reason, did not act until it was too late to have done any good.
Yet in some circles such arguments ammount to heresy. As if those who say the Californian saw the Titanic were publicly calling Stanley Lord a monster.
Yet neithier I nor Walter nor George ever said Lord was a monster. Rather, we felt he was a captain who simply made a tragic mistake. A captain who was a decent, honest man, but still made a misake.
E.J. Smith had similar qualities as a person, after all, yet he too made errors that night.
I am also not satisfied that Stanely Lord was made a scapegoat for the disaster. He got off very lightly. Losing only his captaincy of the Californian as a result of the reports of both inquiries into the disaster and nothing more. His master's license still intact, he kept on commanding steamships until the day he retired. Just not for Leyland's.
He certainly did not meet the fate of one Charles Butler McVay III. The captain of the ill-fated USS Indianpolis during her last tours of duty in the Pacific during WWII. A man convicted of "hazarding his ship" by the US Navy. A charge so absurd (all warships are hazarded by default, especially in combat situations) it should never have been brought in the first place. Yet the charge was made to stick. Dooming McVay to never walk the bridge of a ship of the line again.
To me, if one seeks a captain made a scapegoat, look no further than this man.
But all this is beside the point of this post. Which is namely: Why is this matter so divisive?
Lord's defenders are entitled to their say. Even Walter made this clear in The Night Lives On.
But those who honestly agree with Senator Smith and Lord Mersey's conclusions as to the Californian have been subject to "flame wars", hate mail, etc.
Wynn Craig Wade, for example, noted in his book The Titanic: End Of A Dream that he was surprised by the heated vehemence of some of the pro-Californian historians he came across while his book was in the galley's.
What does such childishness add to the fascinating debate as to wether or not the Californian saw the Titanic?
Nothing. It gets no serious scholar nowhere to indluge in such antics.
So why does it floruish regarding the Californian? Indeed, coats this subject like the rusticles on the Titanic herself?
It is something that troubles this writer deeply ...
Richard A. Held
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Re: Why Is This Subject So Divisive?

Postby Michael H Standart on Thu Dec 11, 2008 2:06 am

>>But all this is beside the point of this post. Which is namely: Why is this matter so divisive?<<

Perhaps because guilty or innocent (Or none of the above) there was a real injustice done to Captain Lord. When he went into Senator Smith's inquiry, he was to put it bluntly, ambushed, and the conclusions made by Senators Smith's "court" were based on some pretty flimsy evidence with amazingly slipshod invesitigation.

Take a look at who was examined in testimony and you'll see what I mean. Stone and Gibson should have been questioned as well. They had the watch at the time after all, but they weren't.

The Mersey Court was a lot more thorough but in the end, Captain Lord found himself being indicted without ever being indicted, tried without really being tried, convicted without ever really being convicted, and thereafter had no recourse or remedy because legally, nothing ever really happened.

I'm old fashioned enough to believe that if a man is going to face charges, he should enjoy the right to a trial where a prosecutor has to offer evidence and where the witnesses must undergo the scrutiny of cross examination by a defence counsel.

This never happened and that, in my opinion, is the real injustice.

Personally, I don't get that excited over it these days, but I can understand why some do. Unfortunately, the passions aroused by this tend to cloud objectivity. For some, Captain Lord is to the left of the Eeeeeeeevile Fu Manchu and probably ought to rank right down there with Pol Pot as a horrific villian responsible for a lot of deaths. For others, he just has to be as innocent as a newborne lamb even though niether extreme is has an awful lot to do with reality.

He was poorly served by his own officers but he made his own mistakes to be sure. As the Captain, he is ultimately accountable for that as any skipper would be, but he was in no way responsible for the people who died on the Titanic. Their fates were sealed the moment steel met ice. Whether six or sixty miles away, his ship was still too far away to make the kind of difference we might wish it could have.

If I had to sum up Captain Lord's real fix, it was just that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It happens.
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Re: Why Is This Subject So Divisive?

Postby Timothy Trower on Thu Dec 11, 2008 2:20 am

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.
All the best,

Tim

THSMB Admin -- timtrower@NOSPAMtitanichistoricalsociety.net (just remove the NOSPAM before sending an email).
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Re: Why Is This Subject So Divisive?

Postby Michael H Standart on Thu Dec 11, 2008 1:30 pm

>>It becomes decisive because of the personal attachment that various researchers have to one point of view or the other.<<

And that may well sum it all up in a nutshell. A circling of the wagons if you will over radically different points of view. To one side, Captain Lord is the sinister Snidely Whiplash, to others the exact opposite.

The catch of course is that real life is seldom that neat.
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