Charlie Haas and the 2004 National Geographic expedition


Mar 3, 1998
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Charlie Haas, co-author with Jack Eaton of a number of well-respected Titanic books and advisor to numerous expeditions to the wreck, wrote the following message to fellow members of the Marine Forensic Panel in regard to the 2004 National Geographic expedition and subsequent publicity. The relevant portions of his message are presented here with his permission.

quote:

I would like to encourage one or more members of the panel to write a response to National Geographic magazine regarding the significant inaccuracies in Robert Ballard's story pertaining to Titanic as reported in their December 2004 issue. While I will not enumerate all of them here, some points that might be addressed include the following:

1. Submersibles are not responsible for the ship's deterioration. Natural forces and age are. One might point out that the places where submersibles landed are not perforated because of their weight (they can be made weightless by proper ballasting), but because these parts of Titanic's structure are made from the lightest steel.

2. While the scenario is posited that pairs of shoes and a rain slicker found on the ocean floor show where bodies came to rest, bodies have a specific gravity averaging .95 and therefore tend to float, and as the bodies deteriorate, there is even more tendency for them to float. There is no scientific evidence of which I am aware of an "underwater graveyard" that should be left untouched.

3. Dr. Ballard wishes that Titanic were treated in a manner similar to the battleship Arizona. In fact, in early 1942, Navy divers recovered bodies and artifacts from the wreck, and actually cut holes into her deck, cut off her upper works, and re-used her armament as anti-aircraft emplacements around Pearl Harbor. (See Cdr. Raymer's "Descent into Darkness," a book which details the recovery process.)

4. A member might mention how much has been learned from what has been recovered, including (but not limited to) fragments of the ship's hull, rivets, etc.

5. One might mention the amount of science and naval architectural knowledge came from the 1993, 1994, 1996 and 1998 expeditions, refuting Dr. Ballard's suggestion that these operations were little more than "carnivals."

I would urge members of the panel to try to set the record straight. John Eaton and I were asked to serve as consultants for the story, and pointed these and many other fallacies out to National Geographic. Unfortunately, upper management decided to support their “Explorer in Residence.” Mr. Eaton's and my involvement would preclude our writing to National Geographic, but perhaps some panel members might wish to do so, particularly since Dr. Ballard's remarks might well have a chilling effect on future efforts to learn from shipwrecks and their artifacts.

Thank you for listening!

Charles Haas
Co-Historian, Titanic Research and Recovery
Expeditions of 1993, 1996 and 1998.

In later conversation, Charlie provided more information (personal correspondence edited out):

quote:

We [encourage] ET members to forward their reactions to National Geographic Magazine. They may do so via post to Mr. Bill Allen, Editor-in-Chief, National Geographic Magazine, 1145 17th Street N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036-4688. Via e-mail, the contact is [email protected].

If members provide comprehensive lists of the flaws they found in the magazine article (and, later, the television program), that would help NG see the significant problems with Ballard's research and his viewpoint. However, if members wish to have their letters considered for publication, they might wish to keep their letter to 250 words or less, and avoid personal attacks.
 
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Mark Draper

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Aug 24, 2001
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Thanks for the info Park
happy.gif
My viewpoints are the same as Mr. Haas on Ballard's expedition and the errors he made on site. Though I have no need to email National Geographic, my opinions are already here for anyone to read.
 

Mike Bull

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Dec 23, 2000
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Wow Parks, I'd say that's fairly explosive stuff. Two of the most eminent Titanic experts, encouraging that Ballard's rhetoric finally be halted/corrected... definitely worth a letter to the address given, I think.

Mark, if people like yourself don't take the time to contact NG, however will they know our thoughts? I'm not prone to writing to editors, but shall do so in this case, as I doubt he sits and reads the ET forum!

Come to think of it, I'm getting so riled now re. Ballard that I may well write to him personally, too.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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Easley South Carolina
>>Come to think of it, I'm getting so riled now re. Ballard that I may well write to him personally, too.<<

Might want to take a moment to get un-riled then. While many of the assertions as fact made by Dr. Ballard deserve rebuttal, getting angry and expressing same may well be counter-productive. I don't have time to do anything about this right now...tight work schedule and all that...but I may well go for this come the weekend.
 
Jan 7, 2002
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Hi Parks
Thank you for posting Charlie Haas's quote-
I am sitting here applauding, as I agree with him 100%..
What has always struck me illogical is how Dr Ballard continues to dismiss the contributions of others who have explored the wrecksite.

Why does Ballard do this? Why does he refuse to acknowlege the volumous ammounts of information we have aquired through the recovery and exhibition of Titanic artifacts? Why does Ballard downplay the importance of the 2001 Cameron expedition?

Dr Ballard mentioned in his new book there was nothing of historic value ever recovered from he wreck-
Having worked at 5 exhibits, I respond to that with a resounding POPPYCOCK!
People who have visted the exhibits left eager to read about the story of Titanic.

If Ballard's assertion of the historic worthlessness of Titanic's artifacts were true, then why does Dr Ballard feel the wreck should be protected, given that it apparently contains nothing of historic value?
The Titanic wreck must be explored, and artifacts must be recovered, and dives for scientists, historians and (I know not everyone agrees on this one) the public-must continue..
The other alternative is to let titanic crumble apart in darkness, and allow her memory to fade with time....

regards


Tarn Stephanos
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Information can be as important as physical artefacts, in my opinion. I see the 2001 exploration of the Marconi Silent Room as one of the most historically significant finds since the wreck was originally discovered. One of these days, probably within the next decade at most, the roof over the Marconi rooms will collapse (like the one over the Gymnasium) and bury the world's most famous wireless transmitter for all time. I'm glad that Cameron got in there and brought back the room's layout before that happened. And to think that there's so much more that we might not know until we find it...that thought will keep you up at night.

Parks
 
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Eric Paddon

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Jun 4, 2002
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"Why does Ballard do this? Why does he refuse to acknowlege the volumous ammounts of information we have aquired through the recovery and exhibition of Titanic artifacts? Why does Ballard downplay the importance of the 2001 Cameron expedition?"

My own opinion is that it's egomania, pure and simple. Ballard has this self-indulgent obsession with being the "man who found the Titanic" and he wants the history books to think only of him whenever they talk about the Titanic and diving on it.

To Ballard, all knowledge of the Titanic wreck should be frozen in July 1986 and anything after that....only the evil people who disrespected her visited her, so we can easily dismiss them from any meaningful consideration.

And I agree Tarn, that it is hypocritical of him to suggest that Titanic requires this intense effort of protection if in fact the objects below are simultaneously "historically worthless." But to me, the real offense is that Ballard wants the American taxpayer to foot the bill for his self-indulgent "preservation" ideals of underwater museums, and that's one bit of government pork I would gladly say no thank you to, since my money is far better spent when I choose to see a Titanic exhibition of real artifacts for myself.
 
Mar 20, 2000
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From my perspective, the desire to protect the ship is simply because it’s a gravesite for which proper respect should be shown. Whether or not it is technically true that Titanic is an underwater graveyard, it is still the place where 1500 people lost their lives.

Personally I think Charlie Haas’ argument with regard to the USS Arizona is apples and oranges where Titanic is concerned. There were military reasons for diving to the ship and also the extraction of bodies was a potentially "do-able" and humanitarian exercise. The object of course being to lay those men to proper rest - not to pick their cabins clean of razors and pin-ups of Betty Grable, which is the equivalent of what has happened with Titanic.

As I have said here and on other forums, I cannot abide Ballard and his egocentric tactics, his hypocritical criticism of pro-salvagers, and his myriad inaccurate statements, but I do fundamentally agree with him about efforts to salvage Titanic.

I completely understand Bill Willard’s points, made poignantly elsewhere on this site, and I have heard Eric Paddon out, as well. I actually agree very much with both of these men about Ballard and what he has done (and NOT done). But I just cannot wrap my mind around the idea that everyday relics littering the ocean floor are important and should be preserved. To me it is abhorrent and ghastly. Saving a dinner plate or a pot of jelly from Titanic and putting it on display is (to my mind) as morbid as saving something from Ground Zero and showing it off, only to have people walk by and say, "Hey that’s from the 102nd floor! Cool!" It’s disrespectful in my view.

I know that others feel that the way to pay tribute to those who lost their lives is to show these items. I know they feel deeply about that. But to me it’s just too heartbreaking and pitiful and invasive to have these things exhibited. I don’t believe we honor the dead by focusing on their death; their lives must be celebrated. Not a single soul who perished on Titanic — or on Sept. 11, 2001 — would want to be remembered for the horrible deaths they suffered.

Having said that, I realize this is a moral question that people have to decide for themselves. There will never be a right and a wrong answer on this issue, I guess. We all have strong feelings and we all have a right to them.
 
Mar 3, 1998
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According to my read of Ballard's intentions, he is as much opposed to Cameron's exploration inside the wreck as he is to RMST's retrieval of artefacts. Should we follow his advice and stop all manned expeditions to the wreck, even those that seek only to return information?

By the way, unmanned camera sleds have been proven to be just as capable of causing physical damage to the wreck as manned submersibles.

Parks
 
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Cornelius Thiessen

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I agree with you 100% Randy.I very much dislike Ballard's attitude, especially when Cameron has showed us so much more then he ever did. But I agree that Titanic, bones or no bones is a gravesite and should be respected as such. Take all the pictures you want,alot of us do that at cemetaries, but please don't loot the graves.
 

Eric Paddon

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"Saving a dinner plate or a pot of jelly from Titanic and putting it on display is (to my mind) as morbid as saving something from Ground Zero and showing it off, only to have people walk by and say, "Hey that’s from the 102nd floor!"

Randy, it may interest you to know that museums and preservationists went to the trouble of salvaging a good deal from Ground Zero and the Fresh Kill Landfills (where most of the debris was hauled off to) for the express purpose of keeping some specific, tangible reminders of what happened on that day. That included one museum saving a battered fire truck that was recovered, and I for one think we need to see a preserved battered fire truck 100 years from now to understand fully the sacrifice of the men at the WTC, as well as the horror of what happened on that day.

And at the same time, I was fascinated by the story of finding a copy of the New York Times from June 1969 inside a beam that had been placed in it by one of the original WTC construction workers, because in the process something that calls to mind the process of building what was a magnificent structure is preserved for us as well. Keep in mind, the Port Authority's Archives were in the WTC and a great deal of the history of the WTC was lost to us forever on 9/11, and that makes saving what we can find that has historical significance (personal artifacts have all been inventoried and made available to the original owners) to the life and death of the WTC something I am all for.

As for the Titanic, I again go back to a point I have made for more than a decade. If it's okay to gawk at objects on the ocean floor it is okay to see them in a dignified museum setting beacuse if there is something wrong morally and ethically with seeing it in the latter, then as far as I'm concerned gawking at them on the ocean floor is peeping tom voyeurism under the "gravesite" argument. When I visit a real gravesite, I don't open the contents inside the headstone to gawk at but not touch.
 
Jan 7, 2002
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Some of the gathered WTC artifacts I have seen in pictures, which may be on display at the future 911 museum, are some battered cellphones, pieces of the airplanes,a demolished firetruck, and other items that were right in the middle of tragedy.
Like Titanic, the story of the 911 tragedy must be told, and if the exhibition of artifacts from that calimity can make the experience tangible for museum visiotors, I am all for it.....

As for Dr. Ballard, I think he wants the last word on Titanic, and feels his books should be all that is needed to experience the ship.

Regards


Tarn Stephanos
 

Mark Draper

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Aug 24, 2001
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What Ballard is saying doesn't do justice. Seeing images and reading descriptions in a book are nothing like seeing the real thing yourself. Videos/<a href=""> DVDs </a>are as close as most of us will get to seeing the wreck. Unless the person is rich or has contacts to get a ticket to go dive to the wreck, the rest of us have to see the wreck on a<a href=""> tv </a>or in a book.
 

Paul Lee

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Aug 11, 2003
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I've written the following to the NatGeo editor...Parks, could you perhaps forward it to Charles?

Thanks!



Dear Mr.Allen,

        I am writing with regard to some of the more frightening technical and
historical inaccuracies littered within Dr.Ballard's articles about the
discovery of the Titanic, as published in a recent edition of the National
Geographic magazine.

        Dr.Ballard has been eager to make it sound as if he has been an opponent of
salvage since the day "he" found the wreck; in truth, he testified to the US
Congress in October 1985 (less than two months after the discovery) that he
was in favour of artefact retrieval. In a TV interview for the now defunct UK
TV station TVS, Ballard even joked about the wine bottles seen outside the
wreck. He noted that he would love nothing better than to have a wine bottle
from the Titanic, and joked that "I think I'm not going to do it. We'll wait
and see." In fact, as far as I can determine, his opinion changed about the
time of the first US/French recovery expedition in 1987, just before the
publication of another National Geographic article and his book "The
Discovery of the Titanic".

        If we are talking about exploitation of the wreck, then surely Dr.Ballard's
two expeditions are candidates for this moniker as his trips were designed to
show off US Navy technology to the world - and specifically the Soviet Union.

        It is indeed a great pity, as you will agree that the role of the French in
the 1985 search phase has been all but ignored. The French team surveyed
80& of the initial search area and found nothing, saving the US team weeks of
time when their own exploration started. At least one member of the US team
has decried Dr.Ballard, wishing that he would give credit to others.

        The 1986 video and film survey, while initially satsifying, proved to be
frustratingly incomplete due to Dr.Ballard's fascination with photogenic
targets - the grand staircase, the propellers etc. which led to spectacular
finds by future teams. And, of the debris field, how much was seen in 1985/6?
And how much was published in the book? A tiny percentage maybe? The artefact
expeditions have shown how much WASN'T seen by Dr.Ballard in 1985 and 1986.

        In fact, expeditions, in particular the commendable "Ghosts of the Abyss",
have proven to be much more complete, documentation wise, than the Ballard
expeditions. We have now seen the inside of the wreck, something that would
never happen if Dr.Ballard had his own way to prevent trips to the wreck.

        I trust this information is of interest
 
Mar 20, 2000
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Parks wrote: "According to my read of Ballard's intentions, he is as much opposed to Cameron's exploration inside the wreck as he is to RMST's retrieval of artefacts. Should we follow his advice and stop all manned expeditions to the wreck, even those that seek only to return information?"

My answer is, "No." Although I’m opposed to salvage in general, I have to say that if forensic evidence bearing on navigation and communication can be found and studied, I am all for that to be done as it may help experts learn more about what happened and why. Even if such material were to be retrieved, I wouldn’t see it as salvage but a necessary method of studying the sinking. In my opinion, only Cameron (or someone with his level of dedication and knowledge), would be able to manage this kind of work, and I’d hate to see such an effort hindered.

I agree with everything Paul Lee said in his open letter. I think it’s conservative yet broad enough to represent views on both sides of the salvage question. The real issue here is Ballard’s grossly inaccurate statements and Paul addresses this problem quite well.

If Parks would consider making Paul’s letter a petition, in which others of us may affix our names, I would like mine added to it.

I wish the Marine Forensics Panel the very best in addressing this concern.

Randy
 
Mar 3, 1998
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I started this thread by relaying Charlie Haas's open letter to this community. In that letter, Charlie gives his idea of what each individual should do if they feel motivated enough to take action. I see no reason to do otherwise; therefore, I will not be organising a petition. I am not disagreeing with what Paul put in his e-mail -- I am glad that he sent that letter to NG -- and if some feel more comfortable joining a petition rather than personally contacting the editor at NG, then I say go for it.

I don't need to forward Paul's posting to Charlie, because Charlie can read it here himself. I will bring Charlie's attention to it, though.

I just realised that I missed the National Geographic special, "Titanic Revealed," while helping my kids prepare for their school Christmas parties tomorrow. I will now have to wait for it to be re-broadcast. Oh well...my kids come first for very good reason.

Parks
 
Mar 20, 2000
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It was just an idea - geez. As an editor, I know (and Charlie Haas should know) what a publication's inbox looks like, with every Tom, Dick and you-know-who sending letters of complaint, suggestions, unsolicited articles, etc. I can tell you that unless there’s some organization, many individual letters will likely be deleted or ignored. It's just the way it goes. I have, however, sent a message of my own and hope it will help this cause. A petition would be better and carry more weight.

And may I suggest that if Mr. Haas wishes to address the ET community in the future he might consider posting to the message board directly instead of through an emissary, however well-placed.
 

Mike Bull

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Dec 23, 2000
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Indeed, I'm sure Mr Haas would be extremely welcome here. Although some of us do naturally get a little bit 'excited puppy dog' here when a 'big name' shows up, I think Ken Marschall's occasional presence here has proven that it is possible to politely converse with these people, without swamping them, and to enjoy all they can tell us.

Anyways, when I get around to composing my own letter to the NG, I shall more directly address the crows nest telephone/bell claims; those are clear examples of an outright lie, one that has been oft-repeated by Ballard on public record, and would like to see what the NG would have to say about their 'explorer in residence' or whatever he is, being willing to start and then perpetuate an outright lie.
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Randy,

It's virtually impossible for me to say anything without your being offended to some degree. Your idea of a petition is not a bad one...it's just that I have my reasons, which I don't want to go into here, for not leading one as you suggested. I did not mean to offend...you made a suggestion that involved me and I tried to respond that I was not the man for the job as straight-forward as I could. I am not discouraging anyone else, yourself included, from pursuing that route.

I would like to see Charlie post here in person myself, but everyone has their reasons for doing what they do. Actually, by taking a conversation from the Marine Forensic Panel circle and convincing Charlie to allow me to post it here, I was hoping to create a bridge of sorts between the two forums. Maybe some good will come of that, maybe not, but I had to try. Right now, I'm the only member of the Marine Forensic Panel who routinely participates here (there are a few who have popped in temporarily from time to time) and I would like to encourage others do the same. Short of that, I will facilitate conversation to the extent that others want me to.

Parks
 
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