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The Titanic Disaster Hearings: The Official Transcripts of the 1912 Senate Investigation
When Tom Kuntz, the
"Word for Word" section editor of the New York Times, started researching
a column on the Senate hearings about the Titanic disaster, he discovered that this supposedly
public information was tough for the public to come by--it was stuck away in archives on
cumbersome microfiche. The Times just hates anything that comes between people and
information--just look at its historic efforts to publicize the government's Vietnam policy in the recent
book The Day the Presses Stopped: A History of the Pentagon Papers Case. So Kuntz
intelligently excerpted and published, for the first time ever, these transcripts, noting without fear or
favor his own paper's participation in the then-common practice of checkbook journalism and
presenting hundreds of pages of gripping eyewitness testimony. The Titanic Disaster Hearings also
includes a helpful, if rather brief, index to the testimony, so you can look up "Lookout men, glasses
for" and turn to the page with this heartbreaking discussion of the owners' inexplicable refusal to give
the lookouts binoculars:
SENATOR SMITH: Suppose you had had [binoculars], could you have seen this black object [the
iceberg] a greater distance?
MR. FLEET [a Titanic lookout]: We could have seen it a bit sooner.
SENATOR SMITH: How much sooner?
MR. FLEET: Well, enough to get out of the way...
"Here the world learned of Isidor and Ida Straus's decision to die together rather than separate
under the 'women and children first' evacuation tradition," writes Kuntz. "Archibald Gracie vividly
described people swarming up the Titanic's rear decks as the ship plunged deeper into the sea."
One does not envy the wireless operators explaining how their state-of-the-art system managed to
screw up so badly, nor Titanic officer Pitman, who claimed his passengers and crewmen refused his
order to row back to pick up screaming survivors in their boat, which had room for 20 more
people, because they feared those in the water would swamp them:
SENATOR SMITH: How many of these cries were there? Was it a chorus, or was it--
MR. PITMAN: I would rather you did not speak about that.
SENATOR SMITH: I would like to know how you were impressed by it.
MR. PITMAN: Well, I can not very well describe it. I would rather you would not speak of it.
SENATOR SMITH: I realize that it is not a pleasant theme, and yet I would like to know whether
these cries were general and in chorus, or desultory and occasional?
MR. PITMAN: There was a continual moan for about an hour.
There are 32 useful pictures in the book, but its raison d'Ítre is words, which Kuntz has compiled
and arranged in an addictively readable fashion.
Merely a day after Titanic survivors arrived in port in New York City, a United States Senate
committee began an investigation into the wreck of the great "unsinkable" ship. For the first time in
book form, here is the dramatic testimony of crew and passengers from all walks of life, as they
recall the sights and sounds of the night of April 14, 1912.
From the manners of the day to the conduct fo those boarding the lifeboats, from acts of kindness to
palpable greed, here is an unforgettable portrait of human nature in the face of the Titanic tragedy,
in the words of the men and women who survived....J. Bruce Ismay, British officer of the White
Star Line, who hopped into a lifeboat to save himself and never looked back to see her go
down....Second officer Charles Lightoller's harrowing plunge as the sinking ship's force of suction
pulled him under water....On-duty lookout Frederick Fleet's admission that the iceberg might have
been avoided if the crew had been equipped with binoculars....Passenger Daisy Minahan, who
recalled the refusal of an officer in her lifeboat to aid those adrift in the frigid waters...and many more
witnesses to one of the most shattering events of our century. Illustrated with historical photographs,
The Titanic Disaster Hearings is a vital piece of the puzzle that has sparked worldwide fascination.
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