THE SO-CALLED GERMAN CONSPIRACIES
Immediately after the outbreak of war, our cruisers in foreign waters were cut off from their base of operations, and the German Reservists in North and South America were prevented from returning home owing to the British Command of the Sea. Measures to assist them were therefore taken by the German Nationals and German Americans in the United States, which although not in themselves aimed at the Union, certainly transgressed its laws. Moreover during the year 1915 and succeeding years, several deeds of violence against the enemies of Germany, or preparations for such deeds, were discovered, involving more or less serious offences against the laws of America. Both kinds of activity, comprised under the suggestive term "German Conspiracies" or "German Plots against American Neutrality," were skilfully used by our enemies to discredit us, and these agitations did considerable harm to the German cause, besides being a serious obstacle in the way of my policy.
Among the measures for assisting the German fleet may be mentioned, in the first place, the case of the Hamburg-Amerika Line, which has already been noticed. The New York branch, acting in accordance with the instructions of their head offices in Hamburg, dispatched about a dozen chartered vessels, laden with coal and provisions, to the squadron of German cruisers and auxiliary cruisers then on the high seas. This cargo was declared in the ships' clearing papers to be consigned to ports beyond the area of open sea where the German cruisers were known to be. When it came out later that the New York branch of the Hamburg-Amerika Line had made use of this device for coaling German men-of-war the chief officials were brought up on the charge of deliberately making false declarations in their clearing papers, and their chief, Dr. Buenz, a man of the highest character, with three of his subordinates, was condemned, in December, 1915, to eighteen months' imprisonment in the first instance.
The severity of the penalty thus inflicted on a man so universally respected, who had, during his long tenure of the office of Consul-General in Chicago and New York, gained the warm affection of many Americans, was regarded merely as a manifestation for the benefit of the outside world of the American Government's intention to preserve a strict neutrality. No one supposed that the aged Dr. Buenz would really have to undergo his sentence, and as a matter of fact he remained at liberty for some time even after America's declaration of war. In the summer of 1917 a violent press-campaign broke out against him, whereupon, despite his ill health he offered of his own accord to serve his sentence and was removed to the State prison at Atlanta, where he died in 1918. All honor to his memory!
Considering that his offence was nothing more than a technical violation of the letter of the American Customs regulations and was actuated by no base motive, nor by hostility to the United States, the punishment inflicted was excessively harsh. It was pleaded on his behalf in the speech for the defence that America during the war against Spain had acted in exactly the same way, when ships were dispatched from the neutral harbor of Hong Kong to coal Admiral Dewey's fleet before Manila and their cargo was declared as being scrap-iron consigned to Macao. An indication of the state of public opinion in the Eastern States of America at the end of 1915 may be found in the fact that the heavy sentence on this "German Conspirator" met with general approval apart from a few emphatic protests on the part of the German-American papers.
A number of German Reserve officers domiciled in America succeeded, despite the close watch maintained by England on the seas, in effecting their return to the Fatherland, thanks to a secret bureau in New York, organized by German-Americans, which provided them with false or forged American passports. This bureau was closed by the American police consequent on the discovery in January, 1915, of four German Reservists, with such papers in their possession, on board a Norwegian ship in New York harbor. The organizer had apparently fled from New York some time before, but finally fell into the hands of the British, and was drowned in a torpedoed transport. The Reservists were discharged on payment of heavy fines. One, however, was sentenced to three years' penal servitude. In estimating this affair, it must be remembered that according to the recognized conventions of international law, British men-of-war were not justified in making prisoners of individual unarmed Germans returning to their homes in neutral vessels. The American Government itself explicitly affirmed as much when a ship flying the Stars and Stripes was held up in mid-ocean for examination. As a rule, however, neutral Powers were too weak to stand up for their rights against British violations of international law, and so all Germans who were discovered by the British on their homeward voyage were made prisoners of war. Our countrymen, therefore, if they wished to do their duty by going to the defence of their Fatherland, were compelled, in face of this flagrant violation of the Law of Nations, to provide themselves with false passports. They had thus to choose between two conflicting duties, a dilemma all too common in life and one which the individual must solve according to his lights. The bearers of such false passports certainly risked heavy penalties, but shrank still more from incurring any suspicion of skulking or cowardice.
It would seem, moreover, that there is little to choose, from the moral point of view, between their "sailing under false flags," for the purpose of evading the British guardians of the sea, and the hoisting of neutral ensigns by British ships to escape from German submarines.
There can, at all events, be no question of a "German conspiracy" in these cases of forged passports as I had officially announced on behalf of the German Government, that under the circumstances no one who remained in America would, on his arrival in Germany, be punished for not answering the call to the Colors. I can repudiate in the most express terms any personal responsibility for the activities of the above-mentioned secret bureau in New York, although attempts have been made to connect my name with it on the sole ground of a letter, said to have been written to me by von Wedell before his departure, which was, as a matter of fact, first made known to me by its publication in the Press. It is true that this gentleman, a New York barrister before the war, was a personal acquaintance of mine; he had, however, immediately after the outbreak of hostilities, hastened back to Germany to join his own regiment, and later returned secretly to America, presumably under orders from his superiors, only to disappear again with equal secrecy after a short stay. I had never even heard the name of Rueroede before his arrest, but in view of his denial that any personal profit accrued to him from his services in providing his fellow-countrymen with documents for the purpose of facilitating their escape from British vigilance, I much regret the severity of the penalty inflicted on him.
If the cases of the Hamburg-Amerika Line and the falsification of the passports damaged the German cause in America, this was still more true of the acts of violence planned or carried out by Germans or German-Americans against individuals known to be hostile to our cause. The few authentic cases of this sort of thing were, as every impartial person must recognize, engineered by a few patriotic but foolish hotheads; the more sober and responsible German elements in the United States were certainly no party to them.
To the list of these outrages, the enemies of Germany deliberately added others which probably had no foundation in fact. Thus, for every accident which occurred in any American munition factory—and many accidents were bound to happen in the new works which had sprung up like mushrooms all over the land, and were staffed with absolutely untrained personnel—"German agents" were regularly held responsible, and the anti-German Press, particularly the Providence Journal, announced these accidents as "a clear manifestation of the notorious German system of frightfulness." Worse still, these papers instilled into their readers the firm conviction that these crimes were an essential part of German propaganda, and in their cartoons represented the German, more particularly the German-American, as a bearded anarchist with a bomb ready in his hand.
I myself was frequently libelled in this manner by the "Yellow Press," and represented both by pen and pencil as the ringleader and instigator of the so-called "conspiracies"; this accusation, at first tentative, later grew increasingly clear and unmistakable. The campaign of calumny in which even the more respectable Press took its share, was, however, directed more particularly against the Military Attache, Captain von Papen, and the Naval Attache, Captain Boy-Ed, whose names were openly coupled with some of the crimes which came before the American Courts of Justice. Both these officers finally fell victims to this agitation, and had to be recalled from America in December, 1915, in accordance with a request from the United States Government. At the same time, in the annual Presidential message to Congress, statutory measures were laid down against Americans implicated in these conspiracies, or, as the phrase ran, against all those "contriving schemes for the destruction of the independence, and implicated in plots against the neutrality, of the Government." Not until the declaration of war against Germany, on April 2nd, 1917, did President Wilson venture openly to accuse the official German representatives in America of complicity in these designs, in the following words: "It is unhappily not a matter of conjecture but a fact proved in our courts of justice, that the intrigues which have more than once come perilously near to disturbing the peace and dislocating the industries of the country have been carried on at the instigation, with the support, and even under the personal direction of official agents of the Imperial Government accredited to the Government of the United States." Since then my own name has been mentioned as the supreme head of the German "Conspiracy" in America, in the innumerable propaganda pamphlets with which the official "Committee of Public Information" has flooded America and Europe. And I have been openly accused of having instigated and furthered, or at the very least been privy to, all manner of criminal activities. In interviews with American journalists I have more than once refuted these calumnies, which can be supported by no evidence, and were solely intended to arouse popular feeling against Germany; but I must now refer again to the more definite of these accusations.
It must be left to the impartial historian of the future to establish the full truth concerning the German conspiracies in the United States; any evidence given under the influence of the passions arising out of the war can, of course, possess only a limited value. It is obvious from the proceedings concerning the constitution of the Senate Committee that much of the evidence was prejudiced and unreliable, probably because it was based solely on information given by Germans or former Germans, whose identities were kept strictly secret, and who told deliberate lies, either because, like Judas, they had received a reward for their treachery, or because, having severed all ties with their old country, they wished to secure their footing in the new.
In any case I myself was never a partner to any proceedings which contravened the laws of the United States. I never instigated such proceedings, nor did I consciously afford their authors assistance, whether financially or otherwise. I was in no single instance privy to any illegal acts, or to any preparations for such acts. Indeed, as a rule I heard of them first through the papers, and even then scarcely believed in the very existence of most of the conspiracies for which I was afterwards held accountable. I shall hardly be blamed for this by anyone who remembered the number of projects which we were all duly accused of entertaining, such as the various alleged plans for the invasion of Canada with a force recruited from the German-American rifle clubs, and many another wild-cat scheme attributed to us in the first months of the war.
Such offences against the laws of America as were actually committed were certainly reprobated by none more sincerely than by myself, if only because nothing could be imagined more certain to militate against my policy, as I have here described it, than these outrages and the popular indignation aroused by them. I fully realized that these individual acts, in defiance of the law of the land and the resulting spread of Germanophobia, were bound to damage me in the eyes of the United States Government and public opinion. It is thus obviously absurd to accuse me of being responsible in any way for the acts in question, seeing that any such instigation, or even approval on my part, would have involved the utter ruin of my own policy!
Another accusation against my conduct while in America is that I at all events connived at the commission of crimes under the direction of officers attached to the Embassy of which I was in charge, or of other German Secret Service agents. The evidence for this consists of certain cipher telegrams from the military authorities in Germany, addressed to the Embassy in Washington; these were decoded in England and said to contain instructions for outrages to be committed in Canadian territory. I cannot say if these messages were genuine or no. Military cipher telegrams, formally addressed to the military attache, were frequently received at the Embassy, but were always sent forward at once by the registry to Captain von Papen's office in New York, as a matter of routine, and without being referred to me in any way. Von Papen certainly never told me a word about any instructions from his superiors that he should endeavor to foment disorders as alleged. For the present, then, I consider that there is insufficient evidence for his having received any such orders; but in all these matters I can, of course, speak only for myself, military matters being entirely out of my province. Soon after von Papen's recall I entered a protest against the sending of a successor, as there was no longer any useful purpose to be served by the employment of a Military Attache, whose presence would only serve as a pretext for a renewed hostile agitation against us.
Whether the illegal acts of the Secret Agents sent to the United States by the military authorities were committed in accordance with their orders or on their own initiative I had no means of knowing at the time, nor have I been able to discover since my return home. I may observe, however, that I more than once urgently requested the Foreign Office to use all their influence against the dispatch of Secret Service men to America. Moreover, I had published in the Press a notice, couched in strong terms and signed by myself, warning all Germans domiciled in the United States not to involve themselves in any illegal activities under any circumstances whatever. And I think I am justified in saying that twelve months before the severance of diplomatic relations, I had made a clean sweep of all "conspiracies" and extorted a promise that no more "agents" should be sent over from Germany. On my arrival home, I was held by some to have been at fault for not having put down the movement earlier; to which my reply must be that as a matter of fact it was the cases of Rintelen and Fay that first earned us the reputation of "conspirators"; all the rest came to light later, and were in great measure connected with their machinations. I took steps, as soon as I heard of these two affairs, to avoid any repetition of them, in which effort I was successful.
The following throws some light on the attitude of the United States Government towards me in the matter of the "conspiracies." When in November, 1915, the Press campaign had reached the height of its violence, I forwarded a Note to Mr. Lansing, the Secretary of State, protesting strongly against the unjustifiable attacks aimed at myself and my colleagues of the Embassy and requesting that some effort should be made to suppress them, as follows:
"Washington, Nov. 16, 1915.
"The continuance of the baseless attacks on myself and the colleagues of my Embassy in the columns of the Providence Journal impels me to ask whether your Excellency cannot see your way to make it clear that these attacks are not countenanced by the American Government. Such slanders against the representatives of a friendly Power who have a right to claim the protection and hospitality of the United States authorities would be incomprehensible, were it not a matter of common knowledge that the Providence Journal is a 'hyphenated' Anglo-American paper. To borrow the phrase of the United States President, this journal is obviously a greater friend of other countries than its own.
"For the last fifteen months I and all my colleagues have had, if I may say so, a whole army of American private detectives on our track. Day and night they have pursued us in the service of our enemies. Yet, although official German documents have been stolen, no one has yet succeeded in producing a single proof of illegal activities on the part of anyone of us.
"I should esteem it a great favor if your Excellency could see your way to secure this Embassy against a repetition of these baseless attacks, which have as their sole foundation the pre-supposition of conspiracies which have no existence in fact."
I never received any reply to this letter, but a short time after Mr. Lansing while informing me that the American Government felt itself compelled to ask for the recall of Captains Boy-Ed and von Papen, as being no longer acceptable to them (this affair I propose to refer to again in another place), stated in the most explicit terms that I was in no way implicated in the matter. The fact that the American Government, even after the departure of the two attaches, maintained the same intimate relations with me throughout the fourteen months which elapsed before its diplomatic representatives were recalled from Germany, proves that this was no empty compliment but was meant in all sincerity.
I feel myself compelled to insist on these facts, in view of the efforts subsequently made to represent me as the originator or leader of the famous "conspiracies," which were later immeasurably exaggerated by American propaganda. This propaganda has poisoned the mind of the average American citizen to such an extent that he firmly believes the German Embassy to have been a nest of anarchists, who even during the period of his country's neutrality "waged war" in the most dastardly manner against her.
And yet these stories of so-called conspiracies, with their legions of conspirators, and resulting lengthy lists of German outrages in America, will not bear serious examination.
Irrefutable evidence on the subject can be found in the official report of the Senate Committee of Inquiry into the activities of German propaganda, which has already been mentioned more than once. After the depositions of Mr. Bruce Bielaski on this subject had gone on for two days, Senator Nelson, being tired of this dry recital—he had already expressed the opinion that most of the evidence given so far was too academic—asked this officer of the Department of Justice for a report on the German attempts "to foment strikes and cause explosions in munition factories" which he apparently considered to be an integral part of German propaganda. Mr. Bielaski then referred to the "more important cases of offences against the law, which had been fathered by the German Government." He prefaced his statement with the remark that the list he was about to give was complete in every way; twenty-four cases were dealt with, and the names of the incriminated individuals given, as reproduced below:
1. Falsification of passports (von Wedell, Rueroede).
2. Destruction of a bridge in Canada (Horn).
3. Falsification of passports (Stegler, Madden, Cook).
4. Falsification of passports (Luederitz).
5. Attempted destruction of a canal in Canada (von der Goltz, Tauscher, Fritzen).
6. Falsification of passports (Sanders, Wunmerburg, and two accomplices).
7. Supplying of coal, etc., to German men-of-war at sea (Bunz, Koeter, Hofmeister, Poppinghaus).
8. Attempt to bring about a revolution in India (Bopp, von Schack, von Brinken, Ram Chandra, and twenty-five accomplices).
9. Attempt to blow up a railway tunnel in Canada (Bopp and three accomplices).
10. Attempted destruction of munition factories and railway bridges in Canada (Kaltschmidt, and five accomplices).
11. Plot to destroy Allied munition ships by infernal machines (Fay, Scholtz, Daecher and three accomplices).
12. Plot to destroy Allied munition ships by incendiary bombs (Scheele, von Kleist, Wolpart, Bode).
13. Attempt to foment strikes in factories engaged in the making of war materials (Rintelen, Lamar, Martin).
14. Attempt to foment strikes among the dockers (no convictions).
15. Sending of spies to Canada (Koenig).
16. Perjury in the matter of the arming of the Lusitania (Stahl).
17. Attempt to smuggle rubber to Germany (Jaeger and five accomplices).
18. Attempt to smuggle ashore chronometer of an interned German ship (Thierichens).
19. Attempt to smuggle nickel to Germany (Olsen and two accomplices).
20. Attempt to smuggle rubber to Germany (Newmann and accomplices).
21. Sinking of a German ship at the entrance of an American harbor (Captain and crew of the Liebenfels).
22. Attempt to smuggle rubber to Germany (Soloman and accomplices).
23. Falsification of passports (Rintelen and Meloy).
24. Plan to destroy Allied army horses by means of bacteria (Sternberg).
The above is the substance of the evidence given by Bielaski. I have no wish to extenuate, in the slightest degree, the few serious offences against common law included in this list, but I imagine that the unprejudiced reader will not fail to observe that Mr. Bielaski found it necessary to rake up everything possible in order to be able to present the Committee with a respectable catalogue of crimes instigated by the German Government in the United States. Apparently his only object was to produce a list of imposing length, and for this purpose he included in it cases in which it would be difficult for even the most suspicious mind to discover the hand of the German Government. Moreover even he himself did not venture directly to assert the complicity of the representatives of the German Empire in any single one of these offences. In reply to Senator Overman, who asked if Captains von Papen and Boy-Ed were held to be implicated in all these illegal acts, Mr. Bielaski gave the following evasive answer: "The most important, and most serious of these illegal acts, were, generally speaking, inspired, financed and conducted by one or other of the accredited representatives of Germany." Officials or agents in the service of Germany were, however, mentioned by name as leaders or accomplices only in the first fourteen and the two last cases, and I may be allowed to emphasize the fact that by the admission of Mr. Bielaski himself, my own name was coupled only with the agitation for a revolution in India, which was supposed to be a part of Germany's designs. Even if we take Mr. Bielaski's unconfirmed evidence as being reliable, the total number of individuals convicted on these charges in the American Courts of Justice amounts only to sixty-seven, of whom apparently only sixteen were German nationals; and their offences fall under the following heads: the case of the Hamburg-Amerika Line and the five cases of falsification of passports already mentioned: the so-called Indian plot: one case of successful and three of attempted sabotage in Canada: and finally the cases numbered ten to fourteen and twenty-four in Bielaski's list of the illegal acts planned by the agents Rintelen, Fay and Sternberg.
I propose to go into the details of these cases later. What I am now concerned to establish is that the list in question is from one point of view more interesting for what it omits than for what it includes.
In the first place one may notice the absence of the accusation previously made against us more than once, that we had plotted to embroil the United States in war with Mexico and Japan; from the fact that Mr. Bielaski made no mention of this in his evidence before the Senate Committee it must be supposed that these ridiculous stories with which American public opinion had been at one time so assiduously spoon-fed were finally exploded.
As a matter of fact, during my service in Washington, nothing was further from my thoughts than to conspire with Mexican Generals, as any such action would have seriously interfered with my chosen policy. As concerning Japan I may, incidentally, remark that Mr. Hale, when he was acting in collaboration with us in propaganda work, particularly stipulated that we should not undertake anything which might inflame the existing antagonism between America and Japan—a condition which Dr. Dernburg accepted without hesitation, since both he and his assistant Dr. Fuehr, who knew Japan well, were decidedly opposed to any such agitation.
In order to avoid misunderstanding, I wish expressly to state that I do not deny that instructions were sent by Zimmermann, the Secretary of State, to our Embassy in Mexico, which envisaged co-operation with that country against the United States as well as an understanding with Japan, but must point out that this was recommended in the event—and only in the event—of the United States declaring war on us.
I shall return to these instructions later, only remarking here that it was my duty to pass them on to von Eckhardt.
It should further be noted that the design, frequently imputed to us in earlier days, of endeavoring to stir up a negro rising in the United States was also omitted from Mr. Bielaski's list. To the request of a Senator of a Southern State for his opinion on this point, he replied without hesitation that no efforts in this direction had been made by any of the official representatives of Germany.
It is noteworthy, moreover, that this agent of the Department of Justice, who had heretofore consistently held us guilty of promoting strikes in munition factories and sabotage of all kinds, failed to follow up his charges. I must admit that, in view of what had already appeared in the Press on the subject of German "conspiracies," I had expected that definite proceedings would be taken on this charge, if they were taken at all; and apparently the members of the Senate Committee were also of this opinion, for one of them expressly asked Mr. Bielaski if he had any evidence to produce on the subject. His reply was: "I know very little, if anything, of that; I don't think that during our neutrality there were any instances of criminal activities of that kind."
Again, the Bureau for the Employment of German Workers, which was likewise at one time proclaimed as a device or cloak for a dangerous "German Conspiracy," was not mentioned in Bielaski's catalogue, which conclusively proves that this calumny had been allowed to drop. The office in question, which was known as the Luebau Bureau from the name of its chief, was started by Captain von Papen with the assistance of the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador, after Dr. Dumba and I had pointed out clearly to our fellow-countrymen working in the American munition factories that any of them who took part in the manufacture of arms or supplies for our enemies would render themselves liable to be tried for high treason in their native land. After this it was the bounden duty of both Embassies to find employment for all those who voluntarily resigned from the factories working for the Entente; and from first to last this office, which had branches in Philadelphia, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Cleveland, and provided about 4,500 men with fresh employment of an unobjectionable nature, was never guilty of any illegal act.
My open reference to the German law of high treason, however, was much criticized by the greater part of the American Press, which stigmatized it as an attempt "to introduce the German criminal code into America," and as an infringement of the sovereignty of the United States. Such criticism appears somewhat unwarranted in view of the wide application given to the law of treason by the Americans themselves shortly afterwards.
After this digression on the subject of the conspiracies which had been previously imputed to us, but were now dropped out of Bielaski's list, I propose to return to the instances of illegal action which were definitely laid to our charge.
The first of these is the action of Werner Horn, a retired German officer, which gained us for the first time the opprobrious epithet of "dynamiters." Horn, of whose presence in America I was not aware until the story of his crime appeared in the papers, contrived in February, 1915, to blow up a railway bridge near Vaneboro, in the territory of Canada, on the line running through the State of Maine to Halifax. Apparently he believed, as did many other people, that this railway was being utilized for the transport of Canadian troops. As the act was quite senseless, and could at worst only have held up traffic for a few hours, Captain von Papen saw no objection to advancing to Horn, who was without means, a sum sufficient to pay the fees of his defending counsel. To the best of my knowledge Horn was simply kept under observation for some time, and it was only after America's entry into the war that he was sentenced to a term of imprisonment for a breach of the regulations with regard to the transport of explosives (he had apparently carried his dynamite with him in a hand-bag).
Of the three attempts at sabotage in Canada the Welland Canal affair caused at the time the greatest sensation in New York. The Welland Canal connects Lake Ontario with Lake Erie, west of Niagara Falls, i.e., through Canadian territory, and it is a highway for all seaborne traffic on the great lakes, and particularly for the transport of corn to the coast. It was therefore considered advantageous from a military point of view to attempt the destruction of the canal. This had apparently already been projected in September by a German adventurer, calling himself Horst von der Goltz, but for some unexplained reason the idea had been abandoned at the last moment.
Captain Hans Tauscher, Krupps' representative in New York, was charged in 1916 with having supplied dynamite for this scheme, but was acquitted on his calling evidence to prove that he had no knowledge of the use which was to be made of the explosive.
The first information that I had about the attempt on the Welland Canal was the report of the proceedings against Captain Tauscher. Even to-day the full truth of the matter has not yet come to light. The leading figure of the drama, von der Goltz, while on his way to Germany in October, 1914, fell into the hands of the British. When Captain von Papen returned to Germany in December, 1915, under safe conduct of Great Britain, his papers were taken from him at a Scottish port; among them was his American check book, and an examination of this led to the identification of von der Goltz as the individual who had planned the destruction of the Welland Canal. The latter, it would seem, was thereupon offered, by the English authorities, the alternatives of being shot or of returning to America under a guarantee of personal safety, and giving evidence against Germany in open court. He chose the latter course, and turned "State's evidence" in New York, where he was kept under constant supervision. His statements, however, in view of the pressure brought to bear upon him, and of his doubtful past, can only be regarded as of somewhat doubtful value.
During the whole course of my period of office in the United States I heard nothing about the case of Albert Kaltschmidt, the German resident in Detroit who after America's declaration of war, was arrested on a charge of conspiring—apparently some time in 1915—to blow up a munition factory, an arsenal and a railway bridge in Canada, and sentenced in December, 1917, to penal servitude, together with four of his confederates, and the statements made in the American Press which fastened upon me the responsibility for the deeds of violence then simmering in the brain of this individual, on the ground that, in October, 1915, he had received a considerable advance from a banking account opened in my name and that of Privy Councillor Albert, I most emphatically deny. Kaltschmidt, who was a well-known business man had acted on behalf of Albert and von Papen in several negotiations, with the object of forestalling the Entente's agents in the purchase of important war material, and had consequently been in receipt of considerable sums of money for this purpose, both from von Papen and from the general funds of the Embassy. This had, of course, earned him the undying hatred of the outwitted agents of our enemies, and he had also, in company with his sister and brother-in-law (both of whom were later convicted of complicity in his designs), got himself disliked for the prominent part he played in the agitation for an embargo on the export of arms and munitions of war. It seems quite possible that the charges against him were the work of private enemies, and that the American Criminal Court, which condemned him, was hoodwinked by the schemings of certain Canadians; the fact that these criminal designs on Kaltschmidt's part only came to light after the United States had become a belligerent adds probability to the supposition. One thing, however, is certain, that even if the alleged plot on the part of Kaltschmidt and his relations had any real existence, the initiative was theirs alone, and cannot be laid at the door of the Embassy.
The affair of Bopp, the German Consul-General at San Francisco, was also one which aroused much feeling against Germany. This gentleman had already, as early as 1915, been accused of having delayed or destroyed certain cargoes of military material for Russia, with the aid of certain abettors; his subordinates, von Schack, the Vice-Consul, and von Brinken, the Attache, were also believed to be implicated. In the following year he was further charged with having incited one Louis J. Smith to blow up a tunnel on the Canadian Pacific Railway, with the idea of destroying supplies on their way to Russia. All three officials were therefore brought to trial, but dismissed with a caution. However, at the end of 1916, he and his two subordinates were again brought up on a serious charge and sentenced on the testimony of their chief lieutenant, Smith, who turned State's evidence[*] against them, to a term of imprisonment.
[Footnote *: For the benefit of the reader not familiar with American legal procedure, it should be explained that in cases where several individuals are charged in common with an offence, any one of them may be assured of a pardon if he turns State's evidence and informs against his associates. This course of action, reprehensible as it undoubtedly is, from a moral point of view, has the advantage of facilitating the task of police spies!]
All three resigned from their posts and lodged an appeal, but were again found guilty in the second instance, after America had entered the war. Consul-General Bopp and his colleagues if they had in reality committed the offences of which they were accused, were certainly actuated in no way by the Embassy or any high authorities, but must be held solely and entirely responsible for the course they adopted. In his reports to me, Bopp invariably asserted his innocence, and I am rather inclined to believe that he really fell into one of the traps which the Allied Secret Service were always setting for our officials in America.
According to common report, Consul-General Bopp, Schack and von Brinken later underwent yet a further term of imprisonment for their complicity in the so-called Indian conspiracy. I am quite certain that nothing was ever heard of this affair until after the American declaration of war; then, however, newspaper reports were shown me, the effect that in the year of 1916 an attempt had been made by the Indian Nationalists in San Francisco, with German co-operation, to bring about an armed rising in British India—an absolute "wild-goose chase," which, of course, came to nothing. It was asserted in this connection that a cargo of arms and ammunition on board the small schooner Annie Larsen, and destined for our forces in German East Africa, was, in reality, dispatched to India via Java and Siam; but no proofs were brought forward in support of this statement. In connection with this design, four persons were sentenced at Chicago, in October, 1917, and ten (according to Bielaski twenty-nine in all) at San Francisco, in August, 1918, to long terms of imprisonment, for having "illegally conspired in the United States to make war against the territories and possessions of His Majesty the King of Great Britain and Ireland and Emperor of India." It seems that this affair was exploited with great success by the American propaganda service to inflame the minds of its people against Germany. As a matter of fact, I cannot too strongly condemn on principle all military enterprises undertaken from neutral territory; but, from the purely moral point of view, I cannot but remark that it ill befits America to give vent to righteous indignation over such activities, considering the facilities she afforded to Czechs and Poles, during her period of neutrality, for supporting to the utmost of their power their blood brothers in their designs against the Central Powers. Besides, even if it be admitted that the schooner in question was actually sent by the Indian Nationalists with her cargo of arms, it is absurd to regard the dispatch of this small supply of war material as a crime, and gloss over the fact that whole arsenals and ammunition columns were being shipped every day to France!
I now propose, in conclusion, to deal with the illegal activities attributed by American opinion to the secret agents controlled by the German military authorities, and sent by them to the United States.
As regards the machinations of Franz Rintelen, my first information about him reached me in the late autumn of 1915, and even now I have to rely for most of the details on the American papers. Rintelen, who was a banker by profession, and during the war held a commission as Captain-Lieutenant in the Imperial Naval Reserve, appeared in America in April, 1915, and presented himself to me during one of my periodical visits to New York. He declined at the time to give any information as to his official position in the country, or the nature of his duties; I therefore wired to the Foreign Office for some details about him, but received no reply. Some time afterwards he applied to me for proofs of identity, which I refused to grant him, and as his continued presence in New York was considered undesirable by both von Pap en and Boy-Ed, they took steps to have him sent back to Germany. He was captured, however, by the British, on his voyage home. Shortly after this, the affair of Rintelen became a matter of common talk, and the first indications of his mysterious intrigues for the purpose of interfering with the delivery of munitions from the United States to the Allies appeared in the Press; the Foreign Office thereupon instructed me to issue an official dementi on the subject. Mr. Lansing, the Secretary of State, however, informed me that, as a matter of fact, Rintelen, while in England, had confessed himself to be an emissary of the German Government. I then heard from Captain Boy-Ed that Rintelen, by representing himself as empowered to purchase large stocks of raw material for Germany in the United States, had obtained a considerable advance from the Embassy's funds. This fact was one of the main reasons for the American Government's request in December, 1915, that Boy-Ed should be recalled. I was never able either in America or Germany to discover the details of Rintelen's intrigues; he himself never allowed anything to leak out about it at the Embassy, and was unable to send any report on the subject to Germany, as he was handed over to the United States by the British after the American declaration of war and sentenced to some years' penal servitude. The current story in the United States is that he was proved to have been in touch with the Mexican General Huerta with the object of bringing about war between the two Republics—an offence of which the famous list of Mr. Bielaski makes no mention. Further, he was supposed to have founded, in conjunction with a member of Congress, and two individuals of evil reputation, a society of workmen in Chicago, With the object of obtaining from Congress an embargo on the export of arms—an undertaking which according to the aforementioned report cost a great deal and proved entirely valueless from the point of view of the German Government. It is not known whether this undertaking brought Rintelen and his assistants within the reach of the Sherman Act against conspiracies inciting industrial disorders, or whether he had, in addition, made efforts to bring about strikes in munition works. He was certainly suspected of endeavoring to cause trouble among the dockers of New York, in the hope of preventing or delaying the shipment of war material to the Allies; but even Bielaski admitted before the Senate Committee that there was no tangible evidence of this.
As a matter of fact, the real grounds of Rintelen's conviction were apparently that he had prepared, through the agency of a certain German chemist, domiciled in America, named Scheele, a number of incendiary bombs, which were apparently to be secreted by three officers of the German Mercantile Marine on board Allied munition ships, with the object of causing fires on the voyage. After America's entry into the war, Rintelen and his accomplices were sentenced on this count to fairly lengthy terms of imprisonment, and these sentences they are serving at the present moment in the Federal prison at Atlanta.
I have been unable to discover how far Rintelen was actually guilty of the offences imputed to him; but I can only observe that he, and, in so far as he acted under orders, his superiors, gravely compromised the position of the German official representatives in the United States, and afforded our enemies an excellent opportunity of inflaming public opinion against Germany. It is impossible to over-estimate the unfortunate effect produced throughout the world by the discovery of bombs on board a German passenger-steamer, and of their secretion in the holds of Allied munition ships.
Another attempt of a similar kind, which had most unfortunate results from our point of view, was that attributed to a German, Lieutenant Fay, who had likewise come to America in April, 1915, and two other Germans, by name Scholz and Daeche. Their idea was to put Allied munition ships out of action by means of infernal machines, fastened to the rudders, and timed to explode shortly after their departure. My first information concerning these gentlemen was the report in the Press of their arrest, which was apparently effected while they were experimenting with their apparatus under cover of a wood. A telegraphic inquiry elicited from Berlin the reply that Fay was absolutely unknown there; it is possible, however, that he had really come to America on some business of an official nature. He and his accomplices were sentenced in May, 1916, to several years' penal servitude, although no proof was adduced that any real damage could possibly have been caused by their contrivance, which experts informed me was not a practicable one.
Last of all, on Bielaski's list comes the case of the German agent Stermberg, of whom, also, I had never heard. In January, 1915, he was arrested on a charge of having attempted to inoculate horses, purchased for the Allied Armies, with disease germs. As his practical knowledge was not great, his intentions were in excess of his performances. Bielaski, in his evidence before the Senate Committee, at first hesitated to mention this case at all, and was only induced to do so by the insistence of another Government official; it is clear, therefore, that he attached very little importance to it, and, as a matter of fact, the charge was not supported by any witnesses in a court of law, or by any legal attestation.
In a word, during all our period of service in America, as representatives of the German Empire, practically nothing of all that was alleged against us was proved to be true. A few of the stories of illegal activity, however, were based on some foundation of truth, and were popularly but erroneously supposed to further the interests of Germany. By these means we were first brought into discredit, and from that time on, every rumor, or piece of gossip concerning acts of violence on the part of Germans, whether based on fact or not, served only to increase the wide-spread popular suspicion and distrust of everyone and everything German.
THE "LUSITANIA" INCIDENT
On August 6th, 1914, the Government of the United States proposed to all the belligerent Powers that the laws of war at sea, as laid down in the Declaration of London of 1909, should be observed throughout the present war. This reasonable suggestion, which, had it been generally observed, would have saved the world much distress, came to nothing, owing to the refusal of Great Britain to accept it as it stood without reservation. The United States Government thereupon withdrew its proposal on October 24th, and announced that "It was resolved in future to see that the rights and duties of the Government and citizens of the United States should be settled in accordance with the accepted principles of international law and the treaty obligations of the United States, without reference to the provisions of the Declaration of London." Moreover, the American Government drew up protests and demands for compensation, for use in case of any infringement of these rights, or of any interference with their free exercise on the part of the belligerent Powers.
On November 3rd, 1914, Great Britain declared the whole of the North Sea a theatre of war, and thereupon instituted, in flagrant violation of the Law of Nations, a blockade of the adjoining neutral coasts and ports. General disappointment was felt in Germany that the United States made no attempt to vindicate her rights in this matter, and confined herself to demanding compensation in individual cases of infringement.
Both in Germany and elsewhere it was clearly recognized that England's design was to use this illegal blockade for the purpose of starving out the German people. During a discussion between myself and Mr. Lansing, later Secretary of State, on the matter of assistance to be sent by America to Belgium, he expressed the opinion that nothing would come of the scheme, as Lord Kitchener had adopted the attitude that no food supplies could under any circumstances be sent to territory in German occupation. I answered that I had expected this refusal, as it was England's intention to starve us out, to which Mr. Lansing replied: "Yes, the British frankly admit as much." It will be remembered that, as a matter of fact, Lord Kitchener withdrew his refusal in view of the pressure of English public opinion, which demanded that relief should be sent to Belgium on account of the distress prevalent there, and despite the fact that such a measure was of indirect assistance to us. A subsequent proposal from the American Government for the dispatch of similar relief to Poland was declined in London.
We Germans had hoped that the neutral States would vigorously claim their right to freedom of mutual trade, and would take effective measures, in conjunction with the leadership of the United States, to force the British Government to suspend the oppressive and extra-legal policy. This they failed to do, at any rate, in time to forestall the fateful decision on our part to undertake submarine warfare. It is now impossible to tell whether this policy might not have had more favorable results, had not the growing estrangement between Germany and America caused by the new campaign nipped in the bud any possibility of serious Anglo-American differences. In the other neutral countries this submarine warfare alienated all sympathy for us, and no doubt was one reason why the neutral States, which in previous wars had always attempted to vindicate their rights as against the Power which had command of the sea, now refrained from any concerted action to this end. Such a procedure on their part would have indirectly influenced the situation in favor of Germany, as the weaker Power at sea; it will be remembered that the United States, during their War of Independence against England, drew much advantage from a similar attitude on the part of the European Powers. My knowledge of America leads me to believe that, had we not incurred such odium by our infringement of Belgian neutrality and our adoption of submarine warfare, the action of the Washington Government might have been other than it was; had it even raised a finger to protest against England's methods, the latter must instantly have given way, as had so frequently happened during the last twenty-five years, when the United States took up on any point an attitude hostile to Britain. The contrast between this passive attitude on the part or the President and the traditional forward policy of America vis-a-vis England, goes far to support the contention of Wilson's detractors in Germany—that these two countries were in league and were playing a preconcerted game.
It is impossible to convince one's political foes on any point except by positive proof, and until the time comes when the enemy's archives are published, such proof cannot, of course, be adduced on this particular matter. This time is still far distant. Why should the enemy publish their archives? They have won and have therefore no reason to grumble at the course of events. Thus I can at present only combat with counter-arguments the contention that I misunderstood the true state of affairs in America. The hypothesis of secret collusion between America and England seems in the present case unnecessary; the attitude of public opinion in America is in itself sufficient explanation of the situation at the time. Sympathy for us from the very first day of the war there was none; but had the general feeling been as strongly for us as it actually was against us, no doubt the Government would have kicked against the English illegalities, and enforced an embargo against her. I still hold to my view that Mr. Wilson made a real effort to maintain the observance of a strict neutrality; but the decisive factor was that he found himself, as a result of his efforts, in increasing measure in conflict with the overwhelming Germanophobe sentiment of the people, and continually exposed to the reproach put forward in the Eastern States that he was a pro-German.
The American public, indifferent as it was to the affairs of Europe and entirely ignorant of its complicated problems, failed to understand the full extent of the peril to the very existence of the German Empire, which compelled its rulers, much against their will and with heavy hearts, to have recourse to the invasion of Belgium. They themselves, living in perfect security and under pleasant conditions, had no means of realizing the perilous position of a comparatively small people, such as the Germans, surrounded by greedy foes, and straitened within narrow frontiers; their judgment, as already remarked, was swayed by their individual sentiments of justice and humanity. The attitude of the Allied and Associated Powers at Versailles might have enlightened the American people as to the peril of dismemberment which threatened a defeated Germany; but such realization, even supposing it to have taken place, has come too late to affect the consequences of the war. I am convinced that they will in a few years be forced to admit that Germany during the course of her struggle was, contrary to the generally accepted view of to-day, quite as much sinned against as sinning.
The German Government, then, decided upon the adoption of submarine warfare, and issued a declaration to this effect. This document, together with explanatory memorandum, was delivered by me on February 4th, 1915, to the Secretary of State, Mr. Bryan; it was to the effect that the territorial waters of Great Britain and Ireland, including the whole of the English Channel, were declared a war area. From February 18th onwards every enemy merchant ship encountered in this area was liable to be sunk, without any guarantee that time could be given for the escape of passengers and crew. Neutral shipping in the war zone was likewise liable to the same dangers, as owing to the misuse of neutral flags resulting from the British Government's order of January 31st, and the chances of naval warfare, the possibility of damage to other shipping as a result of attacks on hostile vessels might sometimes be unavoidable.
I regarded it as my main duty, when handing this document to Mr. Bryan, to recommend to the United States Government that they should warn all American citizens of the danger to the crews, passengers and cargoes of hostile merchant ships moving within the war area from this time onwards. Further, I felt it necessary to draw attention to the advisability of an urgent recommendation that American shipping should keep clear of the danger zone, notwithstanding the express statement in the memorandum that the German naval forces had orders to avoid any interference with neutral vessels clearly recognizable as such.
Mr. Secretary Bryan was at first incredulous; he believed a submarine campaign of this nature to be unthinkable, and my statements to be merely bluff. The American Government therefore resolved to take no measures of precaution, but to dispatch a Note to Berlin on February 12th, summarizing the two conflicting points of view, which remained irreconcilable throughout the whole controversy, on the subject of the submarine war. Germany, on the one hand, defended her course of action as a reprisal justified by the British blockade, which both parties to the discussion agreed to be contrary to the Law of Nations. The United States, for her part, maintained that as long as the blockade of Great Britain was not made effective, neutral shipping had the right to go where it wished unharmed, and that the German submarines were empowered only to hold up merchant ships for search purposes, unless these same ships offered resistance or endeavored to escape.
The chief germ of dissension lay in the fact that the British blockade, which was defended by its authors as being merely an extension of the rights of sea warfare to square with the progress of the modern military machine, was met on America's part only by paper protests, while our own extension of the same rights by means of submarine warfare was treated as a casus belli. At a later period of the war the Imperial Government made certain proposals to the United States, who might, by accepting them, have safeguarded all their commercial and shipping interests, not to mention the lives of their citizens, to the fullest possible extent, and yet have allowed us a free field for our submarine warfare. These proposals the United States rejected; thus she set herself to combat with all her strength any continuance of the blockade restrictions through our submarines, while conniving at the similar restrictions exercised by England, although these latter infringed far more seriously the rights of neutral Powers.
The following extract from the American Note of February 12th clearly presaged the conflict to come:
"This Government has carefully noted the explanatory statement issued by the Imperial German Government at the same time with the proclamation of the German Admiralty, and takes this occasion to remind the Imperial German Government very respectfully that the Government of the United States is open to none of the criticisms for unneutral action to which the German Government believe the governments of certain other neutral nations have laid themselves open; that the Government of the United States has not consented or acquiesced in any measures which may have been taken by the other belligerent nations in the present war which operate to restrain neutral trade, but has, on the contrary, taken in all such matters a position which warrants it in holding those governments responsible in the proper way for any untoward effects upon American shipping which the accepted principles of international law do not justify; and that it, therefore, regards itself as free in the present instance to take with a clear conscience and upon accepted principles the position indicated in this Note.
"If the commanders of German vessels of war should act upon the presumption that the flag of the United States was not being used in good faith and should destroy on the high seas an American or the lives of American citizens, it would be difficult for the Government of the United States to view the act in any other light than as an indefensible violation of neutral rights which it would be very hard indeed to reconcile with the friendly relations now so happily subsisting between the two Governments.
"If such a deplorable situation should arise, the Imperial German Government can readily appreciate that the Government of the United States would be constrained to hold the Imperial German Government to a strict accountability for such acts of their naval authorities, and to take any steps it might be necessary to take to safeguard the American lives and property and to secure to American citizens the full enjoyment of their acknowledged rights on the high seas."
The Imperial Government reaffirmed its standpoint in a further Note, dated February 16th, the gist and conclusion of which was as under:
"If the American Government, by reason of that weight which it is able and entitled to cast into the balance which decides the fate of peoples, should succeed even now in removing those causes which make the present action of the German Government an imperious duty; if the American Government, in short, should succeed in inducing the Powers at war with Germany to abide by the terms of the Declaration of London, and to permit the free importation into Germany of foodstuffs and raw material, the Imperial Government would recognize in such action a service of inestimable value, tending to introduce a spirit of greater humanity into the conduct of the war, and would willingly draw its own conclusions from the resulting new situation."
This Note was effective, in that it induced the American Government to dispatch on February 22nd an identical Note to Great Britain and Germany, with the object of arriving at a modus vivendi in the matter. Their proposal was as follows: Submarines were not to be employed in any attack on merchant ships of whatever nationality, save in execution of the rights of detention or search; merchant ships, for their part, were not to make use of neutral flags, whether as a ruse de guerre or to avoid identification. Great Britain would give free passage to provisions and food supplies consigned to certain agents in Germany, to be named by the United States. These agents would receive all goods thus imported and dispatch them to specially licensed distributing firms, who were to be responsible that they were issued exclusively to the civilian population.
The above project was concurred in by the German Government in a Note of February 28th, which added that "The Imperial Government considered it right that other raw materials, essential to manufacture for peaceful purposes, and also fodder, should also be imported without interference."
The British Government, as was to be expected, rejected the American proposal on somewhat flimsy pretexts, for England's sea supremacy was at stake in this as in her previous wars. "Britannia rules the waves" was, and ever must be, the guiding principle of all her policy, while her world-Empire endures. On this vitally important question England could not be expected ever to yield an inch of her own free will.
Thus the American attempt at mediation died a natural death.
Our adoption of submarine warfare was to be regarded, according to our Note of February 16th, as a measure of reprisal in answer to the English blockade. From a tactical point of view, this contention was unfortunate, as it afforded America the opportunity of agreeing at once, and thus of conceding us a point which benefited us not at all, but merely gave the United States all the more right to renew its protests against the submarine war. It would have been wiser for us to have initiated the submarine campaign simply as a new weapon of war without reference to the English blockade; still better, to put it into operation without declaring a blockade of Great Britain and Ireland, which could never be really effective, and caused constant friction between ourselves and America. Our declaration that the territorial waters of Great Britain were to be regarded as a war area was a legal formality modelled on the earlier English proclamation of the barred zones, and at once antagonized public opinion in the United States. By adopting the point of view we did with regard to reprisals, we laid ourselves open to the charge of illegality, and added to the ill-feeling already excited by the submarine campaign. If the contention of certain naval authorities that the observance of the Declaration of London by our enemies would have brought us no important material advantage is correct, the issue of our Note of February 16th becomes even less comprehensible. Having admitted in this Note that the declaration of the barred zones was caused by the fact that all was not well with us, we could hardly expect England would fall in with the proposal made at our suggestion by Mr. Wilson, and thus allow us so easy a diplomatic triumph. The President, however, after his rebuff from England, was bound, in order to maintain his prestige, to bring all possible pressure to bear on us, in the hope of compensating by diplomatic success in Berlin for his failure in London. My subsequent attitude was laid down, but at the same time made more difficult, by this interchange of Notes; but, generally speaking, my personal action in the matter began with the Lusitania incident; previous to this the negotiations had been entirely in the hands of Berlin.
The Washington Government then for the present assumed a waiting attitude, until such time as loss of American lives through our submarine activities should compel its intervention. With regard to damage to property, the standpoint was consistently maintained that claims for compensation for financial loss must be fully met. Every day might see a serious conflict, and this possibility was a source of constant anxiety to us Germans in the United States. The American Government, we thought, still underestimated the dangers of the situation, and failed to take any measures of precaution. In the middle of April I held a meeting in New York, with the representatives of the other German administrative departments, and in view of the great responsibility incumbent on us, we resolved on the motion of Dr. Dernburg to issue a warning to the Press in the form usually adopted for shipping notices. As a rule, these shipping notices were published by the Consulate as a matter of routine. Dr. Dernburg having, however, been unable to come to an agreement with the New York Consulate on the matter, I took upon myself to issue the advertisement as from the German Ambassador. It ran as follows:
"Travellers intending to embark for an Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and her Allies and Great Britain and her Allies; that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to the British Isles; that, in accordance with the formal notice given by the Imperial German Government, vessels flying the flag of Great Britain or any of her Allies are liable to destruction in those waters; and that travellers sailing in the war zone in ships of Great Britain or her Allies do so at their own risk."
"IMPERIAL GERMAN EMBASSY, Washington.
"April 22nd, 1915."
This notice was intended to appear in the Press on April 24th and the two following Saturdays. By one of those fatal coincidences beloved of history, it happened that owing to technical difficulties the communique was not actually published until May 1st—the very date on which the Lusitania left New York harbor. This conjunction was bound to appear intentional rather than fortuitous, and even to-day the majority of Americans believe that I must have known beforehand of the design to torpedo the Lusitania.
As the true facts of the matter are not yet clear, and were never explained officially, I have no means of saying whether the destruction of the Lusitania was the result of a deliberate purpose on the part of our naval authorities. To the best of my belief technical factors render it impossible for a submarine commander to make any one particular ship the object of his attack, so that the officer responsible for the sinking of the Lusitania could not have been certain what vessel he had to deal with. In any case, whether the action of our naval authorities was planned out beforehand or not, we in America had no knowledge of any such plan; indeed, until it actually occurred, I believed the destruction of the Lusitania to be unthinkable, not merely for humanitarian reasons, but because it was obviously sound policy to refrain as far as possible from any attack on passenger ships. I did not at the time realize how difficult it was for our naval forces to insure the safety of such vessels without impairing the efficiency of the submarine blockade. Again, I did not believe it possible to torpedo a rapidly-moving ship like the Lusitania if she were going at full speed; and, finally, I supposed that a modern liner, if actually struck, would remain afloat long enough to allow of the rescue of her passengers. The captain of the Lusitania himself seems to have been quite at ease in his mind on the matter; at all events, he took no precautionary measures to avoid the danger threatening him, or to insure the safety of the people on board in case of need. The rapidity with which the ship went down and the resulting heavy death-roll can only be attributed to the explosion of the masses of ammunition which formed part of the cargo.
Let me once more lay stress on the fact that our notice to the Press had no particular reference to the Lusitania, but was simply a general warning, the publication of which was motived simply by humanity and wise policy, and was rendered necessary by the apathetic behavior of the Washington authorities in the matter. We rightly imagined that many Americans had not taken the trouble to read the Notes officially exchanged, and would thus rush blindly into danger. Our failure to achieve any result by our efforts may be appreciated from an extract from the London Daily Telegraph of May 3rd, which is before me as I write. The New York correspondent of this paper dealt with our warning in the following headlines:
"GERMAN THREAT TO ATLANTIC LINERS."
"BERLIN'S LATEST BLUFF."
"RIDICULED IN AMERICA."
On May 7th I travelled to New York in the afternoon—a fact in itself sufficient to prove that I was not expecting the disaster to the Lusitania. It chanced that Paul Warburg and another American banker were on the same train. I bought an evening paper at Philadelphia, and there read the first news about the sinking of the great liner; I read them to my two travelling companions, both of whom disbelieved the story at the time; but Jacob Schiff met us in New York with the news that it was all too true, and that in the first moment of excitement he had hurried to the station to inform his brother-in-law, Warburg, of what had happened. I had come to New York with the intention of being present at a performance of The Bat, given by a German company for the benefit of the German Red Cross; but when I learned on my arrival at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel that over one hundred Americans, including many women and children, had lost their lives in the sinking of the Lusitania, I at once gave up all idea of attending the performance. As the hotel was soon surrounded on all sides by newspaper reporters, I remained indoors until my departure on the morrow; I should have returned to Washington at once, but for having to interview certain German gentlemen in New York.
Unfortunately it so happened that Dr. Dernburg was then away at Cleveland, addressing a meeting; he took the opportunity of defending the destruction of the Lusitania on the ground that she was carrying munitions of war. This speech aroused a storm of execration throughout the country, which was already indignant enough over the fatal event itself. Even to-day no German seems to realize the full violence of the passion thus aroused; we, accustomed as we have been to daily reports of battles and casualties, were little impressed by the destruction of a solitary passenger ship. America, however, execrated us whole-heartedly as murderers of women and children, oblivious of the fact that the victims of the submarine campaign were far less numerous than the women and children killed by the English blockade, and that death by drowning is no more dreadful than slow starvation. Everyone naturally realizes his own misfortunes more vividly than those of others, and the Lusitania incident first brought home to the United States the horrors of war, and convinced all her people that a flagrant injury had been done them. On my departure from New York I found myself at once face to face with this immense popular excitement. I left my hotel by a side door, but did not manage to escape notice; several cars filled with reporters followed me to the station, and pressed round me so persistently that I was unable to shake them off. I could only refuse to make any statement, which only increased the excitement of the reporters; but had I said anything at that time, I should but have added fuel to the fire which was already raging in the minds of all. Finally I succeeded in forcing my way through the infuriated and howling mob of pressmen and reaching the train.
For the first few days after my return to Washington I remained in seclusion, so as to avoid any possibility of unpleasant incidents. Those Germans who live in the congenial surroundings of their homes can have little conception of the hostility with which we in America had to contend. We had many true friends, who right up to the final breach between the two countries never deserted us. To them I shall ever feel myself indebted, more particularly in view of their harsh treatment at the hands of their fellow-countrymen and enemy diplomatists, as a result of their staunchness. The pro-Entente elements of the country proposed not only to boycott us socially, but also to terrorize all pro-German Americans. In this connection it is of interest to note that a certain neutral representative was accused by his Government of having taken our part; he was led to believe that this charge had originated in the Russian Embassy, and taxed M. Bakmetieff with the fact. The latter had no better proof of it to adduce than the report that the Dutch Ambassador—for he it was who had been thus attacked—occasionally had breakfast with me at my club, and always stayed at the German headquarters, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, whenever he came to New York. The above example is typical of the attitude usually adopted towards us; despite it all, throughout the war I never wanted for true and loyal friends in America, even though, particularly after the Lusitania incident, one or other shrank from braving the resulting public odium. Such halfhearted champions we could easily dispense with; the situation at the moment was so strained that we had no use for any save trustworthy and reliable men on our side. I may take this opportunity to place it on record that my relations with all the State Departments remained to the last of the friendliest; I should be doing them an injustice, did I not expressly affirm this.
President Wilson must certainly have under-estimated the spirit of angry hostility towards Germany which then held sway over his people's minds, otherwise he would probably not have gone directly counter to it, as he did in a speech which has now become famous. On May 10th at Philadelphia he gave evidence of his peaceful inclinations in the following words:
"The example of America must be a special example. The example of America must be the example not merely of peace because it will not fight, but of peace because peace is the healing and elevating influence of the world and strife is not. There is such a thing as a man being too proud to fight. There is such a thing as a nation being so right that it does not need to convince others by force that it is right."
This speech did but increase the indignation raging throughout the country, and the phrase "Too proud to fight" became the favorite joke of the Jingo and Entente party against Mr. Wilson. Public opinion with one voice demanded the severance of diplomatic relations with Germany; and before this powerful pressure the President deemed it advisable to explain away his words.
It may be said, perhaps, in answer to the above, that America was indeed bitterly angry, but still not resolved on war; and that public opinion was indignant, not at Wilson's desire to keep the peace, but at the unfortunate expression "Too proud to fight."
This view was held, for example, by von Tirpitz, and also found expression more than once in the reports of the so-called German Chamber of Commerce in New York, which were regularly transmitted to Germany, and exercised considerable influence on opinion in that country, although their author was a man of no political insight, and the Chamber of Commerce had, as a matter of fact, no actual existence.
They were simply a journalistic device on the part of the paper which published these reports. During the war, and under the influence of the passions which it aroused, there was continually going on in America any amount of mischievous gossip and intrigue concerning which many interesting stories might be told. I have no intention, however, of concerning myself with these unworthy matters now, any more than I allowed them at the time to color my official reports to the home Government; I can only say that if the reports of the Chamber of Commerce had any sort of influence on German opinion, it was much to be regretted. The opinion, therein expressed, that the United States would never, under any circumstances, embark on hostilities against us was unfortunately belied by later events, and the idea that America was at that time compelled to keep the peace by defects in her military equipment, had no foundation in fact. Admittedly, she was in the year 1917 insufficiently equipped for war, and the question of making good her deficiencies had not got beyond the stage of discussion. I should, of course, have been only too pleased if my repeated warnings as to the danger of war with America had proved to be unfounded; in point of fact, after the Lusitania incident, America was, for a period of three weeks, on the verge of breaking off diplomatic relations, and panic reigned on the Stock Exchanges throughout the country. The fact that Congress was not sitting at the time prevented a flood of speeches which would only have increased the tension. It will be remembered that by the American Constitution the annual sessions of Congress are short and long alternately; the short session had come to an end on March 4, 1915, and the President had refrained from summoning Congress again, as he wished to avoid discussion on the question of war.
The irresistible strength of the popular indignation may be accurately estimated from the fact that even the German-Americans were terror-stricken by its violence. Not only did our propaganda collapse completely, but even our political friends dared not open their mouths, and only ventured to assert themselves once more after the settlement of the Arabic case. Germanism in America may be said to have been absolutely killed by the Lusitania incident, and only gradually came to life again.
The first expressions of opinion which I received from the President and Mr. Bryan gave me good grounds for hope that these gentlemen would do everything in their power to preserve peace. I append the two telegrams which I sent to the Foreign Office:
(1). "Washington, May 9th, 1915.
"Lusitania incident has caused great excitement, especially in New York, which is most affected, but I hope that no serious consequences will ensue. Mr. Wilson regards matters calmly. I recommend expression of regret for loss of so many American lives, in whatever form may be possible without admission of our responsibility."
(2). "Washington, May 10th, 1915.
"Bryan spoke to me very seriously concerning Lusitania incident. His influence will, in any case be exercised in favor of peace. This influence is great, as Wilson depends on Bryan for his re-election. Roosevelt, on the other hand, is beating the patriotic drum, in order to win over the Jingo elements. It is significant of Bryan's real views that he regrets that we did not support his well-known attempt at mediation; therefore, I again recommend that we should endeavor to bring about an attempt at mediation in some form, in case the position here becomes critical. This would be a good argumentum ad hominem in order to avoid war. Another way out, which is recommended, is that we should renew our offer to give up submarine warfare provided that England adheres to the principles of International Law, and gives up her policy of starvation. The position is in any case very serious; I hope and believe that we shall find a way out of the present crisis, but in case of any such recurrence, no solution can be guaranteed."
American indignation was directed particularly against Dr. Dernburg, who had defended, in public, the torpedoing of the Lusitania. I had, therefore, no other resource but to advise him to leave the country of his own accord. He would probably have been deported in any case, and his continued presence in America could no longer serve any useful purpose, while it was to be hoped that his voluntary departure would appease the popular wrath in some degree, and postpone the imminent rupture of diplomatic relations. The sea was raging and demanded a sacrifice. I sent the following report to Berlin on the subject of Dr. Dernburg's resolve to leave the country:
"Washington, May 17th, 1915.
"As I have already wired to your Excellency, Dr. Dernburg has decided to leave the country of his own free will. I believe that, in so doing, he is rendering a great service to the Fatherland, a service rendered easier by the fact that he could no longer hope to continue in the exercise of his former duties. As I have already reported, he had exposed himself to attack by our enemies by his action in going counter to the present outbreak of hysterical feeling in a speech and an interview which were, unfortunately, not in accordance with your Excellency's instructions, received by me on the following day. So long as Dernburg only wrote articles for the papers, he rendered distinguished and highly appreciated service, but when he commenced to deliver speeches at German-American meetings he trod on very dangerous ground. On this point we are all in agreement here. In any case, in war every possible method must be tried, and if any individual is sacrificed it must be regarded as unfortunately unavoidable.
"When I informed Mr. Bryan that Dr. Dernburg had decided to return home if the American Government would secure him a safe conduct from our enemies, the satisfaction of the Secretary of State was even more pronounced than I had expected. He remarked that Dr. Dernburg's speeches had given rise to the suspicion that the German Government wished to inflame the minds of the American people against President Wilson's administration. It might be possible, now that there were no longer any grounds for this idea, to avoid an immediate rupture of diplomatic relations."
On May 13th the American Government dispatched a strongly worded Note to Berlin, which restated their point of view, as previously given. I reproduce textually the following passage from the Note, which, from the point of view of subsequent events, is of fundamental importance.
"The Government of the United States, therefore, desires to call the attention of the Imperial German Government with the utmost earnestness to the fact that the objection to their present method of attack against the trade of their enemies lies in the practical impossibility of employing submarines in the destruction of commerce without disregarding those rules of fairness, reason, justice, and humanity, which all modern opinion regards as imperative. It is practically impossible for the officers of a submarine to visit a merchantman at sea and examine her papers and cargo. It is practically impossible for them to make a prize of her; and, if they cannot put a prize crew on board of her, they cannot sink her without leaving her crew and all on board of her to the mercy of the sea in her small boats.... Manifestly submarines cannot be used against merchantmen, as the last few weeks have shown, without an inevitable violation of many sacred principles of justice and humanity.
"American citizens act within their indisputable rights in taking their ships and in travelling wherever their legitimate business calls them on the high seas, and exercise those rights in what should be the well-justified confidence that their lives will not be endangered by acts done in clear violation of universally acknowledged international obligations, and certainly in the confidence that their own Government will sustain them in the exercise of their rights.
"There was recently published in the newspapers of the United States, I regret to inform the Imperial German Government, a formal warning, purporting to come from the Imperial Germany Embassy at Washington, addressed to the people of the United States, and stating, in effect, that any citizen of the United States who exercised his right of free travel upon the seas, would do so at his peril if his journey should take him within the zone of waters within which the Imperial German Navy was using submarines against the commerce of Great Britain and France, notwithstanding the respectful, but very earnest protests of his Government, the Government of the United States. I do not refer to this for the purpose of calling the attention of the Imperial German Government at this time to the surprising irregularity of a communication from the Imperial Germany Embassy at Washington addressed to the people of the United States through the newspapers, but only for the purpose of pointing out that no warning that an unlawful and inhumane act will be committed can possibly be accepted as an excuse or palliation for that act or as an abatement of the responsibility for its commission.
* * * * * *
"The Government of the United States cannot believe that the commanders of the vessels which committed these acts of lawlessness did so except under a misapprehension of the orders issued by the Imperial German naval authorities.... It confidently expects, therefore, that the Imperial German Government will disavow the acts of which the Government of the United States complains, that they will make reparation so far as reparation is possible for injuries which are without measure, and that they will take immediate steps to prevent the recurrence of anything so obviously subversive of the principles of warfare for which the Imperial German Government have in the past so wisely and firmly contended.
* * * * * *
"The Imperial German Government will not expect the Government of the United States to omit any word or any act necessary to the performance of its sacred duty of maintaining the rights of the United States and its citizens and of safeguarding their free exercise and enjoyment."
The demands contained in the above Note would have made the continuance of the submarine campaign impossible, and this was, no doubt, the intention of the Union Government. The German answer of May 28th, which defended the torpedoing of the Lusitania on the grounds that she should be considered as an auxiliary cruiser and provided with guns, changed the situation in no way. Besides, the Lusitania had ammunition and Canadian troops on board; there can be no doubt that the main reason why she sank so rapidly was the exploding of her cargo of ammunition by the torpedo which struck her. With regard to the loss of human life, the German Government had already expressed, to the neutral Powers concerned, its deep regret for the death of their subjects—I had in person conveyed these regrets to the United States Government a few days after the destruction of the Lusitania.
After this first exchange of Notes, the gulf between the two points of view appeared fixed, and was bound in face of the prevalent excitement to lead to a severance of diplomatic relations, unless sufficient time were gained to allow the storms of passion to abate. Telegraphic communication between the German Government and the Embassy at Washington was carried out by a circuitous route, which made it extremely slow; thus I was compelled to decide on my own responsibility and take immediate action. I fully realized that the rupture of diplomatic relations would mean war. In America we were face to face with a vigorous hostile propaganda, which had as its sole object to draw the United States into war, and thus bring about a decision by force of arms. From the time of the Lusitania incident onwards, the diplomatic struggle between ourselves and the Entente was centred entirely around the question of the future action of the United States. The threatened rupture of relations between that country and Germany would have left the field open for hostile propaganda, by taking from us all chance of combating it. War would thus have been inevitable sooner or later. The first and most urgent necessity was, therefore, the avoidance of such a rupture at whatever cost, and my efforts were now solely directed to this end. As things turned out, it might, perhaps, have been better if the United States had actually gone to war at this moment. Her military pressure, and our consequent defeat, would have come two years earlier, before the German people had been demoralized and exhausted by four years of war and blockade. But at that time I had good hopes of being able to bring about peace through American mediation, and consequently wished to gain time at all costs.
I resolved, without waiting for instructions from Berlin, to make use of my privileged position as Ambassador to demand an audience with the President. I heard later, among other things when I was at Manila, that on this very day, June 2nd, all preparations had been made for breaking off relations, and for the inevitable resulting war. As a result of my interview, however, they were cancelled. I had a long conversation with the President and two of his advisers. Mr. Wilson felt the position acutely, and was animated solely by a desire to preserve peace. We both realized that it was a question of gaining time, and succeeded in coming to an agreement on the measures to be taken to mitigate the crisis. We took the view that the isolation of Germany had given rise to an atmosphere of misunderstanding between her and the United States, and that the establishment of some sort of personal relationship might be expected to ease this tension; I, therefore, proposed, and the President agreed, that Meyer Gerhardt, a member of the Privy Council, who had accompanied Dr. Dernburg to America, and was then acting on behalf of the German Red Cross, should at once go to Germany and report in person to the Government. Mr. Wilson, for his part, undertook that no final decision should be taken until Meyer Gerhardt had reported the results of his mission.
At the end of this interview I was convinced in my own mind that the President would never enter on war with Germany, otherwise I could not conceive why he should have concurred in my proposals instead of breaking off relations at once. He would, had he chosen the latter course, have had American public opinion more decidedly behind him than it was later, at the time of the final breach. Not a voice would have been raised in opposition, except that of the Secretary of State, Mr. Bryan, who, as it was, resigned his office on the ground that the exchange of Notes threatened to involve the United States in war, and could not be reconciled, therefore, with his own pacific intentions.
It is certain that if I had not at this stage of the Lusitania crisis had my interview with the President, relations would have been broken off and war between the United States and Germany must inevitably have followed. The view is still held in many quarters that we might safely have disregarded American susceptibilities, as President Wilson was entirely averse to war and would have avoided it by whatever means; then we should have been free to carry on our submarine campaign. This was not the opinion held by myself or any of my colleagues at the Embassy, and later events proved us to have been in the right, as against those Germans and German-Americans, who, in May, 1915, and afterwards, averred that the United States would never declare war on us, and maintained the same view in January and February, 1917. The principles of my later policy were based on the events of this Lusitania crisis; I had then gathered the conviction that Mr. Wilson wanted peace but the country wanted war; that the President alone had prevented an immediate rupture, but that as the responsible leader of the American people, he would be compelled to bow eventually to public opinion. When Mr. Wilson had to explain away his unlucky speech at Philadelphia, no action was taken from the German side, and no information given him which might lead him to understand that Germany desired to avoid a casus belli at all costs, for fear of giving Mr. Wilson an opportunity to gain a cheap triumph over Germany in a verbal wrangle.
I believe it unjust to Mr. Wilson to suppose that he wished to bluff us into surrender at this time. He had, while fully realizing the danger of war, sought all ways and means to avoid it, and on this hypothesis my whole policy was founded. Moreover the President had then mentioned to me for the first time that he was considering an attempt at mediation between the belligerents.
After my audience at the White House I sent the following wire to the Foreign Office:
"Washington, June 2nd, 1915.
"Seriousness of the present situation here induced me to seek interview with President Wilson. In most cordial exchange of views, in course of which we repeatedly emphasized our mutual desire to find some solution of the present difficulties, Wilson always came back to point that he was concerned purely with humanitarian aspect of matter, and that question of indemnification for loss of American lives in Lusitania was only of secondary importance. His main object was complete cessation of submarine warfare, and from point of view of this ultimate aim, smaller concessions on our part could only be regarded as half measures. It behooved us by giving up submarine campaign to appeal to moral sense of world; for issue of the war could never be finally decided by armies but only by peace of understanding. Our voluntary cessation of submarine warfare would inspire Wilson to press for a raising of English hunger blockade. Reliable reports from London state that present Cabinet would agree to this. Wilson hopes that this might be first stage in a peace movement on large scale, which he would introduce as head of leading neutral Powers.
"American reply may be expected to lay little stress on purely legal aspect of matter and to dwell rather on question of humanity, emphatically enough, but as Wilson told me, in a sharper form.
"President remarked that on one point at least we should be in agreement, as both Germany and United States of America had always been in favor of freedom of seas.
"Cordiality of conversation must not blind our eyes to seriousness of situation. If our next Note does not tend to tranquilize matters, Wilson is bound to recall his Ambassador. I recommend most earnestly that this should be avoided at all costs, in view of its disastrous moral effect and fact that this result would be immediate increase in export of munitions, and in financial support for our enemies on immense scale. Good prospect exists of success of present movement for forbidding export of arms should understanding be reached; and also movement by Wilson in direction of peace is sure to follow. Decisive factor in result is that our reply should strike correct note from point of view of public opinion, which is decisive factor in balance here. For this essential to leave out legal details and to lift discussion to level of humanitarian standpoint. Meyer Gerhardt leaves tomorrow for Germany as Red Cross representative; he will report fully in Berlin on situation. Beg that our reply be held up till his arrival. Wilson concurs in this."