To salvage or not to salvage the moral dilemma


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Okay, I DO have a little time, so I'll address it now . . .


Monica:


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so I suppose that must have given it away somewhat.

Actually, I noticed it prior to that point, since probably 2004, not too long after I joined. It has jumped out in several discussions.


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However, that has nothing to do with my remarks about salvage.

And I didn't say it did. Such spiritual aspects do play a part in my commentary, however, as this is a part of who I am.

Let's take for example the 3C child's boots, which were recovered some time ago. We'd each have something different to say about them: Michael would possibly see just a pair of boots through a perspective of purely scientific objectivity (not that I'm saying you'd shrug off the human factor, though, Michael), whereas I see a little boy, one long-since dead, but still a little boy. These boots are all that is physically left of him; he died wearing these boots. How can I not see him when looking at them. I am not personifying the boots, but I am giving them a human face, which is what I do when assessing anything--a razor, Sloper's bowler, even a mattress. From which cabin and class did it originate? Who used it last? What were that person's dreams while sleeping in it? Of course, this even goes for non-Titanic items as well. I was born and grew up with an extremely creative mind, an imagination, and so my views will be filtered through that. Yes, I keep my feet planted firmly in the real world, but I look beyond the physical to see more. Two human beings are built primarily the same--a head, two arms, two legs, ten fingers, ten toes--but each one has a totally different personality with a totally unique background. I can't ignore that when looking at something, anything, related to a particular person. That is who I am.

And I don't thing that taking into account the human factor is non-scientific. Irrational? Perhaps. Realistic? . . . that might be left to the relative view of the individual. What might seem real to you might not be to me and vice versa. We can, however, learn more about an item by going beyond its physical composition: Who wore the boots? From which class did he come? What was his family like? What were his dreams and ambitions in life? These questions can lead us to find a story behind the boots, just like we did with Brown's pocket watch and Eugene Daly's bagpipes. Viewing these items as just "a pair of boots" or "just a pocket watch" or "just a set of bagpipes" is extremely limiting to me because that says absolutely nothing.

As a matter of fact, my entire family has high creative and analytical intelligence. My 13-year-old daughter is on the verge of graduating high school and has been accepted to college, but that's a different story altogether. Needless to say, she and I are the same in our approach to viewing and studying such things.


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I was merely pointing out the illogicality and inconsistency of people being happy to salvage other older wrecks, whilst according a different status to the Titanic.

Oh, I wholeheartedly agree! Titanic should not be held in exclusion from, say, the U.S.S. Arizona at Pearl Harbor, or the Lusy, or those WWII war planes found off the coast of China (I think that's where they're located). They should all be placed in the same light and treated with the same degree of dignity.

I think in Titanic's case all the hype over the years has put it seemingly in a spotlight all its own, whether right or wrong. This might cause people to see this particular wreck differently than any other, as if it were something above and beyond the rest. In all truth, Many tragedies since the Titanic have claimed far more victims: the Lucy, the Empress of Ireland, and, most recently, 9/11. That doesn't make the Titanic's losses less significant, though.


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But even if you are religious, their souls aren't there, surely?

Perhaps not, but such remains were at one time humans with souls, families, hopes, dreams, ambitions . . . This all comes through to me when viewing a body or items related to that person. That's natural for me.

And, yes, that sounds like an interesting story. Examining the bodies is a respectful way to handle the dead before burial, which is necessary, as we need to learn as much as we can about who they were and how they died. There's nothing unsanctifying about that.


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I still say I'd be rather pleased if anyone treasured any of my belongings after I'm gone.

So would I! That's among the most respectful acts toward the dead that anyone can assume. That shows that others valued who I was when alive and remember me fondly. Knowing this, I could rest in peace.
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>>(not that I'm saying you'd shrug off the human factor, though, Michael), <<

I wouldn't. However, even seen through an objective scientific lens, the shoes would still tell a very human story. The story of a life lived and lost before it ever really had a chance to bloom, and all because of human foolhardiness.

Those shoes didn't end up there because everything was done right. They ended up there because on a fundemental level, something was done which was very wrong.
 
Wandering back to the original topic - salvage - the moral dilemma - I do wonder what this actually means.

Obviously, moral dilemmas concern only those who are alive now, as they are the only ones who can make decisions. But to whom does our moral conscience owe the most allegiance? To future generations, or to past ones? This matters, as it means we might have to 'disrespect' past generations in order to benefit future ones. I don't have a problem with this as I think one must look only to future generations, but I think others here might disagree.

Take stem cell research. Nature (or God) is extremely profligate in that for every one of us conceived and born, millions of potential human beings simply never came into existence. We were lucky. And we are the ones left with the moral decision about when souls inhabit an embryo, and whether stem cell research is ethical. It's a difficult issue whether one is devout or atheist.

The Titanic however does not pose such difficult moral issues. There are no bodies to be defiled, and there are no engineering issues to be resolved through research. All that is left is sheer interest, and nobody - in my opinion - should be castigated for that, as it is the one thing that got us humans out of ghastly caves and into agriculture, towns and cities. The incurable instinct to plod over the next hill, think that there must be a better way surely, and believe that things can only get better.

The dead are gone, but we can't say we know how they'd feel about their graves and artifacts being excavated or retrieved.

Having said all this, however, I'm not sure I really like poor Tutankhamun's mummy being put on display in Egypt. There are limits.
 
>>and there are no engineering issues to be resolved through research.<<

Don't be so sure, Monica. From a forensics angle, there are plenty of questions that have yet to be resolved. That's why going down at least for a look matters. You can't even hope for answers to such questions unless you go down and look for the evidence.

The wreck still has a lot to say.

Likewise, as I pointed out way earlier in the thread, if the primary objective is preservation, then that makes salvage and conservation an imperative. Leaving everything in situ is not preservation. Time and salt water will eventuslly destroy the lot.
 
I think it's safe to say that the Pharaohs would have been most displeased at the prospect of being 'retrieved' along with their grave goods, or they wouldn't have ordered such complex and costly efforts to prevent such and Lara Croft would be unemployed. Our own efforts have screwed up their plans for a comfortable afterlife. Can we discount that on the grounds that all ancient peoples were heathens and didn't understand that their spiritual concepts were ill-founded and that (according to our own beliefs) they really have nothing to lose by being hauled out of their graves and placed on display. Does it (and should it) make a difference if a grave is marked with a cross?
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>>I think it's safe to say that the Pharaohs would have been most displeased at the prospect of being 'retrieved' <<

Yeah, and back in those days, the penalty for robbing a royal tomb was death by impalement with the body left to rot. No mummification, no burial, no chance at an afterlife. That was as harsh as you could get.

>>Our own efforts have screwed up their plans for a comfortable afterlife.<<

In all fairness, the tomb robbers of 30 centuries ago beat us to the punch. Very few tombs have been found with the burials being even reletively unmolested. That was why the discovery of King Tut's tomb was so important. It gave us a snapshot of the ancient Egyptians and their culture which we wouldn't have otherwise.
 
Yes, Mike, there are questions to be answered, but they are retrospective, albeit of great interest; they are unlikely (I think) to improve the safety of current or future sea travel, but that doesn't mean it's not worth the forensic effort. I was trying to bring the discussion back to the topic, unusually for me I admit given recent form, and question the basis on which we decide morality. Which often seems to me to be expediency, and I can certainly see gaping great holes in my own views.

If you think like I do, then you don't have a problem with archaeology for the purposes of learning which either illuminates the past or may inform the future; but you still might object to a Pharoah being put on display so that, according to the chief archaeologist in Cairo, people can smile at his young toothy face. The gentleman in question is on record as saying displaying King Tut is the best way of bringing him closer to his desire for eternal life ... but I think he wants tourism revenue ... although probably to fund future work. Personally, I think this is wrong, but where to draw the line?

I suppose one could argue that since King Tut's grave goods were found intact in the 20th Century, it's obvious he didn't actually need them, so it's OK for us to retrieve them, and I'd go along with that really. But I'd keep him in his sarcophagus away from the public gaze.

Perhaps the root of the moral dilemma in this thread for some people is whether or not the Titanic is actually a grave? And when does a grave cease to be a grave, which is rather what Bob was asking.
 
The point, Mike, is that it doesn't matter whether your motives are financial or educational or, as in the case of the 'resurrectionists' who kept medical schools supplied with fresh cadavers, a bit of both. When you plunder a grave for whatever reason you're going against the wishes of the deceased and of those who put him/her there in the first place. Some would say that the situation changes once we reach a point in time when nobody who personally remembers the deceased is still above ground. That's probably where I'd stand in this. In any case, if I visited King Tut's tomb I wouldn't consider that particular physical location to be worthy of reverence as his grave, because his remains aren't there any more. Likewise the Titanic. The dead are long departed, and it's nobody's final resting place. Should we have reverence for an auto wreck and consider it sacred because people died in it? Maybe while their remains are still inside, but once they've been removed, whether by the hand of man or the forces of nature, it's just scrap metal.
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J

Jeff Kelley

Guest
“Should we have reverence for an auto wreck because people died in it? Maybe while their remains are still inside, but once they've been removed, whether by the hand of man or the forces of nature, it's just scrap metal.”

This is a compelling line of thought.

In some cases, sunken submarines are sealed shut and effectively turned into underwater tombs - those are more clearly delineated as gravesites. But sunken ships are a more difficult question. Sunken ships have been searched (and artifacts recovered) for centuries for archeological and financial reasons. I believe that it is the mystique of the Titanic that makes that particular ship more controversial.

Back to Bob’s question, though…

A sunken ship, like a car wreck, was not meant to be a final resting place, a gravesite, or a tomb. In the case of the Titanic, people died as the result of an accident. The analogy of the car wreck is a very good one. Once the bodies are removed the wreckage becomes scrap metal and is discarded or (hopefully) recycled. Also, consider the steel from the World Trade Center. Most of it was shipped to India and China for re-use. The car you drive today or the soup can you open tonight might contain metal from that building.

In the case of the Titanic, no one is pushing for recycling of the materials, and I would suggest that preservation in a museum of selected artifacts is an even more fitting fate than reincarnation as car parts and soup cans. And while the artifacts might in some cases have been owned by an individual, they were not there as part of a burial rite.

In any case, there are many good arguments on both sides of the salvaging issue, and I am confident that they will never be reconciled. People will have to agree to disagree. One other certainty…the Titanic will continue to deteriorate and will eventually collapse upon itself, destroying most if not all of what artifacts remain.
 

Paul Rogers

Member
"“Should we have reverence for an auto wreck because people died in it? Maybe while their remains are still inside, but once they've been removed, whether by the hand of man or the forces of nature, it's just scrap metal.”

Hmm. It's interesting to notice the (recent?) phenomenon of flowers/toys/etc. placed at the side of roads or tied on to lamp posts, where people have died in RTAs. There was a recent case where a local council wanted to clear away these markers, some months after the accident, which caused outrage amongst the relatives of the deceased. I admit I struggle to understand the motivation of the mourners in sanctifying the place of death as opposed to a grave, tomb or similar (or anything, actually).

I seem to recall that mini-shrines are dotted along roadsides in Greece; I'm not sure if for the same reason.

"In some cases, sunken submarines are sealed shut and effectively turned into underwater tombs - those are more clearly delineated as gravesites. But sunken ships are a more difficult question."

But why are they a more difficult question, Jeff? Is it because a submarine is inherently a sealed unit, like a coffin, whereas a ship is not? If so, why should this make a difference? Clive Cussler raised the Hunley after all: and that boat did have human remains inside. Most people didn't bat an eyelid at the time, as the Hunley was said to be of significant historical importance.

My view is that a dead body is just tissue and has no bearing on the existence (or not) of a soul. At least, I blooming well hope so: otherwise I'm tearing up my Organ Donor Card, just in case!

In terms of salvaging Titanic specifically, my views have changed dramatically over the last five years or so. I used to be vehemently anti-salvage; there are posts on this Board demonstrating this. Nowadays, I am pro-salvage as long as the salvage efforts themselves do not cause damage to the wreck that might impair future forensic investigations. An explanation of how my change of heart came about would be far too boring to post here!
 
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Don't hold back on our account, Mark. A man should make use of his God-given talents

Well, I thank you for the vote of confidence, Bob. I just never like to offend anyone. Of course, I have been here for some time, and many of you know me well enough to realize that I am not the belligerent sort of person. I may not hold back, but I try to be polite at all times.​
 
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This matters, as it means we might have to 'disrespect' past generations in order to benefit future ones. I don't have a problem with this as I think one must look only to future generations

Please don't get me wrong, Mon. 'disrespect' need not be synonymous with "handling the human body" in the physical sense. As said, performing examinations on human remains is not necessarily disrespectful, as the information obtained is important and necessary, such as in the case of a murder. Respect is determined (in my opinion) in HOW the human remains are handled.

As for the Egyptian tomb analogy, as can be see by reading the forum, that is quite a loaded example, and not always clearcut. Grave robbers, of course, behave disrespectfully regarding the dead. True, the dead no longer need their trinkets, but such items represent who the dead are in identity and time placement. We can learn from these, and THAT I think is where the difference lies when handling the dead in a respectful manner.​
 
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Can we discount that on the grounds that all ancient peoples were heathens and didn't understand that their spiritual concepts were ill-founded and that (according to our own beliefs) they really have nothing to lose by being hauled out of their graves and placed on display. Does it (and should it) make a difference if a grave is marked with a cross?

Just because one is an atheist or non-believer in the 'old ways' does not justify assuming that such behavior (sorry, "behaviour") toward the dead is acceptable. To say that their spiritual concepts were "ill-founded" is placing to much confidence in your own beliefs. They believed a certain way, and the first step to learning about past civilizations is by maintaining an open mind regarding them.

Bob, I am not saying that this is the case with you; I am just making a general statement.

That said, excavations can prove fruitful if such is the case for the purpose of learning. Such findings can help humanity now or even in future generations. This, in my opinion, is not a bad thing.

As both a deist and researcher, I suggest a balance, if one is possible.​
 
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