The Austro-Hungarian representative, Baron Zwiedeeneck von Suedenhorst, found himself in an extremely difficult position. Owing to the fact that he only ranked as charge d'affaires, and that his appointment only dated from Dr. Dumba's departure, he was not empowered to enter into negotiations. He had always proved himself a very loyal colleague and acted in close co-operation with me, but in this instance, as the matter was one solely for Vienna's decision, I could be of little service to him. I counselled him to telegraph frankly to his Government, that if the American demands were not conceded, a breach was to be expected. I was myself inclined to believe that, as in the case of our Naval and Military Attaches, Mr. Wilson's real purpose was to give the lie to those accusations of weakness which the Entente party was constantly casting in his teeth, and this, I thought, accounted for the unwonted sternness of the American Note, which seemed absolutely to challenge a rupture. It was not conceivable that the Austrian Government could swallow this bitter pill, while from the point of view of the American Government, the breaking-off of relations would be a real diplomatic victory; for on the one hand the political situation would remain unchanged so long as the German Embassy was in Washington, and on the other hand, Mr. Wilson would have achieved his object and shown the Berlin Government that his threats of war were seriously meant.
However, the Austro-Hungarian Government, after a short further exchange of Notes, complied under protest with the American demands. I learned after my return home that in so doing, they acted under pressure from the German Foreign Office. Thus, this crisis also blew over, not, however, without a serious loss of prestige for the Central Powers, who had been compelled to yield to demands generally regarded as utterly unacceptable. Nothing could be more fatal to our position in the world than this alternation of defiance and submission, which served no diplomatic object and merely betrayed infirmity of purpose.
THE SECOND "LUSITANIA" CRISIS
In Germany, and particularly before the Committee of the National Assembly, the American Government has been reproached with mala fides for having unnecessarily reopened the Lusitania question. The line of argument is approximately as follows:
After the settlement of the Arabic case one can suspect the obstinate harping on the Lusitania affair, which had really died down, as a sign of mala fides. Did the Americans want to secure a fresh diplomatic success against us? They had already carried their principle with the settlement of the Arabic case; was their object now to make a still greater splash? The continued possibility of a conflict with Germany—which was quite within practical politics if nothing intervened—made a very favorable background to make clear to American public opinion, in conjunction with a campaign on the same lines by Wilson himself, the following point: "We must get ourselves out of this situation pregnant with war by vindicating our right with both sides."
Apart from the fact that the negotiations on the Lusitania question had been allowed to hang fire for about six weeks I believe that in this case we have again underestimated the significance of hostile public opinion in America. The best way of making clear the situation in the United States will probably be for me to reproduce here the telegrams and reports in which I informed Berlin of the reopening of the Lusitania negotiations.
1. REPORT IN CIPHER
Washington, 23rd November, 1915.
Secretary of State Lansing after long hesitation took up the Lusitania question again with me. At the beginning of October I had handed to him a draft of a letter which contained what I thought myself able to write to him within the scope of my instructions. This draft was merely intended to serve as a basis for more detailed negotiations and was only to be regarded as official in case the American Government should regard the whole incident as satisfactorily settled. There was nothing to be gained by stirring up public opinion again here by publishing documents which were regarded from the beginning as unsatisfactory.
As I have several times had the honor to report, there is, in my opinion, no hope of settling the Lusitania question, as the American Government does not think that it can agree to refer it to a court of arbitration now. They are, however, counting here on a decision at a later date by such a court, which would be sure to award the Americans an indemnity, because the Hague court of arbitration from its very nature is obliged to stand for the protection of neutral non-combatants. Consequently, Mr. Lansing cannot understand why we do not pay the indemnity of our own accord and so settle the whole matter, especially as, in view of our pledge for the future, it is of no practical importance to us. Mr. Lansing is primarily concerned with the indemnity, whereas President Wilson now, as formerly, lays the chief weight on the pledge for the future and the humanitarian aspect of the question. Mr. Wilson always keeps his eye fixed on the two closely connected goals: the development of international law with regard to the freedom of the seas and the restoration of peace.
Mr. Lansing now reopens the Lusitania question for the following reasons, part of which he has himself openly stated, and the rest have become known to me through other channels. In the first place the Government is afraid of attacks in the impending Congress. It was, therefore, eminently desirable that it should be able to inform Congress that something had been done in the Lusitania affair. Even if nothing comes of it they could answer that they are waiting for a reply from Germany. President Wilson himself does not believe in the possibility of the question being solved, and hopes to keep the matter in the air until the conclusion of peace, provided that public opinion does not become restive or new eventualities occur. The Ancona affair has had an unfavorable effect in this respect. Even though it has not aroused any great excitement, it has caused the whole question to be reopened, and everyone on this side lays at our door the responsibility for the Austrian act; for they base their reasoning on the assumption that the war is directed entirely from Berlin. Whenever mention is made of the Ancona incident it recalls the fact that the Lusitania question still remains unsettled.
It is a well known fact that we are faced here with an anti-German ring of great influence. I have repeatedly pointed this out in my reports. This ring is trying to exploit the Ancona and Lusitania questions with a view to driving into the background the American Note to England and the British infringements of international law. The Government is treating this anti-German ring with the same weakness as are the majority of American private citizens. They are submitting patiently to terrorization as well as continual baiting and sneering. The recluse at the White House has, indeed, great plans, but his freedom of decision is seriously compromised by his anxiety to be re-elected. He refuses to allow himself to be drawn into too serious extravagances; and so he certainly deserves the credit for having prevented war with Germany, but he allows himself, nevertheless, to be influenced by the anti-German ring and hampered in the pursuit of his plans.
2. TELEGRAM IN CIPHER
"Washington, 2nd December, 1915.
"The Government here have lost their nerve as a result of the impending Congress, the Hapag case, the Ancona incident, and the explosions and fires in munition and powder works, and like all private individuals here are allowing themselves to be terrorized by the anti-German ring. Hence the anxiety for the recall of Papen and Boy-Ed. The Government fear that Congress will take the above questions, as well as the Lusitania affair, into their own hands, and deal with them in more radical fashion than the Government. This is the reason for the present demand for the recall—which is intended to serve as a safety-valve—lest Congress should break off diplomatic relations with us. Whether there is any real danger of this happening it is difficult to say. Lansing thinks there is. In any case everything is possible in the present state of public feeling. They have not the courage to swim against the stream. Perhaps the recall of the attaches will still the storm for a time, as was the case with Dernburg and Dumba; meanwhile everything turns on the attitude of Congress, who, it is to be hoped, will not be anxious to declare war on us. Colonel House, who is a good reader of the barometer here, sees no danger. I, personally, also do not believe that Congress will decide to resort to extremes on one side,—i.e., without attacking England—for the breaking-off of diplomatic relations would certainly be quickly followed by war.
"In any case it is my sacred duty to inform your Excellency that Congress may produce unpleasant surprises, and that we must, therefore, be prepared to do something with regard to the Lusitania question. How far we can approach the Lansing draft it is difficult to judge from here. It depends in the first place on the state of public opinion in Germany, for the matter has no further practical importance since we have pledged ourselves to spare passenger-ships.
"Hitherto my personal relations with the American Government have been so good that it was always possible to prevent the worst happening. Lansing volunteered yesterday to send this telegram. But if the matter once gets into the hands of Congress it will be much more difficult to exert influence, especially as nothing can be kept secret here. It is not yet possible to say when Congress will ask for the Lusitania documents, but it will probably be in a few weeks' time, provided that no diplomatic understanding can be reached meanwhile."
3. REPORT IN CIPHER
"Washington, 7th December, 1915.
"The action that Congress will take with regard to the Lusitania question is of primary importance for us. It is my opinion that President Wilson, when he asked for the recall of our two attaches, had the thought in the back of his mind that Congress would let the Lusitania question rest for a time, because relations with Germany are already sufficiently strained and only the rabid pro-English want war. One cannot, however, count on anything now, because the anti-German ring are seeking to terrorize all who do not agree with them. The senators and members of Congress from the west are certainly more difficult to influence, as their constituents have only a slight economic interest in the cause of our enemies. It is also probable that the senators from the south will all stand by us, because they are very much embittered against England on account of the cotton question. Nevertheless, we must, as I have already pointed out by telegram, be fully prepared for further negotiations on the subject of the Lusitania. If we refuse to give way at all, the breaking of diplomatic relations, followed by war, is inevitable. In my opinion it is out of the question to find a formula that will satisfy public opinion on both sides. It may, however, be possible to find a formula that will skim over the points of contention, as was done in the Arabic case. In spite of all the outcry over here there is no doubt that the American Government and the greater part of public opinion would be only too delighted if we could find a graceful way of settling the Lusitania question without a conflict. What is required in the first place is:
"1. A. declaration on our side that the attack on the Lusitania should be regarded as an act of reprisal and, therefore, not within the scope of existing international law.
"2. The payment of an indemnity, which in my opinion could be made without committing ourselves on the question of responsibility.
"President Wilson had hoped that the whole question could be shelved until after the end of the war. Now the war still drags on, and Mr. Wilson is afraid of radical intervention on the part of Congress. Over here it is quite impossible to prophesy. The unexpected is the only thing that consistently recurs. No one can say what Congress will do. Meanwhile, it is my duty to describe the situation as I see it to-day. Whether the Lusitania question is of sufficient practical importance to allow it to bring upon us the breaking-off of diplomatic relations and war with the United States I must leave it to the exalted judgment of your Excellency to decide."
* * * * * *
The American Government had established a basis for the negotiations with regard to the Lusitania and "the Freedom of the Seas" which was in our favor when, on the 21st October, they sent a very circumstantial Note to London in which they demonstrated that the English blockade was a breach of international law and definitely stated that this blockade was neither effective, legal nor defensible. Further, that the United States could not, therefore, submit to an infringement of her rights as a neutral through measures which were admittedly reprisals, and, consequently, contrary to international law. That she could not with equanimity allow her rights to be subordinated to the plea that the peculiar geographical position of the enemies of Great Britain justified measures contrary to international law.
The conclusion of the Note read as follows:
"It is of the highest importance to neutrals not only of the present day, but of the future, that the principles of international right be maintained unimpaired.
"This task of championing the integrity of neutral rights, which have received the sanction of the civilized world against the lawless conduct of belligerents arising out of the bitterness of the great conflict which is now wasting the countries of Europe, the United States unhesitatingly assumes, and to the accomplishment of that task it will devote its energies, exercising always that impartiality which from the outbreak of the war it has sought to exercise in its relations with the warring nations."
The above programme was in accordance with the proposal of the American Note of 21st July, which had touched on the subject of co-operation in realizing the "Freedom of the Seas." It was, however, clear to me, apart from anything else, that the United States would not expend energy in championing the rights of neutrals so long as a conflict with Germany threatened. The settlement of the Arabic question gave grounds for hope that the views of the two Governments on the question of submarine warfare would coincide. This appeared to me to be the most important point; the American Government, however, insisted on the settlement of the Lusitania incident, which I foresaw was going to prove a very difficult problem. Even in the Arabic affair it was only by my own independent action that it was possible to avoid a break. The Lusitania question, however, was much more unfavorable to us because at that time the old instructions to submarine captains were still in force. I should, therefore, have been glad to avoid negotiations on the Lusitania question, but Mr. Lansing insisted on a settlement before he spoke on the future "Freedom of the Seas." The reason for this attitude of the Secretary of State, as appears in my reports reproduced above, lay in the state of public opinion. It was unfortunately impossible for the American Government to carry through the policy they had adopted in respect to England so long as the Lusitania question was brought forward daily in the American Press.
The negotiations should have been carried through orally and confidentially between Mr. Lansing and myself. Unfortunately, however, it was impossible to keep anything confidential in Washington, particularly as, very much against my wishes, the conversations were protracted for weeks. The state department was continually besieged by journalists, who reported in their papers a medley of truth and fiction about each of my visits. In this way they provoked denials, and so ended by getting a good idea of how the situation stood. In addition to this, authoritative persons in Berlin gave interviews to American journalists, who reported to the United States papers everything that they did not already know. Consequently, the negotiations did not progress in the way Mr. Lansing and I had expected. We wanted to arrive quickly at a formula and make it known at once. Public opinion in both countries would then have been set at rest, and the past would have been buried so long as no fresh differences of opinion and conflict arose out of the submarine war. The formula, however, was not so easy to arrive at. The wording of the Memorandum which I was to present to the American Government had to be repeatedly cabled to Berlin, where each time some alteration was required in the text that Mr. Lansing wanted.
The American Government held to the point of view which they had formulated in the Note of the 21st July, as follows:
"...for a belligerent act of retaliation is per se an act beyond the law and the defense of an act as retaliatory is an admission that it is illegal."
The standpoint of the American Note of the 21st July, 1915, shows clearly the mistake of treating the submarine war as reprisals. It shows how every surrender of a position compromises the next.
The German Government, on the other hand, refused under any circumstances to admit the illegality of the submarine warfare within the war-zone, because they regarded the right to make reprisals as a recognized part of the existing international law. Further, the American demand was regarded in Germany as a deliberate humiliation, as well as an attempt to coerce us unconditionally to renounce unrestricted submarine warfare once and for all. To have admitted that the submarine war was a breach of international law would have involved us in the same unpleasant consequences to which now, after our defeat, we are compelled to submit. If we admitted the illegality of the submarine campaign we should have been obliged, on the conclusion of peace, to meet all the demands for damages arising out of it.
For the third time, then, the word "illegal" brought us face to face with a crisis which was within an ace of causing a rupture of diplomatic relations. The last days of the negotiations turned out very unfortunately for us. Mr. Lansing and I had agreed upon a formula in which the word "illegal" did not occur, because my instructions categorically prohibited its use. In Berlin it was not yet known that we had arrived at the desired agreement, and it was there thought necessary to call public attention to the danger of the situation, and explain the seriousness of the position in the hope that by this means the American Government might be moved to adopt a more conciliatory attitude.
On 5th February, Under-Secretary of State Zimmermann gave an interview to the Associated Press in which he said he did not wish to conceal the seriousness of the position. That Germany could under no circumstances admit the illegality of the submarine campaign within the war-zone. The whole crisis arose from the new demand of America that Germany should admit the sinking of the Lusitania to be an act infringing the law of nations. Germany could not renounce the submarine as a weapon. If the United States insisted on bringing about a break Germany could do nothing further to avoid it. The Imperial Chancellor confirmed these statements in a conversation with the Berlin correspondent of The World.
These interviews compromised once more the settlement of the negotiations, because the American Government were doubtful as to whether they could allow the word "illegal" to be omitted, after the sharp difference of opinion between the two Governments had become public property. The agreement which had been reached voluntarily now looked like a weak surrender before a German threat. In the end, however, a compromise was arrived at. I handed to Mr. Lansing in writing a declaration amounting to an admission that reprisals were admissible, but that they should not be allowed to injure neutrals, and that therefore the German Government regretted the incident and were prepared to offer satisfaction and compensation. The American Government were willing to confirm the receipt of this Memorandum and declare themselves satisfied. Fate, however, had decreed that I should play the role of Sisyphus at Washington. Scarcely were the negotiations terminated when the German Government, on the 8th February, declared the so-called "ruthless submarine war," i.e. announced to the sea powers their intention of sinking armed merchantmen without warning and without regard to crew or passengers. In view of this the American Government refused to complete the exchange of letters on the subject of the Lusitania. Instead of this there began a new controversy on the question of "armed merchantmen." My hope of settling the Lusitania question and then passing on to the discussion of "Freedom of the Seas" was shattered. This hit me all the harder as I was convinced that the conversations on the latter question would have developed into peace negotiations.
The opinion has been expressed in Germany that the breaking-off of diplomatic relations at this stage was regarded, even in America, as precipitate, since no really acute provocation had been given. That it was a shamelessly engineered break after we had in principle yielded on every point. That the Americans had apparently been bluffing and continually increasing their demands with a view of enhancing their own prestige by scoring further diplomatic successes against us which, in view of the previous course of events, they could regard as certain.
In this case I do not myself believe that the American Government were really thinking seriously of breaking off diplomatic relations. They only wanted to pacify public opinion by a settlement of the Lusitania question, which was essential before passing on to negotiations with regard to the "Freedom of the Seas" or to steps for peace. Threats of war arose only because the negotiations were protracted for weeks, and the word "illegal" was discussed in the Press in every possible tone. It was a misfortune that these negotiations were not carried on—like the subsequent conversations with regard to peace—in secret. I had actually persuaded the American Government to give way on the word "illegal," which had become much more difficult for them owing to the publicity that was given to the negotiations. Had it not been for the ruthless submarine campaign the Lusitania question would have been finally buried and the negotiations could have been continued in a friendly spirit. Moreover, the so-called ruthless submarine campaign was, according to the opinion of Admiral von Tirpitz, who was at that time still in office, although he was not consulted until the decision was taken, a military farce. He declared the order to be technically nonsense, and the pompous way in which it was issued as unnecessarily provocative and a challenge. The whole thing was neither "fish nor flesh."
The controversy over the "armed merchantmen" had a prologue which could only be described as a comedy of errors, were the matter not so serious. It is well known that the constitution of the United States allows the President the right of independent political action. He alone is responsible, and his Secretary of State and the other Ministers are only his assistants, without personal responsibility. Mr. Wilson has made much greater use of his rights in this respect than even Mr. Roosevelt. From the very beginning his administration was a one-man Government.
In general terms the development of democracy in America amounts to this, that the electors vest unlimited rights in one man for a short time, and after that they re-elect or replace him according to whether he has won or lost their confidence.
Thus arises a sort of temporary autocracy which combines the advantages of a monarchy and a democracy. Whether this historically developed system really coincides with our idea of formal democracy is another question.
However this may be, the political life of a nation is not to be ruled by catch-words. History is the only builder of state organisms. No one can foretell in what direction our young democracy will develop. In view of the indifference of the German people to politics it may be assumed, however, that it will develop on similar lines to that of America when we have once accepted the principle of the election of the President by the people. Such a President will always possess great power and authority in his relation to other bodies, while it is probable that the German people will be willing to leave political affairs in the hands of the man they have elected, and will even give him charge of their economic affairs. The German President of the future will certainly find himself involved in the same differences with the Ministers responsible to the majority in the Reichstag as the American President has had so frequently with the Senate. In such cases the American people nearly always support the President, directly chosen by them, and so bring corresponding pressure to bear on the Senate.
The brief constitutional diversion from the question of "armed merchantmen" was to give an opportunity for announcing the surprising catastrophes which had occurred in the course of the development of this question. About the end of the year 1915 Mr. Wilson had married for the second time and was absent for a time from Washington. Consequently the President seems not to have exerted the same close control as usual over the political actions of his Ministers. In any case he had not read, or only hastily glanced through, a Memorandum on the submarine campaign which Mr. Lansing had handed on the 18th January, 1916, to the representatives of the Entente, and had not therefore realized its far-reaching importance. This Memorandum only came to the knowledge of the Central Powers at a later date, through the medium of the Press, which had got to know of it from one of the Entente representatives or through some indiscretion.
The Memorandum went even further than the Note of the 21st July, 1915, and recognized that the use of submarines could not be prohibited to the combatants after they had proved their value in attacking enemy commerce. It laid down, however, that the submarine campaign must, without interfering with its effectiveness be brought into harmony with the general provisions of international law and with the principles of humanity. It was, therefore, necessary on the one side that the submarines should be instructed to conduct their campaign within the limits laid down for cruiser-warfare against merchant shipping, i.e., they must not sink without first stopping and examining the ship and giving the passengers and crew a chance to save themselves. On the other side, the merchant ships were not to carry arms, since, owing to the nature of the submarines, it would be impossible for them to conduct their operations on the lines of cruiser-warfare if the merchantmen were even lightly armed, as had hitherto been permitted by the principles of international law for purposes of defense. Under the prevailing circumstances any arming of a merchant ship would have an offensive character.
The Memorandum concluded as follows:
"I should add that my Government is impressed with the reasonableness of the argument that a merchant vessel carrying an armament of any sort, in view of the character of submarine warfare and the defensive weakness of undersea craft, should be held to be an auxiliary cruiser and so treated by a neutral as well as by a belligerent Government, and is seriously considering instructing its officials accordingly."
Although this Memorandum bears no historical weight I deal with it in detail here because it plated a leading part before the Committee of the National Assembly as a proof that no confidence could be placed in Mr. Wilson as a peace mediator.
I have no doubt that the Memorandum was intended to carry on the policy of the American Notes of the 21st July and 21st October, 1915, which had given rise to the American struggle for the "Freedom of the Seas." It was not, however, in keeping with Mr. Wilson's usual methods to make such a sharp thrust at the Entente as the concluding paragraph of the Memorandum represented, so long as the negotiations with me on the subject of the Lusitania incident were not yet concluded and so long as it was not absolutely sure of the support of public opinion. Just as the Note of the 21st October, 1915, was not sent to London until the President thought he had cleared the way with respect to us by the settlement of the Arabic question, so in January, 1916, he wanted to keep his hands free until the chance of a conflict with us was past. The popular saying in America is that Wilson has a single-line brain and only deals with one matter at a time. Moreover, out of regard for the state of public feeling in the country the President wanted to take each political step without being openly coerced by us. It is not my intention to defend Mr. Wilson's conception of neutrality to-day, after I have opposed it for years, but I will only attempt, without any personal ill-will, to contribute to Klio's work of discovering the real truth. To me personally the matter of paramount interest today, as at that time, is not what Mr. Wilson did or did not do, but the question what we ought to have done in the interest of Germany.
I shall often have to return to the developments which, after the 31st January, 1917, made the President our open enemy. If we wish to be lovers of truth we must distinguish sharply between the two periods before and after the 31st January, 1917. It is certain that Mr. Wilson was never even near to being pro-German. By descent, education and training he was unconsciously much too much under the English influence already mentioned. But until the 31st January, 1917, the President had striven to be neutral. All his speeches testify to this. No un-neutral remark of Mr. Wilson, even in private, has ever reached my ears. He always resisted the pressure of the Entente party, in spite of the fact that he was almost entirely surrounded by anti-Germans. The only one I could mention whose advice to the President was always definitely neutral was Mr. House. For the rest in the east of the United States we found ourselves morally in an enemy country. Every neutral step taken by Mr. Wilson was immediately hailed as "pro-German." For instance, I am convinced that the President could never have carried out the threat contained in the final clause of the Memorandum of the 18th January. Gradually all the Entente merchantmen were armed. If these were to be treated in American ports as auxiliary cruisers the whole of American commerce would of necessity have come to a standstill, for it was already suffering seriously from lack of freight space. The Entente knew exactly how much value all Americans placed on their commerce, and could therefore reject the proposal of the United States with equanimity.
Nevertheless, it is well worthy of notice that in the Memorandum of the 18th January, 1916, the legally trained and legally minded Secretary of State Lansing, as well as Mr. Bryan, brought forward or attempted to bring forward a different kind of neutrality from that of the President. The only question is whether Mr. Wilson could at that time have carried through the Lansing policy. I do not think so. This does not in itself relieve the President of the responsibility of not wishing to make such a sharp thrust against the Entente as was represented by the Memorandum so long as the negotiations on the Lusitania affair still remained unsettled. Yet throughout the whole war Holland has never followed the regulations of the Memorandum. This fact remains. Mr. Wilson did not enforce the Memorandum because he could not do so without prejudicing the interests of American commerce. In this case Mr. Lansing was the neutral advocate and the President the American politician, whose decisions on foreign questions, as usually happens in the United States, were actuated by domestic politics.
After the issue of Mr. Wilson's protest against the English blockade, and in view of the turn that the Lansing action against armed merchantmen had taken, it can be understood that the German Imperial Government hence-forward was suspicious of the good-will and power of the President as a peace mediator. Meanwhile there came a change in the domestic situation, and this, as I have already mentioned, is always the decisive factor in the United States in all questions of foreign policy.
It would have been a good move on our part to wait for the result of the Lusitania negotiations, and then to give Mr. Wilson time to take in hand his policy with regard to the "Freedom of the Seas" on his own initiative. Berlin, however, was always in a hurry to bring in the new measures of submarine warfare, although the disadvantages that this would cause us always outweighed the advantages. However, the Americans themselves will perhaps some day have occasion to regret that they did not seize the opportunity of the war to insure the "Freedom of the Seas." If during the five years of war—from the mobilization to the peace offer and the armistice—we Germans were always in too great a hurry with our decisions, the American Government, on the other hand, lost through hesitation many an opportunity of keeping out of the war. There could be no doubt that the United States could, as a neutral power, have brought about a better peace than they have done as the decisive combatant power.
In January, 1916, there occurred an unfortunate misunderstanding, which must have strengthened the German Government in their intention of declaring the unrestricted submarine war. The Austrian representative had an interview with Mr. Lansing with reference to the Ancona incident, in which he understood the Secretary of State to say that it would be agreeable to the American Government if the Central Powers in future regarded armed enemy merchantmen as auxiliary cruisers. Baron Zwiedineck sent a wireless report of this interview to his Government via Nauen. As has already been mentioned, all our wireless messages were read by the American Government departments, and it had often occurred that objection had been raised. As this message of Baron Zwiedineck was sent without protest I assumed that Mr. Lansing had agreed to its contents. Later a confidential discussion took place between the Secretary of State, Baron Zwiedineck and myself, on the subject of this incident. Mr. Lansing said that he had not read the wireless message, as such messages were only examined by the censor, with a view to seeing that they did not compromise the neutrality of the United States. Further, he maintained, that Baron Zwiedineck must have misunderstood him, as he had not made the statement imputed to him in the message. We did not treat the conversation as official, in order not to put any greater difficulties in Mr. Lansing's way than he already had to face as a result of his Memorandum of 18th January.
The German Memorandum of 8th February, 1915, proclaiming the unrestricted submarine campaign, was handed to Mr. Gerard in Berlin. I had for the moment no further negotiations to conduct, as the Lusitania question was never again reopened and the question of the "Freedom of the Seas" had been quashed by the unrestricted submarine campaign.
Meanwhile Colonel House had gone for a second time to Europe, this time as the official representative of the President. He was in Berlin just at the time when the second Lusitania crisis reached its apogee.
I had announced his visit to Berlin, and prepared everything so that he might have every opportunity for conversation with the authoritative political personages.
When Colonel House returned to America he told me that the time had not yet come for the mediation of the United States. He had, however, had the opportunity to state his views in London, Paris and Berlin, and had met with the greatest opposition in Paris, because France had suffered so seriously in the war that she had little more to lose by prolonging it.
In Berlin, on the other hand, he had found a disposition to agree to mediation by Mr. Wilson when a favorable opportunity occurred.
In accordance with the wish of the President I had discussed the peace question exclusively with Colonel House since his second visit to Europe. This made it possible for the conversations to be kept strictly confidential. I could call on Colonel House at his private residence in New York at any time without attracting attention, whereas the State Department and the White House were always besieged by journalists as I have already mentioned. As a rule, I took the night train to New York and called on Colonel House in the morning, before the Press were aware that I had left Washington.
On the 8th March, according to my instructions, I handed to the American Government a further Memorandum, which set out in concise terms the German standpoint.
After recapitulating the various phases of the negotiations which are already known to the reader, it defined the existing situation with regard to the war at sea as follows:
England was making it impossible for the submarines to carry on their campaign against commerce in accordance with the provisions of international law by arming practically all merchantmen, and ordering the use of their guns for offence. Photographs of the English orders had been sent to the neutral Governments, with the Memorandum of the 8th February, 1916. These orders are directly contrary to the declarations of the English Ambassador in Washington on the 25th August, 1914. The Imperial German Government had hoped that these facts would prompt the neutral Governments to carry out the disarmament of merchant vessels on the lines of the proposals for disarmament made by the United States Government on 23rd January, 1916. Actually, however, the arming of these ships with guns provided by our enemies has been energetically pursued.
Advantage was taken by England and her Allies of the American Government's decision not to keep her citizens off enemy merchant ships to arm merchantmen for attack. This makes it easy for merchantmen to destroy the submarines, and, in case of the failure of their attack, to count themselves secure owing to the presence on board of American citizens.
The order as to the use of arms was supplemented by instructions given to the masters of the merchant vessels to fly false colors and to ram the submarines. The news that prize-money was paid to successful captains of merchant ships and honors conferred upon them increased the effectiveness of these orders. The Allies have associated themselves with these English measures.
Germany now finds herself faced with the following facts:
(a) That for a year a blockade contrary to international law has kept neutral commerce away from German ports and made export from Germany impossible.
(b) That for six months an extension, contrary to international law, of the laws of contraband has hampered the maritime commerce of neutral neighbors in respect of Germany.
(c) That interference with the post, contrary to international law, is striving to cut Germany off from all communication with the outside world.
(d) That systematically increased coercion of neutrals, on the principle that "Might is right," is stopping trade with Germany across the land frontiers, with a view to completing the starvation blockade of the non-combatant population of the Central Powers.
(e) That Germans who are found at sea by our enemies are robbed of their liberty regardless of whether they are combatants or non-combatants.
(f) That our enemies have armed their merchant ships for attack, and have thus made impossible the use of submarines in accordance with the principles of the Declaration of London.
The English White Book, of the 5th January, 1916, with regard to the restriction of German commerce, boasts that through these measures Germany's export trade has been almost completely stopped, and that her imports have been made dependent on the good-will of England.
The Imperial Government may hope that, in view of the friendly relations that have existed between the two countries for a hundred years, the standpoint herein laid down will meet with the sympathy of the people of the United States, in spite of the increased difficulty of mutual understanding brought about by the conduct of our enemies.
The last words of this Memorandum were vigorously commented on by the American Press as a proof that we wished to appeal, not to the American Government, but to the American people, as a result of the movement which had been set on foot in Congress, and especially in the Senate, that American citizens should be prohibited from travelling on the armed merchant vessels of combatant States.
The struggle which was at that time being waged in Congress has been greatly exaggerated in Germany. At home it was thought that the weight of opinion in Congress in favor of the warning of passengers was very great. On the pro-German side in New York it was thought that Congress was anxious to avert danger of a conflict. If this could have happened through a yielding on the part of Germany, it would, of course, have made things much easier for the Americans; if, however, Germany refused to give way, they thought the United States would have found a more conciliatory formula, as the country was seeking before all things to avert war. They believed that the re-election of 1916 had been largely won through the battle-cry, "He kept us out of the war," which showed that Congress, with its love of freedom, reflected the general opinion. It was, moreover, doubted in the same quarter whether Wilson, as a pacifist candidate for the Presidency, could declare war at that time, when there was as yet no definite provocation—as, for example, the Mexico Dispatch. The theory of this small pro-German group in New York was that Congress would at that time have done anything to avoid war, and that they had only accepted the Gore resolution in order to humiliate the President in the eyes of the world as no head of a State had ever been disavowed before.
In the same quarter—as also happened before the Committee of the German National Assembly—the whole question aroused indignation. It was said that when the Germans read that it had been pompously brought forward as a point of honor whether a few Americans should travel by enemy armed vessels, they bristled with anger. It looked to them as though the alternatives were whether these few Americans should travel in the war-zone on neutral ships, or whether a great civilized nation like Germany should go under! The matter developed from the "too proud to fight" attitude—when Wilson really believed there was a danger of war, and so drew back—to the tone of February, 1916—when he no longer believed in the possibility of war, but felt sure that he could subdue us with hard words. They thought it strange, moreover, to hear Wilson speaking of the gradual breakdown of the delicate structure of international law. That had resulted from England's attitude, and in 1812 America had declared war on the English because of an illegal blockade.
Politics are not to be carried on by indignation, but only with a cool head and a clear vision for political realities. We could not alter the American situation, but must strive to conduct ourselves in such a way as to prejudice the position of the United States as little as possible.
I had from the beginning little doubt that Mr. Wilson would make his will prevail, because the domestic position in the United States made any other issue impossible. The presidential election was imminent, and the Democratic party had no likely candidate apart from Mr. Wilson. If a split occurred within the party the Republicans would be bound to win. Senators Stone and Gore were the leaders of the Democratic Opposition, while the Republicans in this case supported the policy of the President, partly because they were on the side of the Entente, partly because they wanted to assure the interests of American commerce. As has already been mentioned, Senator Stone had always maintained a neutral attitude to the last, chiefly because he was one of the two representatives of Missouri, and could not ignore the large number of Germans among his constituents. For this reason he was called by the pro-Entente Press, like the New York Herald, "pro-German Mr. Stone." Senator Gore was a Pacifist on principle, and thought that the resolution for which he was responsible, to prohibit Americans from travelling on armed merchantmen, would avert the danger of war.
The whole Congress story can only be read as a domestic party skirmish, with a view to the approaching Presidential election; one section of the Democratic party wanted a candidate other than Wilson. Just as it was at that time a mistake to expect any advantage from the Congress Opposition, so to-day a similar mistake is made in Germany, when it is assumed that the struggle in the Senate over the ratification of the Peace Treaty has a pro-German background.
The debate in Congress was not in any way connected with an acute German-American situation. It seems necessary to give here a short survey of the negotiations, as they appeared from my point of view. Our first concession occurred after the Arabic incident, our second later, after the Sussex incident. Between these two there was never any concession to America on the part of Germany, for the shelving of the second Lusitania crisis constituted a compromise. Between February, 1915, and the Lusitania incident we were conducting an unrestricted submarine campaign, subsequently a limited one, though this was not known to America until after the sinking of the Arabic; after February, 1916, the unrestricted campaign was renewed until the Sussex incident, after which cruiser warfare was begun. This is all that concerned me in this connection. Internal differences of opinion within the German Government, such as occurred after February, 1915, did not make their way across the Atlantic; for instance, the resumption of the unrestricted submarine campaign in February, 1916, was discussed with me as little as it was with the American Government itself.
From these facts it is evident that the action of Congress was of no practical importance for us, for when, after this debate, the Sussex incident occurred—when, moreover, it was a question of an unarmed ship—Mr. Wilson was free to issue his ultimatum, and could also have broken off diplomatic relations, if we had refused to give way. The American Government had then no thought of a complete defeat of Germany, such as later occurred, for otherwise they could easily have found an excuse for coming into the war. At that time Mr. Wilson was convinced that the war would end in a peace without victory, for which he intended to use his influence. The whole question was merely whether we realized these facts and would avail ourselves of them or not. Our one asset in America was the disinclination of the majority of the people for war, for otherwise—as appeared later—it would have been only too easy for the United States to make war upon us with success.
The President wanted to continue the policy he had adopted hitherto, by standing firm to the point of view that the submarine war must be conducted according to the principles of international law, and, further, was waiting to see whether the unrestricted submarine campaign would give rise to any further incidents.
In a letter written to Senator Stone, on the 24th February, the President defined his policy in the following terms:
"You are right in assuming that I shall do everything in my power to keep the United States out of the war. I think the country will feel no anxiety about my line of action in this respect. I have devoted many anxious months to this task under much greater difficulties than appeared on the surface, and so far with success. The course which the Central Powers intend to adopt in future with regard to submarine warfare, as shown by their Memorandum, seems at the moment to raise insuperable difficulties; but its contents are at first sight so difficult to reconcile with the specific assurances which the Central Powers have recently given us as to the treatment of merchant shipping on the high seas, that I think that explanations will shortly be forthcoming which will throw a different light on the matter. We have in the past had no reason to doubt their good faith, or the sincerity of their promises, and I, for my part, am confident that we shall have none in the future.
"But in any event our duty is clear. No nation, no group of nations, has the right, while war is in progress, to alter or disregard the principles which all nations have agreed upon in mitigation of the horrors and sufferings of war; and if the clear rights of American citizens should ever unhappily be abridged or denied by any such action, we should, it seems to me, have in honor no choice as to what our own course should be.
"For my own part, I cannot consent to any abridgment of the rights of American citizens in any respect. The honor and self-respect of the Nation is involved. We covet peace, and shall preserve it at any cost but the loss of honor.
"To forbid our people to exercise their rights for fear we might be called upon to vindicate them would be a deep humiliation indeed. It would be an implicit, all but an explicit, acquiescence in the violation of the rights of mankind everywhere and of whatever nation or allegiance. It would be a deliberate abdication of our hitherto proud position as spokesmen, even amid the turmoil of war, for the law and the right. It would make everything this Government has attempted and everything that it has accomplished during this terrible struggle of nations meaningless and futile.
"It is important to reflect that if in this instance we allowed expediency to take the place of principle the door would inevitably be opened to still further concessions. Once accept a single abatement of right, and many other humiliations would certainly follow, and the whole fine fabric of international law might crumble under our hands piece by piece. What we are contending for in this matter is of the very essence of the things that have made America a sovereign nation. She cannot yield them without conceding her own impotency as a Nation and making virtual surrender of her independent position among the nations of the world."
Soon afterwards—on the 3rd March—the Senate decided by 68 votes to 14 to postpone the discussion of the Gore resolution sine die. The struggle had then already ended in a victory for Mr. Wilson when I handed over the above-mentioned Memorandum.
Regarded from our own point of view, the declaration of the "unrestricted submarine war" was a serious political mistake, which was not even justified by the results of the measure. The least we could have done was to wait for the settlement of the Lusitania question and the subsequent action of Mr. Wilson. The "unrestricted submarine war" was not the right way to improve our situation, but was bound inevitably to lead to a new conflict with America. It was absolutely impossible for the submarine captains to ascertain with certainty through the periscope whether an enemy merchant ship was armed or not. Mistakes, therefore, were sure to arise sooner or later. On the other hand, the Americans would not refrain from travelling on enemy passenger ships, as their business took them mostly to England and France, and there were not enough of their own or neutral ships at their disposal.
The one hope for the continued avoidance of a conflict was that the Imperial Government should not withdraw the concessions they had made on the 5th October, 1915, with regard to "liners," and that enemy passenger ships should not be unarmed out of regard for their neutral passengers.
There were, as a rule, no Americans on cargo ships, for there were at that time few sailors in the United States. From the above-mentioned letter of Mr. Wilson to Mr. Stone, however, it appeared that the American Government regarded our concessions as applying to all merchant vessels, while, as I have already stated, the German naval authorities had only intended to include passenger steamers.
This misunderstanding might now give rise to a fresh conflict, even if mistakes on the part of submarine captains were by special good fortune avoided.
THE "SUSSEX" INCIDENT
On the 24th March the unarmed passenger-ship Sussex was torpedoed without warning, and several Americans lost their lives. The first information about this incident was so vague that the matter was at first treated in a dilatory fashion in Washington. At the time I sent the following report to Berlin:
REPORT IN CIPHER
"Washington, 4th April, 1916.
"During the fourteen months that have passed since the opening of the submarine campaign there have been intermittent periods in which the American Government have shown themselves aggressive towards us, and others in which the now proverbial expression 'watchful waiting" formed the Leit-motif of their attitude. The past month belonged to the second category until the sinking of the Sussex and other similar incidents stirred American public opinion to fresh excitement. Officially I have, during the last four weeks, heard nothing further from the American side on the subject of the submarine campaign. During this time Mr. Lansing even allowed himself a fortnight's holiday for recuperation. On my side there was no occasion to reopen the submarine question as a complete understanding with the American Government cannot be attained,[*] and in my opinion it is advisable to avoid as far as possible any new crisis in our relations with the United States. I therefore contented myself with keeping in touch with Colonel House so that I should not be taken by surprise by any volte-face on the part of the American Government. As soon as a new crisis arises Mr. Wilson will, as usual, be in a fearful hurry and bring us to the brink of war. Whether such a crisis will be precipitated by the Sussex incident, and whether the President in that case will shrink from war at the last moment, it is difficult to foretell, as this question—like all others at the present moment—will be viewed exclusively from the standpoint of the approaching presidential election.
[Footnote: *i.e., Without instructions from Berlin.]
"Except for the surprises that are usual over here, things are at present quite calm. This is due, in the first place, to the desire for peace shown by the population, who are not anxious to be disturbed in their congenial occupation of money-making, and secondly, to the development of the Mexican question. This latter question stands in the forefront of public interest, and it seems to be increasingly probable that the punitive expedition against Villa will lead to a full-dress intervention. A few days ago it was reported that Villa was defeated, then wounded, and finally even a prisoner. All this good news proved later to be false and now Villa is said to have escaped south and won over fresh supporters. So long as the Mexican question holds the stage here we are, I believe, safe from an act of aggression on the part of the American Government.
"On the other hand it looks as though Mr. Wilson were looking for a fresh way out of the impasse into which his attitude on the question of the submarine campaign has led him. As I have already had the honor to cable, Colonel House holds out the prospect of an early move towards peace by the President. The view is entertained here, and strengthened by the impressions gathered from Colonel House, that gradually the stress of circumstances will force all the neutral Powers into the war. If this happens there will be no further prospect of the conclusion of peace, as there will be no one available to set the ball rolling. It is therefore essential that the foundations of peace should be laid before the world conflagration spreads any further and finally destroys the prosperity of every nation. This view may sound like pure theory, but it gains substance from the fact that it can very well be made to harmonize with Mr. Wilson's election campaign. In his capacity of founder of peace in Europe, and peace-maker—i.e., indirectly conqueror—of Mexico, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to vanquish Mr. Wilson in the election. Mr. Theodore Roosevelt would then shout himself hoarse to no purpose and Mr. Charles Hughes, the strongest Republican candidate, would perhaps not even go so far as nomination if his position seemed hopeless."
In that report I announced for the first time that Mr. Wilson had so far changed his policy as now to put peace mediation in the foreground and to give the question of the 'Freedom of the Seas' second place. I shall return later to this political development.
When news reached Washington which left no doubt that the Sussex had been torpedoed by a German submarine, I immediately cabled to Berlin for instructions in order to be in a position to give an official disavowal of the act. It required nothing further to convince me that it was now a question of bend or break. I had no means of knowing whether the supporters of the submarine campaign or the partisans of an understanding with the United States would win the day. In the former case war was inevitable. To provide for the second alternative I recommended in my cablegram that there should be no question of an official exchange of Notes, because I was anxious that our withdrawal should not be accompanied by a humiliation. If our Government were prepared to give way I regarded as the most appropriate modus procedenti the immediate issue of instructions to me, empowering me to offer the American Government satisfaction and compensation for this fresh incident. There was no hope of purchasing immunity from a break with any less concession than a pledge to carry on the submarine campaign for the future in accordance with the principles laid down by international law for cruiser warfare. I recommended, however, a provisional cessation of the submarine war on the basis of an oral agreement with the American Government. If this proposal had been acted on, the American Government would have been obliged to follow suit and there would have been no sharp exchange of Notes, which still further prejudiced the position on both sides. If, after such a pause in the submarine war and the establishment of a really clear diplomatic situation, Mr. Wilson failed us and made no positive progress either with regard to his programme for the 'Freedom of the Seas' or the conclusion of peace, we should have held quite a different position from which—if we really thought it desirable—to reopen unrestricted submarine warfare. We had always made the mistake of dealing in half-hearted concessions. In my opinion it was essential for us to strive for a complete understanding with America if we were not prepared to carry on the submarine campaign without regard to consequences.
No attention was paid to my suggestion in Berlin at the time. Admiral von Tirpitz had just resigned and the decision had been taken against the continuance of unrestricted submarine warfare. I do not know why the dispatch of an official Note was preferred to the oral negotiations I had suggested, but I think that the deciding factor was consideration for public opinion in Germany.
A few days later I cabled the following to Berlin:
TELEGRAM IN CIPHER
"Washington, 8th April, 1916.
"House gave me a very gloomy view of the position with regard to the Sussex. At the White House the situation is regarded as hopeless because the view is held that, in spite of Tirpitz's resignation, the German Government, with the best will in the world, cannot curb the submarine campaign. It has hitherto been merely due to good luck that no American has lost his life and any moment might precipitate a crisis which would be bound to lead to a break. The American Government are convinced that the Sussex was torpedoed by a German submarine. A repetition of such mistakes would be bound to drive the United States of America into war with us, which Wilson would greatly regret, as he is anxious—as I have already reported—to lay the foundations of peace in a few months. If the United States were drawn into the war all hope of an early peace would be at an end.
"I request to be furnished with instructions on the basis of which I can pacify the Government here, which now has doubts of our bona fides."
After Mr. Gerard, apart from other questions concerning doubtful cases of torpedoing, had also submitted a similar inquiry to the Foreign Office on the subject of the Sussex incident, an official reply was handed to him on the 10th April which read in the following terms:
"A decision as to whether the Channel steamer Sussex was damaged by a German submarine or not is made extraordinarily difficult owing to the fact that no exact information is known as to the place, time and accompanying circumstances of the sinking, and moreover a picture of this ship could not be obtained until the 6th April. Consequently the inquiry has had to be extended to all submarine enterprises which took place on the day in question, 24th March, in the Channel anywhere on the course between Folkestone and Dieppe.
"In this area on the 24th March, in the middle of the English Channel, a long, black vessel, flying no flags, with a gray funnel, small gray superstructure and two high masts was hit by a German submarine. The German captain was definitely convinced that she was a ship of war, and indeed a mine-layer of the newly-built English Arabic class. He was led to this conviction:
"1. By the flush deck of the ship.
"2. By the shape of the stern, which sloped outwards.
"3. By the paintwork, which was that of a ship of war.
"4. By the high speed of about eighteen knots which the ship developed,
"5. By the fact that the ship was not steering the course north of the light buoys between Dungeness and Beachy Head within which frequent observation had led the German submarines to keep a look out for merchant shipping, but was in mid-Channel, heading almost for Le Havre.
"Consequently, the submarine fired a torpedo at 3.55 p.m. Central European time, 1-1/2 knots southeast of the Bull Rock. The torpedo struck, and so heavy an explosion occurred that the whole of the ship forward of the bridge broke away. The unusually heavy explosion leaves no doubt that there were large stores of ammunition on board.
"The German captain has prepared a sketch of the ship he attacked, of which two copies are sent herewith. The two copies of pictures of the Sussex, also enclosed, were photographed from the English newspaper The Daily Graphic, of the 27th inst. A comparison of the sketches and the photograph shows that the vessel attacked is not identical with the Sussex; particularly striking is the difference in the position of the funnel and the shape of the stern. No other attack was made by a German submarine on the course between Folkestone and Dieppe at the time of the Sussex incident.
"From this the German Government are obliged to assume that the sinking of the Sussex is to be set down to other causes than attack by a German submarine. Some light may be thrown on the incident by the fact that on the 1st and 2nd April alone no less than twenty-six English mines were destroyed in the Channel by German naval forces. In general the whole of that area is rendered dangerous by drifting mines and not torpedoes. Off the English coast the Channel is also made increasingly dangerous by German mines which have been laid for the enemy naval forces.
"If the American Government should have at their disposal any further data that may help to elucidate the Sussex incident, the German Government beg that it may be communicated to them so that they may subject it to examination. In the event of differences of opinion arising between the two Governments the German Government now declare themselves ready to submit the whole incident to an International Commission in accordance with the third clause of the 'Hague Convention for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes of the 18th October, 1907.'"
I have reproduced this Note in full because its influence was quite particularly fateful and because it was probably the most unfortunate document that ever passed from Berlin to Washington. Mr. Wilson thought he detected a direct untruth, and the mixture of an uneasy conscience and clumsiness which the German Note appeared to betray prompted the sharp tone of the President's reply. For the sake of his prestige Mr. Wilson was now compelled by the recent course of events to take action, although the excitement of public opinion was this time undoubtedly less than was the case after the torpedoing of the Lusitania and the Arabic. The American Government, therefore, couched the Note which they dispatched on the 18th April in the terms of an ultimatum. In the meantime, the discovery in the hull of the Sussex of a piece of a German torpedo placed the matter beyond all doubt. Additional importance was given to the ultimatum by the fact that before dispatching it Mr. Wilson laid it personally before Congress at a special sitting.
It is my firm conviction that had it not been for this ultimatum diplomatic relations would not have been broken off immediately, even in 1917. In the increased tension of the situation resulting from the exchange of Notes on the subject of the Sussex I see, therefore, one of the immediate germs of the war with America. After this exchange of Notes a challenge in the form of our formal declaration of the 31st January, 1917, could no longer be tolerated. The clumsiness of such formal declarations was, as I have said, only surpassed by the regrettable impression of a juristic argument produced by our first Lusitania Note.
As the American ultimatum later formed the basis on which the American Government, immediately after the declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare, broke off diplomatic relations, I here give the vital contents of the American Note of the 18th April verbatim:
"Again and again the Imperial Government has given its solemn assurances to the Government of the United States that at least passenger ships would not be dealt thus with, and yet it has repeatedly permitted its undersea commanders to disregard those assurances with entire impunity. As recently as February last it gave notice that it would regard all armed merchantmen owned by its enemies as part of the armed naval forces of its adversaries, and deal with them as with men-of-war, thus, at least by implication, pledging itself to give warning to vessels which were not armed and to accord security of life to their passengers and crews; but even this limitation their submarine commanders have recklessly ignored.
"The Government of the United States has been very patient. At every stage of this distressing experience of tragedy after tragedy it has sought to be governed by the most thoughtful consideration of the extraordinary circumstances of an unprecedented war, and to be guided by sentiments of very genuine friendship for the people and Government of Germany. It has accepted the successive explanations and assurances of the Imperial Government as of course given in entire sincerity and good faith, and has hoped, even against hope, that it would prove to be possible for the Imperial Government so to order and control the acts of its naval commanders as to square its policy with the recognized principles of humanity as embodied in the law of nations. It has made every allowance for unprecedented conditions and has been willing to wait until the facts became unmistakable and were susceptible of only one interpretation.
"If it is still the purpose of the Imperial Government to prosecute an indiscriminate warfare against vessels of commerce by the use of submarines without regard to what the Government of the United States must consider the sacred and indisputable rules of international law and the universally recognized dictates of humanity, the Government of the United States is at last forced to the conclusion that there is but one course to pursue. Unless the Imperial Government should now immediately declare and effect an abandonment of its present methods of submarine warfare against passenger and freight-carrying vessels, the Government of the United States can have no choice but to sever diplomatic relations with the German Empire altogether. This action the Government of the United States contemplates with the greatest reluctance, but feels constrained to take in behalf of humanity and the rights of neutral nations."
After this Note it is obvious that there was no longer any doubt in Berlin, that persistence in the point of view they had hitherto adopted would bring about a break with the United States, for I received instructions to make all preparations for German merchant ships lying in American ports to be rendered useless by the destruction of their engines.
I also received orders to arrange that Mr. Gerard, who had not been informed of the minimum demands of the American Government, should be instructed accordingly.
My reply was as follows:
CABLEGRAM IN CIPHER
"Washington, 1st May, 1916.
"House has informed me that at his request Gerard has already been informed of the minimum demands of the American Government. Wilson is strongly influenced by peace votes. Even the anti-German ring desires the end of the war, as otherwise they fear financial loss. My suggestions are based on the view that submarine warfare, according to international law, is valueless, and in any case, the opening of peace negotiations is more important. It would be advisable in the Note of reply to touch only on the principal points, to talk much of international law and humanity, and to leave details to be settled at a later date. I fear that the continuance of the submarine campaign, on the lines of cruiser warfare, only means the postponement of the rupture as fresh incidents are bound to occur."
On the 4th May followed the German reply, which averted the fourth serious crisis, by declaring that the submarine campaign would return to the recognized laws of cruiser-warfare. The Note began by opposing, in strong terms, the American view, and concluded with the following sentences:
"The German Government feel themselves justified in declaring that it would be impossible to answer to humanity and history, if, after twenty-one months of war the contention over the submarine war were allowed to develop into a serious menace to peace between the German and American peoples. Such a development the German Government will do everything in their power to prevent. They desire, at the same time, to make a final contribution towards confining—so long as the war lasts—the war to the present combatant Powers, an aim which includes the freedom of the seas, and in which the German Government believe themselves still to be in agreement with the Government of the United States.
"On this assumption the German Government beg to inform the Government of the United States that instructions have been issued to the German naval forces to observe the general principles of international law, with regard to the holding up, searching and destruction of merchant vessels, and not to sink any merchant vessel, even within the war zone, without warning and rescue of the passengers and crew, unless they attempt to escape or offer resistance.
"The German Government hope and expect that these new instructions to the naval forces will also remove in the eyes of the United States Government every obstacle that might stand in the way of the realization of the offer of co-operation contained in the Note of the 23rd July, 1915, towards restoring the freedom of the seas during the war, and they do not doubt that the United States Government will now insist with all possible emphasis on the immediate observation by the British Government of those international rules which were universally accepted before the war, and which are specifically stated in the Notes of the American Government to the British Government of the 28th December, 1914, and the 5th November, 1915. Should it happen that the steps taken by the Government of the United States do not meet with the desired result of insuring recognition of the laws of humanity by all the combatant nations, the German Government would consider themselves faced by a new situation, for which they must reserve for themselves full freedom of decision."
The German Note reached the German Embassy piecemeal, and while the first part was being deciphered, its harsh tone produced in an increasing degree the impression: "Then it is war," which was not relieved until we came to the conclusion of the text.
The attempt made by the Imperial Government to reserve to themselves the right to resume the submarine campaign at a later date was not accepted by Mr. Wilson, and so the difference of opinion remained, which was bound to become a casus belli if we reverted to unrestricted submarine warfare. This reservation led to a further Note from Washington, which I give here:
"The Note of the Imperial German Government under date of May 4th, 1916, has received careful consideration by the Government of the United States. It is especially noted, as indicating the purpose of the Imperial Government as to the future, and that it 'is prepared to do its utmost to confine the operations of the war for the rest of its duration to the fighting forces of the belligerents,' and that it is determined to impose on all its commanders at sea the limitations of the recognized rules of international law upon which the Government of the United States has insisted. Throughout the months which have elapsed since the Imperial Government announced on February 4th, 1915, its submarine policy, now happily abandoned, the Government of the United States has been constantly guided and restrained by motives of friendship in its patient efforts to bring to an amicable settlement the critical questions arising from that policy. Accepting the Imperial Government's declaration of its abandonment of the policy which has so seriously menaced the good relations between the two countries, the Government of the United States will rely upon a scrupulous execution henceforth of the now altered policy of the Imperial Government, such as will remove the principal danger to an interruption of the good relations existing between the United States and Germany.
"The Government of the United States feels it necessary to state that it takes it for granted that the Imperial German Government does not intend to imply that the maintenance of its newly-announced policy is in any way contingent upon the course or result of diplomatic negotiations between the Government of the United States and any other belligerent Government, notwithstanding the fact that certain passages in the Imperial Government's Note of the 4th instant might appear to be susceptible of that construction. In order, however, to avoid any possible misunderstanding, the Government of the United States notifies the Imperial Government that it cannot for a moment entertain, much less discuss, a suggestion that respect by German naval authorities for the rights of citizens of the United States upon the high seas should in any way or in the slightest degree be made contingent upon the conduct of any other Government affecting the rights of neutrals and non-combatants. Responsibility in such matters is single, not joint; absolute, not relative."
This American Note, however, in no way affected the peaceful conclusion of the negotiations.
As a direct result of the Sussex incident, a step forward was taken in the question of American peace mediation. When I called on Colonel House, during the last days of the crisis, we had a long conversation on this question. As always, Colonel House had used his influence on the side of peace with regard to the Sussex incident. He took this opportunity to convey to me the pleasing news contained in a cablegram from Mr. Gerard, that the German Government were now ready to agree to American mediation.
This cablegram was the outcome of the following facts: Mr. Gerard, on account of his anti-German tendency, was not popular in Berlin. He regarded it as a personal slight that the most important negotiations should have been carried on partly in Washington, and partly by Colonel House in Berlin. The Ambassador wanted therefore, to use the opportunity of the Sussex incident to assert himself, and expressed a desire to visit G.H.Q. and explain the American point of view in person to the Emperor. On the 1st May, Mr. Gerard was received by the Emperor, in the presence of the Imperial Chancellor, on which occasion he received the assurance contained in his telegram. Karl Helfferich's account in Weltkrieg gives the impression that the question of American mediation was mentioned for the first time on the 1st May. The two journeys of Colonel House, which were of far greater importance than Mr. Gerard's visit to G.H.Q., are not mentioned in the Helfferich account. For the rest I have to rely for my information about events in Germany on this and other publications, in addition to the evidence given before the Commission of the National Assembly. In any case, Colonel House regarded the telegram from Berlin as the sequel of his own negotiations there, which point was placed beyond all doubt by the text of the information he communicated to me. In order to inform myself on my side also as to the attitude of our Government, I sent the following telegram to Berlin, to ascertain whether the information from the American Ambassador was in accordance with the facts:
TELEGRAM IN CIPHER
"Washington, No. 26, 4th May.
"House informs me that Gerard has cabled that we would agree to the President's mediation, and that a visit from House to Berlin, with this object, would be welcomed. Nothing known here about solution of Lusitania question. Mediation naturally depends on this running smoothly, which would be most easily assured by cessation of submarine campaign during negotiations."
I received the following reply from the Imperial Chancellor:
TELEGRAM IN CIPHER
"Berlin, 6th May, 1916. "Reply to telegram No. 26. "For Your Excellency's information.
"We hope that our Note and great concession finally removes cause of mistrust, and opens era of greater mutual confidence. Animosity of public opinion here against Wilson, as result of tone and contents of his Note and impression of parti pris against us, however, so great that he must take open and unmistakable action with regard to England before he would be accepted as unbiassed mediator by German people. To this extent Gerard's telegram is premature. If Wilson neglects to take such action, there is danger that the animosity may become irremediable and possibility of mediation driven into distant future. Smoothing the way for peace, of course, always desired. Action against England, however, seems necessary to encourage conciliatory attitude there, if a peace exclusively favorable to England is to be avoided.
"If it is found impossible to induce England to discuss peace with us, even though unofficially perhaps at first, we shall, as England refuses to return to the provisions of the Declaration of London, be placed in an absolutely free position with regard to our great concession amounting to abandonment of submarine campaign. A visit from House very welcome here at any time.
Karl Helfferich's account confirms the view I held at that time, that our concessions in respect of the submarine campaign were essentially prompted by the hope of mediation by Mr. Wilson. The following words of the Emperor make this plain:
"In politics it is necessary, before all things, to know the other party's point of view; for politics are a question of give and take. Gerard's utterances had made it clear that Wilson was seeking a ladder for re-election. It was better, then, that we should offer him the ladder of peace than the ladder of war, which will eventually fall on our own heads."
Moreover, Herr von Bethmann-Hollweg has declared before the Commission of the National Assembly that he had expressed to Mr. Gerard the hope that the President would now take steps to bring about the restoration of peace.
When, at that time, Colonel House was discussing with me the German reservation in the Note of the 4th May, in connection with the questions of the "Freedom of the Seas" and peace, he said that the circumstances were then such that the President no longer possessed the power to compel England to observe international law. England would only give way before the menace of war. In view, however, of the state of natural feeling in the United States, and the development of trade relations between America and the Entente, war with England was out of the question. On the other hand, Mr. Wilson possessed the power to bring about peace, because on this question he could rely on the support of the majority of the American nation. When the time was ripe, the President would take the desired steps, but a neutral act of this nature would be cried down by the very active Entente party in the United States as pro-German, and could only be carried through if the national feeling towards Germany took a more friendly turn. It was, therefore, necessary that there should be a period of lull, during which Germany should possibly not be discussed at all. The approaching hot season and the usual exodus of political personages from Washington to the country would offer a favorable opportunity to let all negotiations rest, especially as, after the settlement of the Sussex question, no new incidents were to be expected. Colonel House's remarks accurately reflected the actual position in the United States at the time. I could not but express my agreement, and felt no doubt that the American mediation would begin in the late summer. After our giving way on the submarine question in order to avoid a break with the United States, I regarded it as certain that we would not directly bring about the rupture which had just been averted with such difficulty by reopening the unrestricted submarine campaign, for in view of the American ultimatum of the 18th April, 1916, there was no alternative.
I should like to take this opportunity of making clear that I always regarded American mediation as the only possible way out of the war. I had no faith in the submarine campaign as likely to save the situation, because the entry of the United States into the war would more than outweigh all the advantages that the submarines could bring us. On the other hand I was convinced that If the American Government established a peace conference, this would be sure to lead to peace itself. It could not be imagined that, in view of the nations' need of peace, such a conference could break up without having reached any result. Moreover, after the meeting of a conference, the United States would no longer be in a position to enter the war, because American public opinion would not have allowed it. But without the help of the United States, the Entente could not win. It resolved itself, therefore, into a question of the skill of our negotiators to ensure a tolerable peace for us, as the result of the conference. Diplomatic negotiations have a way of ending owing to general weariness, in which case the party which holds the best cards secures the greatest advantages. If this happened, we should have the advantage of the position as our military gains would give us a strong lever in the negotiations.
Here I may touch on another question which was engaging my attention at that time. Since the Lusitania catastrophe I had adopted the principle, and put it into practice as far as possible, of leaving the propaganda to our American friends, who were in a position to get an earlier hearing than we, and in any case understood the psychology of the Americans better than the Imperial German agents. Indeed, the words "German propagandist" had already become a term of abuse in America. We were reproached there with being too indulgent, while in Germany the opposite criticism was levelled at us. In spite of the difficulty of the situation, however, there were Americans of German and other origin, who had the courage openly to champion our cause and to swim against the stream. Among others, a "Citizens' Committee for Food Shipments" was formed, whose activities spread through the whole country, and were avowedly pro-German. A special function of the committee with Dr. von Mach as executive chief, was a month of propaganda throughout the country, with the object of obtaining the means to supply the children of Germany with milk. The English control of the post even led to the bold plan of building a submarine to run the milk through the English blockade. The propaganda was very vigorously attacked by the greater part of the American Press, but pursued its course unafraid, collected money, submitted protests to the State Department against the attitude of the Entente, and so on.
Dr. von Mach succeeded in bringing the matter to the notice of the President who actively interested himself in it, and promised to see that the milk should pass the English blockade and reach Germany in safety. Accordingly, the State Department instructed the American Embassy in Berlin to issue a statement. Meanwhile, the well-known American journalist, McClure, returned from a tour of investigation in Germany, where he had been supported in every way by the German Government departments. He gave a very favorable account of the milk question, as of the feeding of infants in general, and this gave rise to the first disagreeable controversy. Mr. McClure took up an unyielding attitude. Unfortunately, however, the State Department then published an equally favorable report, which, coming from the American Embassy and published with the approval of the Foreign Office in Berlin, caused the complete collapse of Dr. von Mach. This incident made a very painful impression in America, and led to a series of bitter attacks on Dr. von Mach and the whole movement, which was thus exposed in a most unfortunate light. The favorable report on the milk question was drawn up by a Dr. E. A. Taylor, and definitely confirmed, and, indeed, inspired, by the German authorities.
I mention this incident to show that our propaganda was not by any means made easier by Germany, although our Press Bureau repeatedly brought up this very question in Berlin. This movement was particularly dear to us, because the Americans are most easily won over when an appeal is made to their humanity. Moreover, the favorable reports on the question of supplies in Germany did not coincide in any way with our defence of the submarine campaign as an act of reprisal. This method of propaganda from home lost us our best argument. Even to-day the majority of Americans certainly have no idea how many children have been murdered by the blockade.
At the time of which I am speaking occurred also the much discussed Bolo affair. It is quite astonishing how many lies were told before the commission of inquiry of the American Senate with regard to this affair. Among others, hotel servants, chauffeurs, etc., were sworn, and gave evidence that I had met Bolo in the apartments of Mr. Hearst. True, I have often visited Mr. Hearst, which goes without saying, as he was the only important newspaper proprietor who maintained a neutral attitude throughout the war. I did not, however, meet Bolo, either there or anywhere else; I have never made his acquaintance, or even seen him in the distance. I heard his name for the first time when he was brought up for trial in Paris.
If the statements made before the commission of inquiry are to be relied on in any point at all, it is to be assumed that Bolo first came to America to arrange a combine between the Journal and the Hearst Press. This combine was to support the cause of Pacifism after the war. Who Bolo's principal was I do not know, but so much seems to be established, that he was connected with the Journal. Apparently, Bolo wanted to sell shares in this paper to Mr. Hearst, in order to acquire funds for the Pacifist agitation. This theory seems justified since Bolo, on the voyage to America, got into touch with Mr. Bartelli, Hearst's representative in Paris. The latter did fall in with Bolo's ideas.