Political influence of Titanic


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Rolf Vonk

Guest
Hello dear people,

We've talked about the social effects of Titanic on society. However I know their were political effects too.

In that era of modern imperialism (1870-1914)the *political batle* between the German empire and England was enormous. Titanic should have been one of the chains in the arms race following by her direct influence on the German/British concurrence in hegemony over the worldsea's.

The disaster with Titanic had a negative effect on British morality. Their authority in the world depended on their powerful fleet. The sinking of Titanic was seen by people as the end of the British empire. Maybe this was one of the most important reasons for Lord Haldane, British minister of war, to request the Germans to reduce their fleet-program on the conference of Potsdam in 1912. The Germans didn't agree, only if England would break with their treaty of the Triple Entente from 1907.
The relation between England and Germany became worser and worser. Finally the arms race and the international rivalry would be two of the causes for World War I.

Were there other political effects (in)directly caused by the building/sinking of Titanic? I really wonder about eventual influence on the American politics as I don't know anything about it. There might be a big chance as I believe their were some American politic-related people aboard Titanic. And what about that message from the pope to president Taft?

Many regards,
Rolf
 

Paul Rogers

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Nov 30, 2000
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Hi Rolf,

This has the makings of an interesting discussion. Thanks for starting it. Here's my initial thoughts - feel free to fire at will!
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Quote:

The disaster with Titanic had a negative effect on British morality. Their authority in the world depended on their powerful fleet. The sinking of Titanic was seen by people as the end of the British empire.
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I'm not too sure I follow your logic here. The British "authority" may have depended upon a powerful fleet, but this may relate to a fleet of warships and not merchantmen. (I acknowledge the exception of Mauretania and Lusitania, designed to be auxillary cruisers in the event of war.)

In those days, the battleship was still seen as the way to project power; a mantle taken over by the aircraft carrier during WWII. I believe that there was a fair old arms race going on between Germany and Britain - but focused primarily on battleships.
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Maybe (Titanic's sinking) was one of the most important reasons for Lord Haldane, British minister of war, to request the Germans to reduce their fleet-program on the conference of Potsdam in 1912.
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Again, I don't follow your logic. Why would the sinking of a merchant ship never designed for war cause a British Minister to act as you state? I'd be more inclined to believe it was the increase in the German navy that was causing Lord Haldane's concern.

I'd agree that there was a political battle going on between Germany and Britain. I struggle, however, to see the link between Titanic's sinking and the navy arms race prior to WWI. I can accept that there may be a link; I just can't see it yet. Please elucidate further!

Regards,
Paul.
 
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Rolf Vonk

Guest
Hi Paul!

I found these points very interesting too. I made a little research about it for my history-class a year ago. I guess I touch the national feelings of you British, but I’m sorry for that! It’s an honour to defend my opinion! So let’s start and prepare yourself for my merciless sermon:

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I’m not too sure I follow your logic here. The British “authority” may have depended upon a powerful fleet, but this may relate to a fleet of warships and not merchantmen. (I acknowledge the exception of Mauretania and Lusitania, designed to be auxillary cruisers in the event of war.)
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First of all you make the big fault to see the arms race as a navy arms race. Don’t forget that the German/British rivalry on sea was fought in every aspect of shipping industry. The Germans were expanding as well their merchant fleet as their navy fleet. This whole situation was frightening for the British. What will become of the future? “Germany rules the waves”? Or Germany keeps the blue ribbon forever? My god, what a terrible thought!
It was not only the fleet, but the whole thing Germany that frightens England (and France too). Suddenly in 1871 you have that enormous empire in the heart of Europe with the most numerous population of Europe and the fastest growing and most modern industry at that time. Looking at the “war-like” personality of Emperor Wilhelm II and his dream to give Germany a place under the sun (by using the fleet) are scary thoughts when your own British empire depends on a fleet. (And than I mean the total fleet of both merchant and warships, cause their seems to be a misunderstanding in the translation. In Dutch “fleet” means the total of all ships and not only navy ships as it seems to mean in English).
Now I’ve reached your first point. I guess you meant that the British “Authority” depended on their navy fleet. Though they certainly needed the navy to keep order, they also needed their merchant fleet. The merchant fleets were of “vital importance” to maintain the contacts between the several colonies and the European fatherlands. For example travellers, civil servants, missionaries and even mail depended on the merchant ships. Among the merchants the cruisers were indeed an exception as they could also be used as warships (interesting for the British government that Germany had a lot of cruisers).

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In those days, the battleship was still seen as the way to project power; a mantle taken over by the aircraft carrier during WWII. I believe that there was a fair old arms race going on between Germany and Britain - but focused primarily on battleships.
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Yes, I agree the battleship was seen as a way to project power, but this was just one of the aspects of the German/British rivalry on sea (which again was a different aspect of the arms race on itself). Above I mentioned the blue ribbon. I do certainly believe that the blue ribbon was one of the little causes for controversy (little strokes fell great oaks). In my opinion the British didn’t like that the Germans were building those ships with great speed. We already had the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse who steamed on it’s maiden voyage with enormous speed to New York and conquered the blue ribbon. Mauretania and Lusitania were partly built as an answer to this quick German ships. Finally the British Mauretania regained the blue ribbon, but the name of Germany as a *power on sea* was written. After the building of Mauretania and Lucy the White Star Line launched their Olympic class trio which was a few years later already answered with the building of the German Imperator. I think this chain reaction of shipbuilding was just because of rivalry between the different lines and the extremely national feelings in Europe at that moment, but very sneaky it had it’s influence on politics. With building Mauretania and Lusitania the British government did not only created the two fastest ships, but also created two cruisers for war. Director Albert Ballin of the Hamburg America Line (a personal friend of Kaiser Wilhelm II) was even pressed by the emperor himself to built bigger and faster ships than the British. Just because Wilhelm became very jealous after the naval review of 1889 during a visit to his grandmother Victoria in England.
The explosion of shipbuilding (including the building of Titanic) was one of the causes of rivalry on sea and it influenced the touchy political situation at that moment.
As Titanic was a part of this *shipbuilding explosion* I connect her to the British/German rivalry on sea and finally to the arms race on the evening before WWI. Actually I do not have a reason yet for the connection between Titanic and Lord Haldane, but I will think about that. I said it maybe was a reason for the British to make such a request in 1912.

Well, I guess that’s it for now. If there's something not totally clear, I would be glad to hear! Please feel free to attack my opinion, but only if the damage is not too bad!
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Many regards,
Rolf
 

Paul Rogers

Member
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Hi Rolf.
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I guess I touch the national feelings of you British, but I’m sorry for that!
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Not at all! I'm actually 1/2 Belgian and 1/4 Scottish, so I consider myself pretty much "European," all things considered.
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OK - this is a quick response to your post as I'm working away from home tomorrow, and need to prepare. So if any of my arguments have gaping holes of logic, you'll know why!
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I believe that we may be talking about two completely different forms of "Authority" here, although I can see a tenuous link between the two:

Political Authority
Dependant upon the armed forces of the countries concerned. Any imbalance would be viewed with great concern. A major element of the armed forces, (certainly from the UK perspective at the time), would be the Navy, hence the Arms Race to build battleships and other warships to match the German Navy's build-up. (Including the early development of the submarine, of course.) To state the obvious, political Authority was important to ensure survival of a Nation State - avoiding defeat and/or invasion in times of war.

Corporate Authority
Defined in this instance as the "battles" between rival corporations, (and not necessarily between those of different countries alone - e.g. WSL vs. Cunard). These battles led to a different form of "Arms Race" fought between rival corporations, causing the development of larger, faster and more luxurious ships. Titanic, Imperator, and Lusitania/Mauretania are the products of this corporate race. The overriding objective for the companies involved would be their continuing profitability and corporate survival.

Possible Link?
This may be a bit simplistic, but here goes: Assume Brittania Rules The Waves. The UK Corporations earn large profits. This leads to greater tax revenue for the UK Govt. Therefore, any threat to the UK's dominance of the Atlantic trade is seen as a threat by the UK Govt. because of the potential loss of tax revenue. There is (of course!) also the matter of National Pride to take into account. Because of these factors, the Govt. "helps out" where it can, an example being the assisted funding for the construction of Lusitania/Mauretania.

Summary
This link exists to a degree, but it's very woolly when used as a base for your original argument. Because of the comments above, I do not accept the existence of a formal relationship between the sinking of Titanic (a mercantile event, albeit an embarrasing one for the BoT and the WSL) and the political events leading to WWI.

It should also be remembered that Titanic was owned by an American company, which weakens the link even further between her sinking and the decline in German/UK political relations.

OK Rolf - your turn!
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(Anybody else feel like jumping in as well?)

Regards,
Paul.
 

Sam Brannigan

Member
Feb 24, 2007
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Paul

You made a good point with regard to the Titanic being an essentially American ship, but in the eyes of the British public and almost everyone else she was thouroughly British.

I don't believe that the Titanic disaster directly affected the political situation in the run up to the First World War, but her loss created a huge dent in the British psyche.

As I have said before elsewhere, the ocean liner in the first half of the twentieth century was not just a mode of transport but a huge statement of a countrys industrial and manufacturing might and prowess.

For the British to lose the largest ship in the world on her maiden voyage must have been hugely embarassing to all in the corridors of industry and power.

They also knew that the Germans were again breathing down their necks with the soon to be in service Imperator.

It is tempting to say that the Titanic had a huge role in the run up to war but she didn't, but that doesn't mean she wasn't a small cog in the wheel.

Even though I agree with your argument that there was more of a corporate battle going on (huge liners made more commercial sense than a fleet of small ships)than a political one, the governments of the day must have had an eye on their merchant navies.... and there was an explosion of shipbuilding and oneupmanship between the major lines which only fuelled the political tensions, especially at the level of the man on the street.

In this context and background, the loss of the Titanic was a huge and shocking event which must have had some effect on morale, anxiety, bitterness perhaps. I believe that in one instance (concerning the Frankfurt?) a German ship was even accused of not going to the Titanics aid.

The "Rule Britannia" ethos took a severe battering in my opinion, and a lot of peoples heads were plucked out of the sand. It seems to be a defining moment, when people faced up to the reality that all was not well with the world and that things were going to change, and not for the better.

Regards

Sam
 

Paul Rogers

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Hi Sam.
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Quote:

I don't believe that the Titanic disaster directly affected the political situation in the run up to the First World War, but her loss created a huge dent in the British psyche.
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I completely agree. I also note the contemporary media and other commentators attempted to make the most of a bad situation by stressing the "good" behaviour of the (British) crew vs. the "cowardly" behaviour of some of the (foreign) passengers. All done to try and maintain some National pride perhaps...
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...and there was an explosion of shipbuilding and oneupmanship between the major lines which only fuelled the political tensions, especially at the level of the man on the street.
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I wouldn't argue this point either. I wonder, however, what real power the "man in the street" had on political decisions in 1912. It appears to me that Governments at that time easily manipulated public feeling to suit their own purposes.
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I believe that in one instance (concerning the Frankfurt?) a German ship was even accused of not going to the Titanics aid.
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Mmm, good point. I seem to remember that as well. I cannot remember offhand who accused Frankfurt of refusing assistance, and what the motives/circumstances for the accusation may have been. Anyone?
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It is tempting to say that the Titanic had a huge role in the run up to war but she didn't, but that doesn't mean she wasn't a small cog in the wheel.
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That's a nice way of putting it. Perhaps Titanic's sinking made the British appear suddenly "human" and as prone to failure as any other race, thereby subconsciously encouraging Germany and other countries to "push their luck?"

Regards,
Paul.
 
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Rolf Vonk

Guest
Hi guys,

I'm sorry, sorry, sorry it will take a little longer before I reply, as I'm sooooooo busy...

Hmmm, actually I can't wait to smash you down, hehehehe!!!
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Many regards,
Rolf
 

Paul Rogers

Member
Nov 30, 2000
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Hi Rolf.

I know the feeling! I'm working away from home again from tomorrow until Friday. In sunny Stratford-upon-Avon, birthplace of Shakespeare.

What's worse is that I'll miss my son's Birthday (he's 10 this Wednesday). Oh well, only 22 years, 1 month and 8 days before retirement. No, I'm not counting. Honestly.

Regards,
Paul.
 

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