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The Legal and Political Repercussions of the Loss of RMS Titanic -- --. -.-GMW Wem ss Mar!ham Shaw P le
GMW Wemyss lives and writes, wisely pseudonymously, in Wilts. Having, by invoking the protective colouration of tweeds, cricket, and country matters, somehow evaded immersion in Mercury whilst up at University, he survived to become the author of The Confidence of the House: May 1940 and other works.
Markham Shaw Pyle, author of “Fools, Drunks, and the United States : !u"ust 1# 1941, holds his undergraduate and He is a past or current member of, #merican Historians$ the %ociety for Historical #ssociation$ the law degrees from Washington & ee. inter alia, the !rgani"ation the %ocial of Military History$ %outhern %cience
#ssociation$ the %outhwestern Historical #ssociation$ the %outhwestern &olitical %cience #ssociation$ the 'irginia Historical %ociety$ and the (e)as %tate Historical #ssociation.
Together, Mr &yle and Mr Wemyss are the partners in *apton *ooks, and have collaborated in The !nnotated Wind in the Willows, for !dults and Sensi$le Children %or, &ossi$ly, Children and Sensi$le !dults'( The Co)&lete Mo*"li Stories, Duly !nnotated( The Transatlantic Dis&utations: +ssays and Meditations( and The ,a&ton ,ooks Sa)&ler: a literary chresto)athy-
+opyright , -./- by *apton iterary (rust 0o / 1for 2MW Wemyss and Markham %haw &yle3
#ll rights reserved
*ook design by *apton *ooks
&arliamentary material is reproduced by kind permission of the +ontroller of HM%! in behalf of &arliament.
Advance praise for When That Great Ship Went Down: What sank the Titanic< 4ts builders= belief that, when it came to building ships, “the %cience Was %ettled>. #nd, as this cool reassessment of the U% and *ritish Titanic en?uiries shows, politicians and regulators in /5/- were @ust as bad as the current lotA they had a progressive political narrative to push, and their own secrets to hide. %ounds familiar. B Cames Delingpole, Daily Tele"ra&h columnist, -./. winner of the *astiat &ri"e for !nline Cournalism, and author of, most recently, .ater)elons: The /reen Mo0e)ent1s True Colours 4n this sharply and eruditely8drawn account of the (itanic 4n?uiries on either side of the #tlantic, the authors warnA E.hat lessons this )ay hold for Mr Ca)eron and Mr Sal)ond is $eyond the sco&e of this *ork-1 Fortunately, their vivid reconstruction and analysis enable us to draw plenty of damning parallels. (his is a parliamentary procedural as well as the re8creation of a vanished pre8War world$ its political and intellectual processes as well as a sociology ranging from (rollope to Coyce. (his is far more than another clever E(itanic= book. B #nne8Glisabeth Moutet, &aris +olumnist, The Sunday Tele"ra&h +ontributing
TO THE LOST, AND ALL THOSE WHO SOUGHT TO DO JUSTICE.
4ntroductionA (he %keleton Hag.........................................../ &rologueA ast 0ight Was the Gnd of the World..................5 !n Moonlight *ay............................................................./; (he *and &layed !n..........................................................-9 Hello, ma baby, hello, ma honey........................................6/ (he Harbour of ove.........................................................76 Hoamin= in the 2loamin=................................................./I6 #ny &lace the !ld Flag Flies.........................................../7: 4 Do ike to *e *eside the %easide.................................-/: +ome *ack to Grin...........................................................I/I *ig %teamers....................................................................I79 *ibliography....................................................................;.: (able of #uthorities .........................................................;// 0arrative notes.................................................................;/I 4nde) ...............................................................................;-6 +olophon .........................................................................;;;
When That Great Ship Went Down:
The Legal and Political Repercussions of the Loss of RMS Titanic -- --. -.-GMW Wem ss Mar!ham Shaw P le
"ntroduction: The S!eleton Rag
2H!%( %hip. %he sails on forever in the
imagination, and in her wake are old political and legal issues that, unnoticed, yet shape our world, @ust as she has become a metaphor that shapes our languageA and language, always, shapes thought. 4n sober fact, she sank a century ago, in #pril /5/-, although in the imagination and in the world her loss made, she sails on, unsinkably. Her story has been told time and again, well and poorlyA yet it has almost always been the dramatic story of her loss, the sinking of a ship that became a symbol. (he conse?uences, in the politics of *ritain and the United %tates, in law, and in international affairs, are commonly forgotten. What is remembered is the myth. (he myth set sail even as the great liner slipped into the death8cold embrace of the 0orth #tlantic. We know, a century
on, much that was not known in /5/-A her true position, the probable cause of her loss, and how much of the myth was false in fact. 4t does not matter B in several senses. &erception again trumps reality. For the purposes of this volume, it does not matter that we know now what the Wreck +ommissioners and %enate subcommittee and courts of admiralty and House of +ommons did not knowA for they acted upon what they knew and upon what they believed to be true, without the benefits of our after8knowledge$ and this work is concerned with what they did and why they did itA and that rests upon what they knew and assumed, not what upon we have learnt since. #nd as a potent symbol, a popular myth, Titanic and her loss reck nothing of the facts then known or the facts known now. #lmost before the survivors reached 0ew Jork aboard Car&athia, the Titanic of myth had been salvaged and had commenced her eternal @ourney. Fashionable preachers denounced her as having, by hubris, invoked 0emesis, although this intensely 2reek concept was wrapt in the diction of &rotestant +hristianity. #frican8#mericans sang of her fate, as punishment for not having allowed Cack Cohnson to take passage on her, an episode that simply did not occurA E+aptain said, “4 ain=t haulin= no coal>A Fare thee, Titanic, fare thee well=. 4smay was represented as having donned women=s clothing to sneak into a lifeboat$ the Erich would not ride with the poor=$ 2od=s mighty hand showed the world that boasts of her Eunsinkability= Ewould not standA it was sad when that great ship
went down=K. Harland & Wolff, the myth has it, and their Ulster &rotestant workforce, gave the ship in the yard a number of I5.5.;, being, reversed, an appro)imation of E0o &ope= B another outright fabrication. #nd of course, there are the contrary myths B for myth is never consistent B of the band=s playing “0earer My 2od to (hee> and of the stoic gallantry of the 1first8 class3 gentlemen going down with the ship once the women and children were away$ the myths of Ean 4talian= or Ea atin of some sort= attempting to force his way into the boats ahead of the women and children, and being forced back at gunpoint$ the myths of fate and cursesK. eaving aside the curious theology of 2od=s drowning fifteen hundred souls to rebuke scientific and engineering complacency and other forms of mortal hubris, there remain the facts beneath the myths of popular imagination. (here was a huge loss of life, by a cause other than a natural disaster such as storms or ocean cyclones, an insurer=s E#ct of 2od=$ and it was upon a scale that B two years before the 2reat War should bring casualties that put Titanic=s death toll in the shade B was so vast as to be simply incomprehensible. (here was the fact that Titanic was owned, ultimately, by a C& Morgan transatlantic E(rust=, which was to the U% %enate=s &rogressives sin enough to bring condign punishment by 2od and by the +ongress. (here was the fact that she had been built in *elfast by *elfast &rotestants B and the countervailing political fact that the head of Harland & Wolff was a iberal, #scendancy supporter of 4rish Home Hule.
#nd there was the fact that the drowned emigrants from 4reland and the +ontinent had been fatally segregated in steerage by strict measures, cordoned off K to satisfy nativist, often &rogressive, U% immigration restrictions. #nd finally, there was the ?uestion of regulatory incompetence, of the capture of the legislators and the regulators by industryA all bound up with the national pride that the great #tlantic liners represented. Titanic was ultimately owned by an #nglo8#merican consortium, but she was *ritish8registered, a Hoyal Mail %hip, and so far as the public imagination was concerned, a *ritish ship and a *ritish symbol B for good and ill alike. Her loss was a reflection upon *ritish shipping, *ritish seamanship, *ritish engineering, and the *oard of (rade. (he #tlantic liners were all of them symbols, then and after, to the end of the trade. +unard were subsidised by HM 2overnment to Fly the Flag. #merican shipping lines won subsidies. (he French government to the very end assisted the French ine, the Co)&a"nie /4n4rale Transatlanti5ue, with mail contracts and fleet concessions, a method that continued through the launch of France in /5:/. (here were %wedish lines, Dutch lines, 0orth 2erman loyd, Hamburg #mericaK. 4f the industry had captured its regulators, it had first been captured itself by governmentsA enterprises that had been undertaken as bold capitalist ventures had long since become vessels of crony capitalism. #nd if this was so of the shipping companies, it was still more so of the Marconi companies.
(he story of Titanic is, then, the story B as it is the story of all liners B not only of regulatory capture$ it, and the story of all the liners of the day, is not the story only of an engineering consensus, a smug belief that (he %cience Was %ettledA it is also the story of an industry that was as a whole beset by and happily entoiled in corporatism, being a monopolistic and rent8seeking Einterlocking directorate= of business and government in restraint of trade and against the public interest and public safety. / *ritish mercantilism, and corporatism in the relationship of the (reasury with the Gast 4ndia +ompany, had lost *ritain thirteen #merican coloniesA and the iberal &arty had in no small measure been the party of free trade, in rebuking response to those old errors. *y /5/-, it was sunk in corporatism, and the banner of free trade was being taken up by the +onservatives. #merica had been born in revolt against a corporatist, statist settlement, and had within a few years seen the emergence of Henry +lay=s E#merican %ystem=, all tariffs and protectionism, federal subsidies to transport, and central bankingA the ?uarrel, under many names and within all parties as well as between them, between Hamilton and Cefferson, +lay and Cackson, has never ended. 4n these factors also is a part, at least, of Titanic=s story. (he story of Titanic=s actual sinking in #pril /5/- is a story of a natural disaster that might have been avoided by human action, and a tale of tragedy and heroism and cowardice and
/ !f course it is possible to be pro81big38business and anti8free8market. %imply read the Financial Ti)es to see how they do it. 4t=s pink for a reason, you know....
hope. 4t is a /5/- story, in which it was imperative that gentlemen emulate %cott of the #ntarctic, whose martyrdom had been achieved only a few months before. *ut that is not our story. 4t does not matter to our story whether Titanic might better have struck the iceberg full ahead$ or to what e)tent- the ice was loosed into the shipping lanes by the Canuary /5/- coincidence of perihelion and a perigean spring tide$ or what messages were received and not received by the bridge$ or why her dead reckoning position was off by some miles$ or who behaved nobly and who, feebly, aboard. Cust so, it does not, in the end, matter what was true in fact, but rather what was believed to be true in /5/-, when, floating to the surface and bobbing amidst the wreckage, the legal and political, the diplomatic and economic, conse?uences of Titanic=s loss appearedA for those conse?uences, resulting from what was known and thought in /5/-, are our story, and shape the world in which we live unto this day. (he story of the legacy of Titanic=s loss is a story of how the Econsensus= of a Esettled science= causes complacency and stagnation B and disaster. 4t is the story of the failings of crony capitalism. 4t is the story of how politics created an #merican agreed truth, a 0arrative that dominated the responses to the disaster, and it is the story of how politics, in the form of a cherished political &ro@ect in *ritain, to which all else was made subservient, twisted @ustice and corrupted politics and law. 4t is the story, also, of legal and political corruption$ of a misplaced
4f any. (he proposal is controversial.
faith in diplomacy as a response to disaster$ of the impotence of coalition government$ of the political supremacy of perception B and spin B over reality. 4t is very much the story of the twin dangers of an ossified legal regime, and of the in6ustice inherent in chan"in" the la* in the )idst of &roceedin"s, which temptation the Wreck +ommissioners and the #merican courts resisted. #nd as was recognised from the outset by the Wreck +ommissioners, the House of +ommons, and the U% %enate, it is the story of how *ritain, past her apogee, and crescent #merica, saw that they could use, and did use, their economic muscle to enforce their regulations upon an unwilling international industry. *ecause the United Lingdom, yet shaken by the *oer Wars, newly confounded by new economic challenges, wracked by sectarian and labour strife, *as past her apogee, this is the story, also, of how, five years before #merica=s entry into the 2reat War, the United %tates had already taken over *ritain=s role as the great Gnglish8speaking &ower. Titanic=s manifest did not list her cargo of fate, and of unintended conse?uences, but when she sailed, when she sank, and when as a symbol she sailed on forever, the Flyin" Dutch)an of law and policy, she carried aboard her the beginnings of our modern world. ... _ _ _ ...
Prologue: Last #ight Was the $nd of the World
!F (HG M!0(H
was a calm and pleasant dayA no horror
lurked in sea or sky, to anyone=s discerning. (he century was yet new. (he attention of the House of +ommons was engaged by contentious issues of domestic policy$ foreign challenge$ the threat of sectarian violence against civilians$ and minor wars amongst other, of course lesser, nations far away, poor benighted souls, which wanted watching only so that HM 2overnment and the United Lingdom might make certain not to become involved in them. #cross the pacific8seeming #tlantic, in Washington, the +ongress of the United %tates droned on as well, dealing with trade and tariffs, defence appropriations, defence reform and retrenchment, pensions and welfare, navigation, gun control,
patronage and logrolling, and, always, pork. *oth parties were struggling B successfully B with their consciencesA over crony capitalism, antitrust issues, populism, Eprogressivism=, foreign aid and interventions abroad, nation8building, and, above all, with the necessity for national political parties to drive disparate horses of very different colours in harness, however uneasy that harness might be. #mericans were well into the toils of baseball fever already B particularly in *oston and 0ew Jork. 4n Gngland, there was much grumbling and agitation for change of approach and manager by 2ooners, %purs supporters, and both of the Mancunian tribes, who were locked as ever in internecine bitterness. 4n *ritain, #ustralia, 4ndia, %outh #frica, 0ew Mealand, and the West 4ndies, the @ars and upsets of the Muddied !afs were disregarded by Mr Lipling=s Flannelled Fools, who were wholly absorbed by the greatest of games B not least due to Gngland=s recrescent superiority over #ustralia. 4nternational travel was more popular, widespread, and popularly affordable than ever before. #s a result, and in the face of restrictions upon immigration that accomplished nothing, #merica was becoming daily more cosmopolitan B and more populous, as emigration from Eless happier lands= built steadily. 0ot everyone was content with his lot$ not all were content to emigrate. (here were protests and incidents and smashed shop8 fronts, notably in the West Gnd$ and !ld abour and the working classes felt themselves increasingly betrayed.
4n %outhampton, there was but a minor incident in harbourA no omen at all. Men of law, barristers and solicitors in ondon, admiralty lawyers in 0ew Jork, went their ways without foreboding. 0o one foresaw that, within a week, all should be shattered and upset$ all the old certainties, all the promises of the new, dashed into fragmentsA that there should come without warning a loss of life on a scale that none could comprehend. 0o one imagined on the //th of the month that international carriage and travel should be shaken to its core, that communications and transport and intelligence of threats should be shown up as failed and failing, that a mass disaster should cause man to ?uestion all his certainties, and to seek answers in class resentments and find causes in perceived greed, hubris, the nemesis that waits upon hubris, and the chastening and almighty hand of a vengeful 2od, visiting condign punishment upon gilded sinners and upon modernity in its pride. 0o one imagined that within the week, and over the succeeding years, even as war engulfed the world, new treaties and new policies should be crafted to respond to a threat no one on this day imagined, and law and politics be changed forever by the loss of so inconceivably many lives. NNNNNNNNNNNN
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