The following telegram from the Foreign Office gave me the official information of our peace offer:
CIPHER TELEGRAM NO. 128
"Berlin, 9th December, 1916.
"Confidential, for your personal information.
"We have decided to make use of the favorable position created by the fall of Bukarest in order, according to telegram number 116 of the 21st November, to make a peace offer in conjunction with our Allies, probably on Thursday, the 12th December. We do not at the present moment run any risk of damaging our prestige or showing signs of weakness. Should the enemy reject the offer the odium of continuing the war will fall upon them. For reasons stated in telegram number 121 we could not wait any longer for President Wilson to make up his mind to take action.
"The American Embassy here will at the given moment receive a Note in which the American Government will be requested to communicate our peace offer to those of our enemies with whom they represent our interests. Our other enemies will be informed through the medium of Switzerland and Spain respectively. American representative in conversation with Chancellor on 5th December expressed himself, in confidence, on the President's mission, among other things, as follows: 'What the President now most earnestly desires is practical cooperation on the part of German authorities in bringing about a favorable opportunity for soon and affirmative action by the President looking to an early restoration of peace.' Chancellor replied to American representative, he was 'extremely gratified to see from the President's message that in the given moment he could count upon the sincere and practical co-operation of the President in the restoration of peace, as much as the President could count upon the practical co-operation of German authorities.' We think we may assume that our action meets the wishes of the President.
"Please interpret it in any case in this sense to the President and House.
To this telegram I replied as follows:
"Washington, 13th December, 1916.
"In reply to Telegram No. 128.
"Have carried out instructions with House, who is at present staying at the White House. I have not yet received answer from Wilson, but it is generally believed here that he will strongly support peace proposals.
"Mr. Gerard, in a speech at a farewell dinner given to him in New York, declared that Germany had won, and could not be robbed of her victory. Although not published, this speech attracted attention, especially as Mr. Gerard emphasized the fact that he had reported to Mr. Wilson in this sense."
Before the Commission of the National Assembly I was asked whether I had made an attempt to stand in the way of our peace offer, lest it should interfere with Mr. Wilson's action. I took no such steps, because I thought that I was faced with a firm resolve of the Imperial Government, and because I did not think that our peace offer would substantially compromise Mr. Wilson's action.
It was also stated before the commission that I might have helped my policy to prevail in Berlin if I had insisted on it more strongly. With regard to this, I must say at once, that I did not consider stronger influence on my side really called for, as my instructions had always categorically laid down that I was to encourage Mr. Wilson to take peace action. I had also been informed that the Imperial Government would prefer such action to a peace offer from our side, and that the correct moment for the latter would have to depend on the military situation. I was, therefore, until the arrival of the Berlin telegram, number 128, not clear as to which of the actions would come first, especially as, according to my instructions, I was to keep our peace offer secret and could not discuss it with Colonel House.
Under ordinary circumstances, I should have travelled to Berlin several times during the war to confer with the authorities. Unfortunately, however, that was impossible, as the English would never have allowed me to travel to and fro. If I had had the ways and means to enlighten German public opinion on the situation in America, it would certainly have done a lot of good. According to the evidence given before the Commission of the National Assembly, the chief reason for our rejection of mediation was distrust of Mr. Wilson. Nevertheless, I still believe that ignorance and undervaluation of America was a stronger influence. At least I cannot conceive that all the authorities concerned would have voted for unrestricted submarine war if they had been firmly convinced that the United States would come into the war with all her military and economic power. However that may be, I tried at least to do what I could and I made an attempt to send Herr Albert, who was completely in accord with me, to Berlin on the submarine Deutschland. The captain of the Deutschland, however, had scruples against carrying passengers, and Herr Albert's voyage had therefore to be given up. After my experience of the journeys of Herren Meyer Gerhardt and Dernburg, I certainly do not think that Herr Albert would have done very much in Berlin. Even I could hardly have hindered the opening of the unrestricted submarine campaign where Herr von Jagow, Herr von Kuehlmann and others had failed, and after all, that was the main point.
Mr. Wilson's intention of bringing about peace had been reported to me so definitely and so often that I took it for granted that the President would carry through his plan in spite of our peace offer. As I had received no instructions to the contrary, I held to my previous interpretation of the situation, and assumed that, although it was true that we had ourselves made a peace offer because Wilson's action was so long in coming, we should nevertheless still be glad to avail ourselves of the President's help. In my opinion, this was the only interpretation that could be put on the Foreign Office telegram number 128, given above. The President himself, as Colonel House told me, was very disappointed when he received the news of our peace offer. Colonel House told me that he would naturally have liked to take the first step himself. Apart from this, he had always warned us against mentioning peace, because this would be interpreted by the Entente as weakness. He therefore regarded our peace offer as an obstacle to action on his part, as it was bound to diminish the enemy's readiness to enter into negotiations. On the other hand, the step of the Imperial Government exerted a favorable influence on American public opinion, and this influence would have been even more favorable if the offer had been made less in the tone of a victor. The attitude of American public opinion, and the fear lest peace negotiations might be opened without his co-operation, must have been the chief reasons that influenced Mr. Wilson publicly to support our peace offer. In connection with this I sent the following information to Berlin:
"Washington, 16th December, 1916.
"Lansing tells me the following statement, which I could not send by wireless to-day, comes from Wilson personally.
"President Wilson has decided that the Notes of the Central Powers, proposing a discussion of peace to the Entente Allies, will be sent forward by the American Government acting as intermediary without any accompanying offer of his own. He has not determined whether any action on behalf of peace will be taken later by the United States on its own account, but is holding himself in readiness to serve in any possible way towards bringing the warring nations together."
"From Lansing's remarks I gather that he is convinced that our enemies will agree to a conference and that then the American Government will have an opportunity to speak in favor of peace. As the Press here is also in general of the opinion that our enemies cannot refuse a conference without turning public opinion against themselves, I have grounds for assuming that the American Embassy in London, in spite of the official statement mentioned above, will assert this view."
As I expected, the President did not allow himself to be turned from his purpose, and on the 18th December dispatched the Note which had long been ready, with certain alterations, to the belligerent Powers. He certainly would not have taken this step if he had not reckoned on certain success. Mr. Wilson's Note could not help but bear out our peace plans, and was therefore regarded throughout America as "pro-German." For this very reason it caused a sensation. On the New York Exchange it was followed by a slump in war industry values. A few anti-German newspapers, which began to suspect that I was the only diplomatist in Washington who knew anything of the President's intentions, declared that I had made millions by speculating on this probability. I had already been accused of every other imaginable crime by the Jingo and Entente Press. Mr. Wilson's son-in-law, Secretary of the Treasury McAdoo, was also suspected of having abused his political information to speculate on the Exchange. Soon afterwards, when I was dining with the President, he asked me in jest what I had to say to the accusation of the American Press that I had made millions in this way. I replied that I had gradually got used to such attacks, and they only amused me. Mr. Wilson replied: "That is right. My son-in-law takes the matter much too seriously. I tell him 'If you get so angry, people will think the story is true.'"
The American Press was thrown into the greatest excitement by the President's Note and stormed the State Department. Mr. Lansing was surrounded by questioners and remarked that the United States had the greatest interest in bringing the war to an end, because otherwise she would be drawn in herself. As of late, as has already been mentioned, several doubtful submarine incidents had occurred, the Press took this remark to mean that the United States would enter the war against us if the intervention move came to nothing. Mr. Wilson immediately, realized that such an interpretation of Mr. Lansing's words would seriously jeopardize his peace move. If the Entente could hope for American participation in the war, there would be no prospect of their consenting to a "peace without victory." In that case the direction of their policy was defined beforehand. They only required to reject the offer of mediation to reach the goal of their long-cherished hopes. The President therefore at once requested Mr. Lansing to contradict the statements of the Press. This was done, with the observation that there was no probability of the United States entering the war. The harm could not, however, be completely wiped out, as denials are always regarded with doubt.
The vital parts of Mr. Wilson's Note read as follows:
"The President suggests that an early occasion be sought to call out from all the nations now at war such an avowal of their respective views as to the terms upon which the war might be concluded and the arrangements which would be deemed satisfactory as a guaranty against its renewal or the kindling of any similar conflict in the future, as would make it possible frankly to compare them. He is indifferent as to the means taken to accomplish this. He would be happy himself to serve, or even to take the initiative in its accomplishment, in any way that might prove acceptable, but he has no desire to determine the method or the instrumentality. One way will be as acceptable to him as another if only the great object he has in mind be attained.
"In the measures taken to secure the future peace of the world the people and the Government of the United States are as vitally and as directly interested as the Governments now at war.
"The President does not feel that it is right and his duty to point out their intimate interest in its conclusion, lest it should presently be too late to accomplish the greater things which lie beyond its conclusion, lest the situation of neutral nations, now exceedingly hard to endure, be rendered altogether intolerable, and lest, more than all, an inquiry be done civilization itself which can never be atoned for, or repaired.
"Yet the concrete objects for which it is being waged have never been definitely stated.
"The leaders of the several belligerents have, as has been said stated those objects in general terms. But, stated in general terms, they seem the same on both sides. Never yet have the authoritative spokesmen of either side avowed the precise objects which would, if attained, satisfy them and their people that the war had been fought out. The world has been left to conjecture what definite results, what actual exchange of guaranties, what political or territorial changes or readjustments, what stage of military success even, would bring the war to an end.
"It may be that peace is nearer than we know; that the terms which the belligerents on the one side and on the other would deem it necessary to insist upon are not so irreconcilable as some have feared; that an interchange of views would clear the way at least for conference and make the permanent concord of the nations a hope of the immediate future, a concert of nations immediately practicable.
"The President is not proposing peace; he is not even offering mediation. He is merely proposing that soundings be taken in order that we may learn, the neutral with the belligerent, how near the haven of peace may be for which all mankind longs with an intense and increasing longing. He believes that the spirit in which he speaks and the objects which he seeks will be understood by all concerned, and he confidently hopes for a response which will bring a new light into the affairs of the world."
As this Note in its positive proposals was considered rather tentative and obscure—with the intention, of course, of making a direct negative answer impossible—I asked Mr. Lansing what procedure the President would like. With regard to this conversation I reported to Berlin in the following telegram:
CIPHER TELEGRAM NO. 188
"Washington, 21st December, 1916.
"Lansing informed me a few days ago of Wilson's Peace Note, and said that the American Government were becoming more and more involved in an intolerable position as a result of repeated infringements of their rights. Therefore they hoped for frank statements from the belligerent Powers on their peace conditions. I gave it as my personal opinion that this would be difficult except through a conference because of the press, etc. Lansing replied that the statements could be confidential, and might gradually lead to a conference. This seems to bear out the view, widely held here, that Wilson would like to act as a 'clearing house' for the further steps towards peace. He has American public opinion behind him with the exception of our inveterate enemies, who regard Wilson's Note as pro-German."
My conversation with Mr. Lansing, and the wording of the American Note, made it perfectly clear that the President, in the first place, only wished to be informed of the peace conditions of both sides. This was just what the Berlin Government did not want, because it would have aroused a bitter struggle between the different shades of public opinion as to the "war aims." My telegram therefore received the following negative reply:
CIPHER TELEGRAM NO. 142
"Berlin, 26th December, 1916.
"In reply to Telegram No. 188.
"I would reply to the American Peace Note that a direct interchange of ideas seems to us most likely to attain the desired result. We should, therefore, propose immediate conference of delegates of belligerent States in neutral place. We share President's view that work of preventing future wars could only begin after conclusion of present war.
"For your exclusive personal information: as place for possible conference of delegates only neutral Europe can be considered. Apart from the difficulty of getting to and from America, the Portsmouth experiences teach that American indiscretion and interference make appropriate negotiations impossible. Interference by President, even in form of 'clearing house,' would be detrimental to our interests and is, therefore, to be prevented. The basis for future conclusion of peace we must decide in direct conference with our enemies if we are not to run the risk of being robbed of our gains by neutral pressure. We, therefore, reject the idea of a conference. On the other hand, there is no objection, after conclusion of peace, to sending delegates to an international congress to confer on problem of safeguarding future world peace.
From this telegram it might be assumed that the Imperial Government wished to limit Mr. Wilson's activity to bringing the belligerent parties to the conference table. We might also very well have gone on working with the President if the unrestricted submarine campaign had not intervened. It was, however, understandable that the Imperial Government, on grounds of domestic politics, should not want to name our peace terms at once. Accordingly the answer to the Wilson Note, which reached Berlin with extraordinary promptness on the 26th December, amounted to a friendly negative.
The German Note ran as follows:
"The Imperial Government have received and considered the President's magnanimous suggestion, that the foundation should be laid on which to build a lasting peace, in the friendly spirit which permeates the President's communication. The President points to the goal which is dear to his heart, and leaves the choice of the way open. To the Imperial Government a direct interchange of ideas would seem the most appropriate way of attaining the desired result. They, therefore, have the honor to suggest, in the sense of their statement of the 12th inst., in which they offered the hand to peace negotiations, an immediate conference of delegates of the belligerent States in a neutral place.
"The Imperial Government are also of the opinion that the great work of preventing future wars cannot be begun until after the conclusion of the present struggle of the nations. When this time has come they will gladly be ready to co-operate with the United States of America in this noble work."
The reasons of domestic politics which prevented the Imperial Government from naming our peace conditions were not understood in America. When Secretary of State Lansing discussed with me the German Note of 26th December he said that he did not understand why we refused to name our conditions. If both the belligerent parties communicated their conditions a compromise would eventually be reached. To my objection that our demands were so moderate that they would be interpreted as weakness he replied that we ought to ask for more, indeed, ask for anything at all so long as we said something that would provide a starting-point from which negotiations could be opened and settled.
This conversation had no immediate practical results, as Colonel House asked me on the same day to call on him in New York With regard to the result of our conversation I telegraphed to Berlin as follows:
CIPHER TELEGRAM NO. 192
"Washington, 29th December, 1916.
"House told me it is Wilson's opinion that a conference will not come about without previous confidential negotiations, for our enemies, as things are at present, would refuse the invitation or make their consent dependent on conditions. These words of Colonel House were accompanied by an invitation to strictly confidential negotiations, of which only he and Mr. Wilson should know. Under these circumstances complete discretion was assured, as Wilson and House, unlike most Americans, are both fairly clever at keeping secrets.
"I beg for early instructions as to whether I should reject such negotiations, or whether your Excellency wishes to authorize me to accept and will furnish me with instructions accordingly. As I have always reported, Wilson lays comparatively little importance on the territorial side of the peace conditions. I am still of the opinion that the chief emphasis should be laid on what are here called the guarantees for the future. If we could give Wilson these as fully as possible he thinks he could bring about a conference, for with that the chief argument of our enemies would be disposed of. The latter maintain that we would like to make peace now in order to begin the war when a more favorable opportunity occurs, while our enemies are obliged to hold together the coalition that has been formed against us in order to attain a lasting peace. Wilson's ideas about such guarantees are known to Your Excellency. They consist, in the first place, of disarmament by land and sea (freedom of the seas), provisions for arbitration and a peace league. I think, from Your Excellency's speech in the Reichstag, that the Imperial Government would give such guarantees on condition that peace was restored.
"With House I adopted chiefly a listening attitude in order not to compromise Your Excellency in any way. However, I agree with Colonel House's view that a peace conference cannot be brought about without the help of the United States. Our enemies will try to put us in the wrong by saying that we did, indeed, propose a conference but would not breathe a word about our conditions or guarantees. I can, of course, only judge from the American standpoint. We have, by our peace offer, brought about a great change in public opinion over here. This advantage we shall lose entirely if the idea spread by our enemies that we have only made a deliberately theatrical peace gesture for the benefit of German public opinion is confirmed. What steps Wilson will take should Your Excellency empower me to enter upon such negotiations is not yet certain and depends entirely on Your Excellency's instructions. House had an idea of travelling to England in person. The more detailed the information Your Excellency can give me as to our conditions and readiness to give guarantees the better from my point of view. However, I do not know whether Your Excellency may not perhaps prefer to let the negotiations break down rather than accept American help. In my opinion it is not necessary that the United States should take part in all the negotiations. All that is necessary would be for us to pledge ourselves to the guarantees, which would be settled in detail at a general conference, after a conference of the belligerents had concluded a preliminary peace.
"I submit to Your Excellency the above proposal because I am convinced that our enemies will not consent to negotiations unless strong pressure is brought to bear. This, however, will, in my opinion, occur if Your Excellency thinks it possible to accept American intervention. With the exception of the Belgian question the American Government ought to bring us more advantage than disadvantage, as the Americans have only just come to realize what England's mastery of the seas means."
This telegram I consider the most important of the entire negotiations, inasmuch as it reached Berlin on the 3rd January, therefore six days before the decision in favor of unrestricted submarine war. When I re-read my telegrams to-day, I still—even after the evidence given before the Commission of the National Assembly—have the same impression as at that time, that Mr. Wilson agreed with our wishes and regarded it as his principal task to bring about a conference of the belligerent parties. I cannot, therefore, understand how it was possible to regard this American offer as anything but an offer of peace mediation, and how the Foreign Office could declare to G. H. Q. that there had never been any question of peace mediation by Mr. Wilson. On the other hand, I quite understand that Bethmann-Hollweg, as he stated before the Commission of the National Assembly, was very sceptical with regard to the President's policy. Nevertheless, an offer of mediation was made which had to be accepted or refused. In the first case it was necessary to bring forward the submarine war as little as possible; in the other we should have to create a clear diplomatic situation in Washington, if we were to avoid the reproach of having negotiated with Wilson on the subject of peace while at the same time planning the submarine campaign, which was bound to bring about a rupture with the United States.
When I spoke with Colonel House at that time I assumed that the principal aim of the German Note of the 26th December was to lay particular emphasis on our old point of view, already known to Mr. Wilson, according to which the regulation of territory was to be dealt with by the belligerent Powers, and the League of Nations question in a world conference under the American presidency. At the time Colonel House himself always spoke of two conferences which the President hoped to bring together at the Hague. The one was to consist only of the belligerent Powers and settle the territorial questions, the other was to be a world conference to found the League of Nations. Mr. Wilson did not wish to invite the conference to Washington because of the great distance from Europe and the peculiar position of the American Press.
As I have already mentioned, their opening of the "intensified submarine campaign" had been planned weeks before. This question had now become acute, and I received the two following Foreign Office telegrams on this subject:
CIPHER TELEGRAM NO. 145
"Berlin, 4th January, 1917.
"Question of armed merchantmen in opinion of navy and G. H. Q. cannot be further postponed.
"Request you discuss with Lansing following memorandum which is closely connected with American memorandum of 25th March and leave with him as aide-memoire. Our action against armed merchantmen, which will follow the lines of the memorandum, does not, of course, imply any withdrawal of our assurance in the Note of 4th May, 1916, as to sinking of merchantmen.
CIPHER TELEGRAM NO. 148
"Berlin, 5th January, 1917.
"Pursuant to Telegram No. 145 of 4th January.
"Please telegraph to me immediately Your Excellency's personal opinion as to impression and consequent action with regard to Telegram No. 145. This must, not, however, be discussed with Lansing, as, for your own strictly personal information, action against armed ships will begin immediately.
As the question of the "intensified submarine war," in consequence of the further course of events, became of no importance, there is no need for me to go into detail, and I will confine myself to giving my two answers as follows:
(1) CODED WIRELESS TELEGRAM
"Washington, 9th January, 1917.
"Telegrams Nos. 145 and 148 received to-day.
"Request most urgently to postpone further steps till you have received my answer."
(2) CIPHER TELEGRAM
"Washington, 10th January, 1917.
"In reply to Telegram 1488.
"Memorandum Lansing received. In my opinion steps in sense of this memorandum will cause collapse of Wilson's peace mediation, and bring about instead a rupture with America, unless action is postponed at least until agreement is reached with American Government. It may perhaps be possible to arrange that Americans should be warned against serving on ships armed for attack. In any case, however, time must be allowed the Government here to bring this about. As everything is decided by Wilson, discussion with Lansing is mere formality. He never gives an answer until he has received instructions from Wilson. In present case latter must read memorandum first.
"How much importance Your Excellency attaches to Wilson's peace mediation I cannot judge from here. Apart from that it is my duty to state clearly that I consider rupture with the United States inevitable if immediate action be taken on the lines of the memorandum."
At the time of sending the telegram I received, in the following telegram, the reply of the Foreign Office to Mr. Wilson's last proposals, which had been communicated to me through Colonel House:
CIPHER TELEGRAM NO. 149
"Berlin, 7th January, 1917.
"In reply to Telegram No. 192 of 29th December.
"For your personal information.
"American intervention for definite peace negotiations is entirely undesirable to us owing to public opinion here. Also at the present moment we must avoid anything that might deepen the impression among our enemies that our peace offer is in any way the result of our finding ourselves in a desperate position. That is not the case. We are convinced that economically and from a military point of view, we can bring the war to victorious conclusion. The question of stating our conditions, therefore, Your Excellency will handle dilatorily. On the other hand, I authorize you to state now our readiness to cooperate in that part of the programme in which the President is particularly interesting himself, and which seems to be identical with the so-called 'Second Convention' outlined by Colonel House here. In this we include arbitration machinery, peace league, and examination of the question of disarmament and of the freedom of the seas. We are, therefore, in principle, prepared for those guarantees which could be settled in detail in a general conference after a conference of the belligerents has brought about a preliminary peace. To prove our bona fides in this direction, we are also ready in principle to open immediate negotiations with the United States.
"Your Excellency will be so good as to inform the President of this, and request him to work out the programme for the conference to secure world peace, and to communicate it to us as soon as possible.
"Please also emphasize to Colonel House and President Wilson that our actual peace conditions are very moderate, and, in contrast to those of the Entente, are kept within thoroughly reasonable limits; this is also particularly the case with regard to Belgium, which we do not wish to annex. Moreover, we desire regulation of commercial and traffic communications after the war without any idea of a boycott, a demand which we think will be understood at once by all sane people. On the other hand, the question of Alsace and Lorraine we cannot consent to discuss.
"I should like to know how Your Excellency thinks that pressure could be brought to bear by President Wilson to incline the Entente to peace negotiations. In the light of our experience during the two years of war, it seems to us that a prohibition of the export of war material and foodstuffs, which would be the step most likely to bring the Entente into line and would also be the best for us, is unfortunately little likely to be realized. Only an effective pressure in this direction could relieve us on our side of the urgent necessity of resorting again to unrestricted submarine warfare. Should Your Excellency have proposals to make as to how the unrestricted submarine warfare can be conducted without causing a rupture with America, I request you to report, immediately by telegram.
I understood from this telegram that I was to continue the negotiations with Colonel House. The refusal contained in this telegram was only concerned with a demand which had never been made by the United States. Moreover, I have never personally had much faith in the appeal to public opinion which would have nothing to do with Mr. Wilson. If the Imperial Government had a few weeks before desired such intervention, they must have believed that German public opinion would agree to it. In my opinion, too, an agitation in favor of American intervention would have set in in Germany quite on its own account if the German people had known that such action by President Wilson offered good prospects of leading to a peace by understanding. Later, when I returned from America to Germany, I was struck by the small number of my countrymen who privately favored the submarine war. I therefore still think that German public opinion could easily have been persuaded to accept Mr. Wilson's mediation, if the terrorism of the supporters of submarine war had been dealt with in time. Herr von Bethmann-Hollweg has spoken before the Commission of the National Assembly of the hypnotic effect exerted on German public opinion by the submarine war.
Though the Foreign Office telegram of the 7th January mentions the ways in which President Wilson could bring pressure to bear on the Entente, it had already struck me at that time that the first step taken by the United States to force the conclusion of peace had not made the impression in Germany that its importance warranted.
The various "War Memories" that have now been published in Germany do not touch on this point. As has already been mentioned, the "Federal Reserve Board," which corresponds to our Reichsbank, had issued a warning against the raising of loans for belligerent States. In this way the American source of funds was practically cut off. Already foreign securities were in general unwillingly handled. If the loans had been completely forbidden, such results would not have transpired, as the American avails himself of bank credit to a far greater extent than is usual in other countries. It is well known that the Government of the United States, after they had entered the war, themselves raised "Liberty loans," and advanced money to their Allies because this procedure accorded much more closely with American inclinations than the raising of foreign loans.
As is well known, after the German peace action had failed, the definite decision to declare unrestricted submarine war was taken in Pless on the 9th January. In this way, as the Chancellor said, the Rubicon was crossed. War with the United States seemed inevitable, unless it were found possible at the eleventh hour to annul the decision of the German Government. Herr von Bethmann-Hollweg has declared before the Commission of the National Assembly that he had not sufficient faith in Mr. Wilson's peace intervention to advise the Emperor to oppose the demand of G. H. Q. for the declaration of unrestricted submarine war.
At the end of this chapter I give a report which I drew up on the attitude of American public opinion towards intervention.
I should like once more to emphasize that in judging and estimating American politics I have always given more weight to public opinion than to the views or intentions of any individual statesman.
"Washington, 11th December, 1916.
"During the last phases of the presidential elections the American Press used to be so much occupied with questions of domestic policy that there was little space left for the discussion of foreign events. In contrast with this, in this year's campaign the Press politics on questions of foreign policy played a very important part, but the discussion was naturally so much under the influence of the aims and considerations of party politics that a report on the attitude of the Press towards the European belligerents at that time could not have given a true picture. This was quite particularly the case with regard to Germany. On one hand the Republican organs, out of regard for the votes of the German-Americans, found it necessary considerably to moderate their speech, while on the other the Democratic Press branded the Republican candidate as a 'Kaiserite,' owing to his German-American following, and at the same time threw more mud than ever over Germany and everything German; until in the last weeks of the election campaign the dawning hope of bringing over great masses of Bindestrichler into the Democratic camp brought about a sudden moderation in the tone of this organ.
"Only now, after the absurdities of the presidential election are over, is it again possible to arrive at an approximately clear judgment as to the attitude of the Press towards Germany and the other belligerent nations.
"This judgment may be briefly stated as follows:
"The American Press in general takes sides less passionately with either party than was formerly the case, and is heartily tired of the war. This does not in any way imply that our enemies have not still the support of a number of very influential partisans, who are all the time fighting loyally for the 'Cause of the Allies,' let slip no opportunity to malign Germany and, in the event of a threatened crisis, form an element of danger for us which should not be underestimated. It may even be admitted that the tone which the organs of this tendency, particularly strongly represented in New York, Boston and Philadelphia, adopt against Germany has become, if possible, more bitter during the last few months. But it is questionable whether the great mass of the influential papers, particularly in the remoter districts of the Atlantic coast, have become more impartial. They don't like us and don't trust us, but have also gradually got to know but not to esteem England.
"The present attitude of America towards the cause of the Entente Powers, with which that of the greater part of the independent Press coincide, was defined as follows by the New York Tribune, one of the most inveterate champions of our enemies at the present time: 'Despite a very widespread sympathy for France and a well-defined affection for Great Britain in a limited circle of Americans, there has been no acceptance of the Allied points of view as to the war, and there is not now the smallest chance that this will be the case.... The thing that the British have failed to get before the American people is the belief that the war was one in which the question of humanity and of civilization was uppermost for the British. The Germans have succeeded in making Americans in very great numbers believe that it is purely and simply a war of trade and commerce between the British and the Germans, and the various economic conference proposals have served to emphasize this idea.'
"The violation of Greece, the ruthless procedure against Ireland since the Easter rebellion—on which a well-directed Press service of American-Irish, in spite of the strict English censorship, keeps public opinion constantly informed—the selfish sacrifice of Serbia, Montenegro and Rumania, as well as the illegal economic measures against Holland and Scandinavia, have seriously shaken England's reputation here as the protectress of the small nations.
"Certain remarks of the English Press of altogether too free a nature on the American Government, their disparaging cartoons of the President and the patronizing air adopted by many English war journals and often in the English daily Press towards America—as, for example, in a recent number of the Morning Post, alleged former German hankerings for colonies in South America, from the realization of which the Union is said to have been protected by England—are arousing increasing dissatisfaction here. The persistent and systematic attempts of the British Press Bureau to sow dissension between America and Germany on the question of the submarine war are resented. The sharp British replies to American representations on the question of the 'black list' and the 'post-blockade,' and, England's latest pin-prick, the refusal of the request for a free passage for the Austrian Ambassador, condemned even by such a pro-British paper as the Philadelphian Public Ledger as a 'British affront,' have created a very bad impression. 'It is unmistakable,' says the pro-Entente Evening Sun, 'that American opinion has been irritated and sympathy estranged by many acts which have damaged our interests and wounded our national self-respect.'
"Above all, however, the serious shortcomings of the enemy General Staffs, which are criticised here with unprofessional exaggeration, and their ineffectiveness—'a lamentable succession of false moves,' as they are called by the respected Springfield Republican—have produced a general disillusionment as to the efficiency of our enemies, which has damped even the old enthusiasm over the heroic bearing of the French army and its commander-in-chief, who is very popular over here. 'We give thanks for Joffre,' was the heading of a typical leading article in the New York Sun on Thanksgiving Day. The recent warning of the American banks by the Federal Board against accepting through the post large quantities of unsecured foreign treasury notes—a warning which could only refer to the issue by the Morgan bank of English and French short-dated securities—has also shattered the belief in the inexhaustible economic resources of France and England. With a quite exceptional expenditure of effort the newspapers under British or French influence, of which the most important are the New York Times, New York Herald and Evening Telegram; the Philadelphian Public Ledger, the Chicago Herald, and the Providence Journal, in addition to a number of other sworn partisans of the Entente Powers, among which may be mentioned particularly the New York Tribune, New York Sun and Evening Sun; New York Evening Post, Journal of Commerce, New York Globe; Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Boston Evening Transcript and Philadelphian Inquirer, have lately been trying to raise our enemies in the esteem of public opinion here. This is shown particularly in the headlines and the arrangement of the war news in these papers. All news that is detrimental to the German cause, even when it comes from an unreliable source, is printed in heavy type in the most striking position. Every gain of ground by the Allies, however, slight, is hailed as a great victory, and even the communications of private agencies which are in contradiction to the official reports of the enemy, and obviously inventions, appear as accomplished facts in the headlines of the papers. Their leading articles pour out hatred and malice against Germany. Their letter boxes are filled with contributions which are full of venom and gall against Germany and her allies, and their feuilletons or Sunday supplements contain about the strongest attacks that have ever been brought against us even in the American Press. But it looks as though their tactics no longer have the same success as of old. Their utterances, apart from such as deal with the Belgian or Lusitania themes, no longer make any impression.
"On the other side the consistently friendly attitude of the ten papers of the Hearst syndicate, which come daily into the hands of more than three million readers in all parts of the country, has of late become even much more friendly as a result of the English boycott of the International News Service and the exclusion of all the Hearst publications from circulation in Canada. Mr. Hearst has replied to the inconceivably shortsighted policy of the British authorities towards his news service in a series of forcible, full-page leading articles against the British censorship which must have seriously shaken the confidence, apart from this already weakened long ago, of the American Press in all news coming from England. Not only did the articles in question contain a crushing criticism of the English system of suppressing and distorting the truth, but they also proved that for years America had been misled systematically from London in its judgment of foreign nations—e.g., the 'degenerate' French. Apart from this the Hearst newspapers repeatedly explained in detail how in the autumn of 1916 the position of the Central Powers was excellent, while that of England and her allies was completely hopeless. It should be emphasized that the Hearst newspapers are, nevertheless, not to be regarded as blindly pro-German, for they publish a good deal that can hardly be desirable for us—e.g., occasional articles on the 'German Peril,' for which new food was provided by the exploits of the Deutschland, and more especially U53, and was exploited here to support the idea of increasing the army and navy. The papers named are based on a sound American policy, but with their sharp, anti-English tendency do us much more good than papers with admitted pro-German bias. The chief value of the pro-German attitude of the organs of the Hearst syndicate lies in the fact that their influence is not limited to any particular town or district, but extends over the whole Union. An English critic, S. K. Ratcliffe, recently wrote about American newspapers in the Manchester Guardian.... 'Northern papers are of no account in the South; the most influential New York journals do not exist for the people of the Pacific coast, and carry little weight in the Middle States. Hence, summaries of opinion—confined to a small number of papers published east of the Mississippi—are imperfectly representative of the Republic.' This accurately observed geographical limitation of the influence of the leading American newspapers is substantially overcome by the Hearst organization, for the leading articles which appear in the New York American to-day will appear to-morrow in the allied papers of Boston, Chicago and Atlanta, and the day after in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
"Another factor that has improved the attitude of the American Press towards Germany is the recent important development of the wireless news service. By this I do not mean so much the extension of the trans-Atlantic service in the communications of which a considerable part of the Press here seems unfortunately to take little interest, but the radiographic transmission of the full reports of American correspondents in Berlin and on the German fronts to the American newspapers or news agencies. Among the interesting reports that have been received direct and unmutilated in this way those of Messrs. William B. Hale, Karl von Wiegand, Cyril Brown and Karl W. Ackerman have exerted a particularly favorable influence for us, especially at the critical moments of the break-through in southern Galicia and the battles of the Somme, when, without the special news service via Nauen, the American Press would have been completely misled by the mass of reports that were flowing in from London. Among American journalists who worked in Germany, Herbert Swope should be particularly mentioned, who, after his return, published in The World and other Pulitzer papers, a series of fourteen articles on the situation and feeling in Germany which attracted the attention of both the Press and the reading public. In a most undesirable way Mr. Swope in his first articles which appeared immediately before the election—it was simply an electioneering manoeuvre—emphasized the deep hatred of the German people for the United States and the alleged general wish of all German circles to see Mr. Wilson defeated at the election as a punishment for his unneutral attitude. To compensate for this he performed a very valuable service for us in his later articles by giving a convincing account of the economic situation in Germany at that time, which removed all doubt over here as to the ability of our enemies to starve Germany out, and revived public respect for Germany's efficiency and organizing-power.
"The great and respectful tribute which the American Press pays to German 'efficiency' at every opportunity—and during the last few months there have been many such opportunities—can, however, do little or nothing to alter the deep 'sentiment' against Germany. As soon as the above-mentioned themes of Belgium and the Lusitania are mentioned, there are few papers that do not indulge, either in aggressive or more moderate terms, in expressions of horror at German 'frightfulness' and 'ruthlessness.'
"This deep-rooted feeling of the whole Press has been once more revived in very regrettable fashion by the recent Belgian deportations. The indignation of the Press at this 'slavery' which is being imposed on Belgium is general, deep-rooted and genuine. Even newspapers which express themselves in pretty harsh terms on the subject of the English illegalities condemn these deportations in no measured terms. The interview given by Governor-General von Bissing to the journalist Cyril Brown on the subject of these deportations, published on the front page of the New York Times, has unfortunately not made the slightest impression here. General von Bissing's second statement on the same subject in which, among other things, he emphatically declared it his duty to see that as few Germans as possible should be kept out of the firing line to guard Belgium, was grist for the mill of the enemy Press. 'The cat is out of the bag,' writes the New York Times, which does not miss the opportunity of reminding its readers of General von Bissing's responsibility for the shooting of Edith Cavell. 'Not a word about economic necessity, Germany needs men at the front. Simple, almost crude in fact, and completely German.' The Philadelphian Public Ledger says: 'The original offence, the invasion of Belgian territory, regardless of treaty obligations, has almost been obliterated by the cruelty which is now depopulating the land, stripping it of all its resources, sending its people into exile and slavery, making a wilderness and calling it order. There has not been such a tragedy since the fierce barbarian tribes swept over Europe; none would have believed two years ago that it could be enacted.' Such expressions as 'Huns,' 'Attila,' 'Hohenzollern slave trade,' and others of a similar nature are the order of the day, and the excitement is further fanned by reports from London and Le Havre, which no one here can verify, and provocative interviews, among which special mention must be made of that of Herr Carton de Wiart with the World correspondent. The news that Mr. Lansing had forwarded to Berlin a protest against the Belgian deportations was received with great applause by the whole of the Press. The resulting official statement that this protest had been made not in the name of the United States but in the name of the Kingdom of Belgium, represented by the American Government, caused dissatisfaction and a demand that the United States Government should also protest to Berlin on its own account. Resolutions of protest were sent to the President and published in the Press, and indignation meetings on a large scale are announced to take place in Boston and New York which will offer the Press further opportunities for anti-German demonstrations.
"With regard to the question of submarine warfare the American Press are quite unanimous on one point, that a withdrawal of the assurances given by Germany after the Sussex incident, or even an intentional breach of these, is bound to bring about, as it were, automatically, a breaking-off of diplomatic relations with Germany; and it is also clear that such a rupture would only be the first step towards open war. The great majority of the leading American newspapers express at every opportunity the genuine hope that such a contingency will not arise. Only the chauvinistic, anti-German element in the Press holds that the casus ruptionis has actually arisen and devotes itself to publishing and commenting on, in the most sensational manner, the alleged crimes of the German submarines. The newspapers of this order are abundantly supplied with pertinent material, particularly news of alleged sinkings without warnings, of which they on their side—probably with the co-operation of the British authorities here—know how to increase the effect by means of exaggerated reports of out-of-date 'sacrifices to German frightfulness,' which are eagerly swallowed here. In spite of the masterly skill with which this working on public feeling against the handling of our submarine war is managed, it may be taken for granted that it does not get a hold. However deep and however genuine may be the horror with which the American people regard such incidents as the sinking of the Lusitania—a fact that must be continually emphasized—equally great is obviously their indifference towards the destruction of non-American neutral shipping, so long as the rules of cruiser warfare continue to be observed. People over here have gradually got accustomed to reading daily reports of the sinking of another half dozen British or other vessels. The daily papers print them quite as a matter of course, and only in a prominent position when the bag reaches an unusually high figure. In the editorial columns of many papers a certain malicious joy is even observable, that England, who boasts of having mastered the submarine, should now be so mercilessly and persistently bled.
"One phase of the submarine war has, indeed, thrown nearly the whole of the American Press into a state of excitement, namely, the piratic exploits of U53 off the coast of New England. The destruction wrought by this boat so close at hand, and the consequent paralysis for several days of all merchant shipping, was too much even for the moderate papers, and resulted in strong outbursts against our 'ruthlessness.' Apparently this circumstance has recently been exploited by our enemies as a new way of influencing public opinion against us. Mysterious British battleships off the Atlantic coast are supposed to send out wireless warnings against the alleged approach of German submarines, and these are published in the American Press partly under panic headlines, and arouse indignation. This shady procedure, in which the pro-English press naturally takes the lead, recently aroused Mr. Lansing to make a forceful speech against the unknown originators of these rumors. It may be particularly emphasized, speaking quite generally, that the great influence exerted by the State Department on the Washington correspondents of the leading newspapers during the last few months, during which there has been a constant threat of the submarine question coming to a head, has always been on the side of peace, with the result that in more than one case, and particularly in the cases of the sinking of the Marina and Arabia, any serious agitation on the part of the Press has been avoided. With regard to the general war situation, the conviction has for some time been gaining ground with the great majority of the leading American newspapers, that a decisive victory by either of the two belligerent groups of Powers is no longer to be expected. With the exception of a continually dwindling minority which even to-day still promise their readers the 'ultimate victory' of the Entente Powers, the verdict of the American Press on the probable result of the war is 'a draw,' 'a stalemate.' Only a few newspapers, to which belong those of the Hearst Syndicate, confess to the belief in 'a stalemate, or a victory of the Teutonic Allies.' How those newspapers which are at the service of our enemies, and which still hold to the legend of a miscarried German war of aggression, really judge the situation is only seen occasionally from incidental statements like the following confession of the New York Tribune, which preaches against a peace on the basis of the present position; this paper says that the American people should see that if the Allies were to conclude peace now the result would be a tremendous victory for Germany. Such isolated, misleading views as this do not, however, succeed in affecting in any way the general impression that by far the greater part of the leading newspapers regard the war as indecisive, especially after the fruitless conclusion of our operations before Verdun, the collapse of the great offensives on the Somme and in southern Galicia, as well as in view of the fact, confirmed on many sides, that the British blockade has not attained its end, the starvation of Germany.
"Our recent feats of arms in Rumania have hardly affected this opinion. In view of the great hopes, placed by our enemies and the newspapers in their service, on Rumania's entry into the war, these successes are recognized on all sides readily or grudgingly and without any spark of sympathy for the defeated country, and in some cases are even hailed as brilliant military achievements of the first rank. The preponderating opinion of the Press, however, passes over the fact that the conquest of Rumania, although opening up to Germany important new resources, is scarcely likely to influence to any considerable degree the situation which has resulted from the war of positions in East and West, and the still unbroken British mastery of the seas.
"The view that the war has reached a stalemate which, since President Wilson's speech at Charlotte in May of this year, had been maintained by several papers, but which has recently become general, apart from the definitely pro-Ally organs, is closely connected with the discussion of the question of peace restoration which for the American Press is in many cases synonymous with the question of intervention by the United States or all the neutral nations.
"There was a time when a very important part of the American Press seemed to stand on the level of the catch-phrase which was going the round at that time: 'Wall Street now fears nothing except the outbreak of peace.' These times, however, are long since past. The desire for a speedy end of the hostilities in Europe is to-day genuine, and shared by almost the whole Press. From the enemy camp we get the following testimony in the New York Tribune, which would like to convert its readers to less humane views: 'For millions of Americans this war is a tragedy, a crime, the offspring of collective madness,' and in its view the greatest service that America can render to the world—an allusion to the catch-phrase coined by Henry Ford for his ill-starred peace mission is—'to fetch the lads out of the trenches.' The discussion of the premises for the conclusion of peace, therefore, has for some time occupied an important place in the daily papers, and also to some extent in the reviews. Reports on the meetings of the many American peace societies are given with the greatest fulness, and anything in the overseas news connected with the question of a restoration of peace is printed in a prominent position and duly discussed in the leading articles.
"It would lead me too far to give even an approximately complete picture of this discussion with which the whole Press is occupied. But one point demands closer examination: the attitude of the leading papers to the German readiness for peace, publicly expressed by Your Excellency on three different occasions in the last few weeks.
"Your Excellency's great speech before the Budget Committee of the Reichstag unfortunately reached here at a time when the whole interest of the Press and public was directed to the at first uncertain result of the presidential election. Though generally printed, in the evening papers for the most part only in extracts, it was practically passed over in the editorial columns. An attempt to start a belated Press discussion of the speech by circulating it in the form of specially printed brochures, or at least to induce those papers which had only given extracts to publish the whole text, unfortunately failed; only the Current History, a special war magazine of the New York Times, felt itself called upon to reprint the speech in extenso in its December number. On the other hand, the passage of the speech which stated our readiness after this war to take a part in international organizations for insuring peace was widely circulated here, and attracted corresponding attention. As I, according to instructions, communicated this passage to the 'League to Enforce Peace' as the official German message for their banquet held here on the 24th inst., it was circulated throughout the country in the detailed Press reports on this association, which is greatly respected here, and commented on by many newspapers with all the more sympathy since Germany's sceptical reserve hitherto towards the question of a peaceful settlement of international differences has always worked strongly against us here.
"The interview granted by Your Excellency to the American journalist Hale has been printed particularly fully by the ten Hearst newspapers, and further by all the other subscribers to the International News Service. In the New York American on Thanksgiving Day it occupied, together with a portrait of Your Excellency, the whole front page. At special request from many quarters the paper repeated the report three days later.
"Germany's readiness to enter into peace negotiations, expressed once more by Your Excellency at this interview, as well as Your Excellency's statement in the Reichstag on the 29th inst., that Germany is ready for any peace that will guarantee her existence and future, have during the last few days been fairly thoroughly discussed in the New York papers, which particularly dwell on the words 'a peace guaranteeing our existence and future,' and agree unanimously as to the urgent desirability of a further and more exact formulation of the German peace conditions.
"The New York Times says: 'All depends on what guarantees of the existence and the future of Germany are expected.' The paper goes on to ask how Germany could imagine her future assured from a territorial point of view, but points out in conclusion that these are only external details, and concludes, returning to its favorite theme, as follows: 'Deeper than all, fundamental in any discussion of peace, is the question of the German political ideals, of German Machtpolitik and Weltpolitik, of Prussian militarism.' ... 'The fear, the practical certainty, that Von Bethmann-Hollweg's guarantees would be not merely guarantees of the existence and future of Germany, but of new and not distant wars with her, stands in the way of any serious discussion of his remarks.'
"The Evening Sun remarks sarcastically that obviously no such guarantees as Deutschland ueber Alles should be given to any country. Its verdict, too, is that: 'The peace that Germany craves still is a peace that will enable her to begin the next war in five or ten years, with a certainty of immediate victory and complete conquest of the overlordship of Europe, if not America.' The Brooklyn Daily Eagle writes: 'If an inconclusive peace, a peace based upon the theory that the war is a draw, a peace fertile in the liabilities to future trouble, is not in the mind of the German Chancellor, what is in his mind? He should speak out. He will never have a better opportunity to be specific. The whole neutral world is listening, ready to give careful and intelligent consideration to his words.'
"More important than these and other utterances of the papers which follow in our enemies' wake is the trenchant leading article of the World, which on foreign questions generally expresses the point of view of the Administration. This paper says: 'If Germany is ready to end the war, the first thing for the Imperial Government to do is to make definite proposals for peace. Those proposals need not be made officially to the Allies, to the United States, or any other intermediary. They could be made to the world at large. The Chancellor could describe to the Reichstag the conditions under which Germany would regard her Existence and Future assured.' 'Germany began the war. It is proper that Germany should take the first steps towards ending the war, but something more than vague generalizations is necessary. At present there is nothing to talk about. There are no terms, not even extravagant and ridiculous terms, that can be discussed as a possible basis of settlement. Thus far there has been no evidence of good faith in the repeated German professions of a desire for peace. In consequence nobody takes them seriously until there is at least a tentative proposal of terms. When that is made, the responsible Ministers of other belligerent Governments will be forced to meet the issue. Public opinion in Great Britain and France, no less than in Germany and Austria-Hungary, will have a chance to make itself heard. When peace comes it cannot be merely the peace of diplomats and of Governments. It must be a peace in which popular sentiment has the final word, and popular sentiment has no means of expression until there is something tangible to discuss.'
"The general impression left by the utterances of the American Press on the subject of peace is that on the one hand—apart from a small number of influential papers—it is anxious for peace, from which anxiety it is obvious that it intends to pass over the extravagant war aims so often heard from the Entente statesmen; but that on the other hand it cannot as yet find any practicable way of bringing about an early conclusion of peace, and also that it cannot see any advance in this direction in the last statements of Your Excellency, which only a few papers have discussed to any extent.
"The change in the direction of the Foreign Office has been discussed at comparative length in the leading articles of the important newspapers, which, as a rule, deal with European Ministerial changes only in their news columns—less with regard to the personality of the retiring Minister, who was not very well known here, than that of the new Secretary of State. The only paper which devoted a few friendly words to Herr von Jagow was the New York Times, which described him, in connection with his conferences with Baron Beyens and Sir Edward Goschen at the outbreak of war, as a 'Gentleman in War and Peace,' and also recognized his sympathetic attitude during the negotiations on the submarine war controversy. Herr Zimmermann's appointment as Secretary of State, on the other hand, was greeted by many papers, and indeed by the Press in general—only a few papers were made somewhat uneasy by the news received lately by telegram, of his attitude towards the question of armed merchantmen—with great applause. The tone of these comments must have been set by the flattering and sympathetic utterances of Ambassador Gerard and the journalist Swope, on the subject of the new Secretary of State, and a longer article by Gilbert Hirsch published by the New York Evening Post and other papers under the heading 'Our Friend Zimmermann.' The note struck by this article and by the German Press comments transmitted and printed everywhere over here, that Herr Zimmermann is a particularly warm friend of the United States was joyfully echoed by the whole American Press. Also the fact was everywhere emphasized that in Herr Zimmermann the important post of chief of the Foreign Office hitherto reserved for 'Prussian Junkerdom,' had been given to a member not of the diplomatic, but of the humbler consular service, and indeed, to a bourgeois. Here and there speculation was indulged in as to whether this appointment might not be interpreted as the first step towards a 'Liberal regime,' in which a not unimportant section of the American Press still sees the future salvation of Germany and of the world.
"The announcement of autonomy for Poland is, to say the least of it, received with scepticism by the American Press which is comparatively well informed on the Polish question. The words of the virtuoso Paderewski, who is working here in the interests of the Polish sufferers through the war: 'This means only more suffering for my people; it means that another army will be raised, and that there will be more killing and more devastating,' were reproduced by many newspapers and regarded as an authoritative statement of what might be expected from the German-Austrian proclamations. Many papers declared it to be simply a move to raise more recruits. Others sarcastically pointed out that the proclamation left the most vital questions, such as the boundaries of the new State and its form of government, to be settled later. Only a few of the leading newspapers, among them the New York Evening Post and the Philadelphia North American, allowed the Allied Governments a certain modicum of recognition, for, as they pointed out, in no case could the heavy hand of Russia, which had so long oppressed the country, be forgotten. The Polish Press here was at first very reserved. Their point of view is represented by the following leading article of the weekly paper Free Poland, founded since the war and published by the Polish National Council of America: 'What the Poles desire is an independent Poland. The Powers have acknowledged Poland's right to live, but either with a limitation of independence or diminution of territory. The Russians would fain lop off eastern Galicia. And now the Germans grant Poland an autonomy, but without Posen, West Prussia, or Silesia, in return demanding a Polish army to take up their cause against Russia. Though this move on the part of Germany will at least draw the world's attention to the inalienable rights of Poland as a nation, and make of the Polish question an international one, yet it must not be forgotten that the Poles in Europe will vehemently protest against any curtailment of their national aims and aspirations.
"The impression, on the whole unfavorable, made by the Polish measures on the American Press was gradually in part balanced by the announcement that the Polish Jews had been recognized as an independent religious community. Since it was thought in many quarters that this might be taken to be the first step towards cultural and political emancipation of the Eastern Jews, it was discussed with great interest, in view of the strong influence exerted by the American Jewish community on an important section of the American Press, particularly that of New York.
"Finally, there remains to be examined the attitude of the Press towards one question, in itself of a purely domestic, economic interest, but which promises to become of the most wide-reaching importance for foreign politics, namely, that of an embargo on corn. The price of most articles of food has risen to such an abnormal height during the last few months that the New York Sun can say without too great exaggeration, that if the war had lasted two more years the cost of living in Berlin and Vienna would have risen to the level of that of New York. In particular the serious position of the wheat market and the fairly certain prospect of an acute rise in the price of wheat in the course of the winter or next spring prompt the Press to constant discussion, the burden of which is the question whether the Government of the United States should or should not prohibit the exportation of corn. The opponents of such a measure, among which are the World, New York Times, New York Evening Post, Journal of Commerce, the Boston Evening Transcript, the Philadelphia Public Ledger, the Saint Louis Globe-Democrat, the Pittsburg Post, the Saint Paul Pioneer Press, the Indianapolis News and many others, maintain that the supporters of the embargo, whose main object is to injure the Allies, represent the situation as much more threatening than it is in reality. The World tries to console its readers by explaining that the high price of food represents the American people's contribution to the cost of the greatest war of destruction in the history of the world; while the New York Times points out the danger of estranging the Allies through an embargo. The newspapers which are friendly to Germany, particularly the Hearst newspapers, and the Milwaukee Free Press, energetically urge an embargo on all articles of food, by which, as they more or less openly allow it to appear, England would be forced to make peace. But in addition a number of the most bitter opponents of Germany, for example the Philadelphia Inquirer, favor an early embargo for purely material reasons. It is to be expected that this question will be one of the first to come up at the opening of the approaching session of Congress, when the Press polemics of the opponents of the embargo, with the arriere pensee of protecting England's interests and those of her Allies, should reach their climax."
THE RUPTURE OF DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS
Before I received official notice of the opening of the unrestricted U-boat campaign, I had a further interview with Mr. House, concerning the peace activities of the President, and the telegram describing it which I sent to the Foreign Office, Berlin, is reproduced below:
CIPHER TELEGRAM NO. 212
"(Answer to Telegram No. 149 of the 7th January.)
"Washington, January 16th, 1917.
"Your Excellency's authority in regard to Mr. House duly availed of. He told me Wilson considered this pronouncement of Imperial Government supremely valuable. As regards further developments of Wilson's efforts for peace, I can say nothing definite. This much only is certain, that at present moment President has no other thought than that of bringing about peace, and will endeavor to achieve this end with the utmost energy and all means in his power. A further pronouncement of Wilson's is expected almost immediately; it will probably take form of a communication to Congress. Apparently it will consist of an appeal to the American people to help him to enforce peace; in any case both he and House praise the Hearst Press article, which is written from that point of view. Whether means adopted will be to place an embargo on all exports is difficult to say. Maybe the threat of an embargo will be enough to force our enemies to a conference.
"From the above it is clear that we cannot afford to have any difficulties over the old U-boat question. As regards the question of armed merchant vessels, I hope to arrive at a modus vivendi. But we must be careful not to act hastily and carelessly, so as not to create conflict before President has taken further steps. Remarkable as this may sound to German ears, Wilson is regarded here very generally as pro-German. His Note was traced to our influence, and Gerard's speech strengthened this impression. This speech is in accordance with instructions which Mr. Gerard is receiving. Our present enemies have gone literally raving mad, and leave no stone unturned in order to put obstacles in Wilson's way. This explains the attacks against the President, as also the scurrilous attempt engineered by the Republicans to charge the Administration with Stock Exchange speculations. Without any justification, of course, my name also was mentioned in this regard. The German Embassy, as is well known, is held responsible for everything by our enemies in this country."
At the same time as the above telegram, I wrote the following report describing the prevailing political attitude in Washington:
"Washington, 14th January, 1917.
"Ever since the Presidential election the political situation here has not changed. Apart from the question of ending the world-war, the public mind has not been constantly or earnestly concerned with any matter.
"Congress has dealt with the customary Budget proposals, and the fruitless negotiations about the Mexican question drag slowly on.
"Meanwhile, the attitude towards ourselves, which after the Sussex incident took a decided turn for the good, has slowly improved. This change in the public temper can be observed on all sides. It is true that it is only very slightly noticeable, if at all, in the Press, and our most rabid opponents are driven, owing to the general improvement in German-Americans' relations, to ever more violent attacks against us. Since President Wilson dispatched his Peace Note, our enemies' fury knows no bounds. Without exaggeration, it can be said that this note voices the spirit of almost the whole American people.
"Only Wall Street and the anti-German ring, as also their friends in the press, are dissatisfied and are endeavoring to put obstacles in the President's way. In these circles, which are always under English influence, the belief has taken root, that Mr. Wilson has fallen under German spell. The well-known anti-German Republican, Senator Lodge, boldly expressed this view in the Senate; but he could not prevent the Senate from voting in favor of Mr. Wilson's Peace Note, by a huge majority.
"The public mind is engaged principally with the question why precisely the President dispatched his note immediately after the German offer of peace. It is well-known that this Note had been prepared for some time, and would have been sent off at Christmas, quite irrespective of our own proposals, although, in view of Mr. Wilson's inclination to temporize, and to treat all questions somewhat dilatorily, this is by no means certain. I believe that the President's principal motive was his pressing desire to play the role of mediator—a prospect which seemed to be imperilled if our enemies agreed to deal directly with us. This may possibly explain why that particular moment was chosen, for which our enemies regard Mr. Wilson so unfavorably. A cartoon published by that most anti-German paper, the New York Herald, depicts Mr. Wilson's dove of peace as a parrot, faithfully babbling out the German proposals.
"Apart from the choice of this particular moment for its expression, the President's desire to bring about peace is in any case very comprehensible, seeing that he was re-elected principally on the basis of this programme. Furthermore, the Americans are genuinely alarmed by the extension of Japanese power in the Far East, and finally, since our Rumanian victories, Mr. Wilson has ultimately come to the conclusion that our enemies are no longer able to defeat us. One is constantly hearing the opinion expressed, both by members of the Cabinet and other friends of the President, who enjoy his confidence, that neither of the belligerent parties will now be able to achieve a decisive victory, and that further bloodshed is therefore useless.
"As already stated above, the anti-German party is doing its utmost to put every possible obstacle in Mr. Wilson's way, while the Press does not cease from repeating that the Peace Note is to be regarded as a menace against Germany. It is thus hoped to stiffen our enemies' backs, by dazzling them with the expectation of America's entry into the war; much, too, is made of the argument—and this was particularly so in the Senate—that Mr. Wilson's intervention was imperilling the traditional policy of the United States, which rests primarily upon the Monroe Doctrine, and upon the principle of non-interference with European affairs. Finally, a scurrilous attempt has been made by the Republican party to attack Wilson in the flank, by getting a notorious Stock Exchange speculator publicly to proclaim that members of the Administration, who knew beforehand of Wilson's action, had taken advantage to speculate heavily upon it. As this man could, however, produce no proofs, he simply made himself ridiculous.
"I have already frequently called attention in my report to the fact that the prolonged war hysteria over here has created an atmosphere of gossip and tittle-tattle, which at other times would have been regarded as impossible. For instance, even quite responsible people believe that I have obtained for cash certain compromising letters of Wilson's in order to be able to get a hold over him by this means. Senator Lodge, in his own house, privately expressed the view that this was a credible rumor, and then turned it to account in the Senate. The President is so terribly put out by this and other similar machinations on the part of the Republicans, who refuse to grant him the fame of the peace-maker, that he recently kept away from a public festival, because Mr. Lodge was to be the principal speaker there.
"Owing to the incredible rumors which are bandied from mouth to mouth here, I regarded it as necessary to bring an action against one notorious swindler and blackmailer. I wanted to convince public opinion that the Embassy had nothing to fear. I intend doing the same thing in the case of all future attempts at blackmail, once we have got a clean slate in regard to all compromising questions. Our enemies will, however, persist in leaving no stone unturned in order to cast a slur upon the Embassy, for their principal object is to succeed in bringing about my recall, or the rupture of diplomatic relations with Germany. Once they have accomplished this, they are convinced that it will be an easy matter to draw the United States into the war.
"As is well known, President Wilson received a reply from the Entente, in response to his peace move, which contained conditions utterly unacceptable to us. Messrs. Wilson and House regarded these conditions as 'bluff,' and were as convinced, as they had previously been, that the Entente would accede to a peace by arrangement. People frequently alluded in those days to the fact that in the last Anglo-American War of 1812-1814, the English, very shortly before the peace settlement, had proposed unacceptable peace terms which they suddenly allowed to drop later. I also believed, and believe still, that the Entente were perfectly well acquainted with the political situation in Germany, and wished by proposing such conditions to strike panic amongst us and compel us to declare an unrestricted U-boat war. The Entente never diverged from its one object, which was to draw the United States into the war, and thus to bring about a decision. Moreover, the negative reply sent to our Government by the Entente had sufficed to achieve this object; for the final resolution to declare an unrestricted U-boat war was formed before the peace conditions framed by the Entente became known in Berlin."
On the 19th of January I received official notice that the unrestricted U-boat campaign would begin on February 1st, and I was to give the American Government notice accordingly on the evening of the 31st January. After all that had happened, I could but regard this intimation as a declaration of war against the United States, and one which, in addition, put us in the wrong; because it put an end to the peace overtures made by Mr. Wilson, which had been started with our approval. I did my utmost to try to get the Berlin resolution cancelled, or at least to obtain a postponement of the date on which it was to come into force, and with this end in view I sent the following telegram to Berlin:
"Washington, 19th January, 1917.
"War inevitable in view of the proposed action. Danger of rupture could be mitigated by the fixing of a definite interval of time, say one month, so that neutral vessels and passengers may be spared, as any preliminary and timely warning seems impossible if present programme is carried out. I shall have to give the password for unnavigable German steamers on February 1st, as effect of carrying out of my instructions here will be like declaration of war, and strict guard will be kept. In any case an incident like that of the Lusitania may be expected soon.
"If military reasons are not absolutely imperative, in view of my Telegram 212, postponement most urgently desirable. Wilson believes he can obtain peace on the basis of our proposed equal rights of all nations. House told me again yesterday, that Wilson proposed to take action very shortly, for in view of our declaration regarding future Peace League, etc., he regards prospects of a Peace Conference as favorable."
In my efforts to avoid a breach with the United States, the President helped me to the extent of making a communication to the Senate on January 22nd, which he personally read to them in solemn session. In this communication, Mr. Wilson exhaustively developed his programme of a "Peace without Conquest." As the President officially communicated this proposal to all the belligerent Powers on the same day, it was to be regarded as a fresh and most solemn step towards peace. As, on the other hand, it is also a document which expresses most plainly Mr. Wilson's desires and mentions before his entry into the war, I quote it verbatim below. Those who read it to-day cannot help feeling that certainly no more scathing criticism of the Versailles Peace has ever been written,—a peace which contained all the signs of having been imposed upon the vanquished, and against which the President's communication was a warning.
"On the eighteenth of December last I addressed an identical note to the governments of the nations now at war requesting them to state, more definitely than they had yet been stated by either group of belligerents, the terms upon which they would deem it possible to make peace. I spoke on behalf of humanity and of the rights of all neutral nations like our own, many of whose most vital interests the war puts in constant jeopardy. The Central Powers united in a reply which stated merely that they were ready to meet their antagonists in conference to discuss terms of peace. The Entente Powers have replied much more definitely and have stated, in general terms, indeed, but with sufficient definiteness to imply details the arrangements, guarantees, and acts of reparation which they deem to be the indispensable conditions of a satisfactory settlement. We are that much nearer a definite discussion of the peace which shall end the present war. We are that much nearer the discussion of the international concert which must thereafter hold the world at peace. In every discussion of the peace that must end this war it is taken for granted that that peace must be followed by some definite concert of power which will make it virtually impossible that any such catastrophe should ever overwhelm us again. Every lover of mankind, every sane and thoughtful man must take that for granted.
"I have sought this opportunity to address you because I thought that I owed it to you, as the council associated with me in the final determination of our international obligations, to disclose to you without reserve the thought and purpose that have been taking form in my mind in regard to the duty of our Government in the days to come when it will be necessary to lay afresh and upon a new plan the foundations of peace among the nations.
"It is inconceivable that the people of the United States should play no part in that great enterprise. To take part in such a service will be the opportunity for which they have sought to prepare themselves by the very principles and purposes of their polity and the approved practices of their Government ever since the days when they set up a new nation in the high and honorable hope that it might in all that it was and did show mankind the way to liberty. They cannot in honor withhold the service to which they are now about to be challenged. They do not wish to withhold it. But they owe it to themselves and to the other nations of the world to state the conditions under which they will feel free to render it.
"That service is nothing less than this, to add their authority and their power to the authority and force of other nations to guarantee peace and justice throughout the world. Such a settlement cannot now be long postponed. It is right that before it comes this Government should frankly formulate the conditions upon which it would feel justified in asking our people to approve its formal and solemn adherence to a League for Peace. I am here to attempt to state those conditions.
"The present war must first be ended; but we owe it to candor and to a just regard for the opinion of mankind to say that, so far as our participation in guarantees of future peace is concerned, it makes a great deal of difference in what way and upon what terms it is ended. The treaties and agreements which bring it to an end must embody terms which will create a peace that is worth guaranteeing and preserving, a peace that will win the approval of mankind, not merely a peace that will serve the several interests and immediate aims of the nations engaged. We shall have no voice in determining what those terms shall be, but we shall, I feel sure, have a voice in determining whether they shall be made lasting or not by the guarantees of a universal covenant; and our judgment upon what is fundamental and essential as a condition precedent to permanency should be spoken now, not afterwards when it may be too late.
"No covenant of co-operative peace that does not include the peoples of the New World can suffice to keep the future safe against war; and yet there is only one sort of peace that the peoples of America could join in guaranteeing. The elements of that peace must be elements that engage the confidence and satisfy the principles of the American governments, elements consistent with their political faith and with the practical convictions which the peoples of America have once for all embraced and undertake to defend.
"I do not mean to say that any American government would throw any obstacle in the way of any terms of peace the governments now at war might agree upon, or seek to upset them when made, whatever they might be. I only take it for granted that mere terms of peace between the belligerents will not satisfy even the belligerents themselves. Mere agreements may not make peace secure. It will be absolutely necessary that a force be created as a guarantor of the permanency of the settlement so much greater than the force of any nation now engaged or any alliance hitherto formed or projected that no nation, no probable combination of nations could face or withstand it. If the peace presently to be made is to endure, it must be a peace made secure by the organized major force of mankind!
"The terms of the immediate peace agreed upon will determine whether it is a peace for which such a guarantee can be secured. The question upon which the whole future peace and policy of the world depends is this: Is the present war a struggle for a just and secure peace, or only for a new balance of power? If it be only a struggle for a new balance of power, who will guarantee, who can guarantee, the stable equilibrium of the new arrangement? Only a tranquil Europe can be a stable Europe. There must be, not a balance of power, but a community of power; not organized rivalries, but an organized common peace.
"Fortunately we have received very explicit assurances on this point. The statesmen of both of the groups of nations now arrayed against one another have said, in terms that could not be misinterpreted, that it was no part of the purpose they had in mind to crush their antagonists. But the implications of these assurances may not be equally clear to all,—may not be the same on both sides of the water. I think it will be serviceable if I attempt to set forth what we understand them to be.
"They imply, first of all, that it must be a peace without victory. It is not pleasant to say this. I beg that I may be permitted to put my own interpretation upon it and that it may be understood that no other interpretation was in my thought. I am seeking only to face realities and to face them without soft concealments. Victory would mean peace forced upon the loser, a victor's terms imposed upon the vanquished. It would be accepted in humiliation, under duress, at an intolerable sacrifice, and would leave a sting, a resentment, a bitter memory upon which terms of peace would rest, not permanently, but only as upon quicksand. Only a peace between equals can last. Only a peace the very principle of which is equality and a common participation in a common benefit. The right state of mind, the right feeling between nations, is as necessary for a lasting peace as is the just settlement of vexed questions of territory or of racial and national allegiance.
"The equality of nations upon which peace must be founded if it is to last must be an equality of rights; the guarantees exchanged must neither recognize nor imply a difference between big nations and small, between those that are powerful and those that are weak. Right must be based upon the common strength, not upon the individual strength, of the nations upon whose concert peace will depend. Equality of territory or of resources there of course cannot be; nor any other sort of equality not gained in the ordinary peaceful and legitimate development of the peoples themselves. But no one asks or expects anything more than an equality of rights. Mankind is looking now for freedom of life, not for equipoises of power.
"And there is a deeper thing involved than even equality of right among organized nations. No peace can last, or ought to last, which does not recognize and accept the principle that governments derive all their just powers from the consent of the governed, and that no right anywhere exists to hand peoples about from sovereignty to sovereignty as if they were property. I take it for granted, for instance, if I may venture upon a single example, that statesmen everywhere are agreed that there should be a united, independent, and autonomous Poland, and that henceforth inviolable security of life, of worship, and of industrial and social development should be guaranteed to all peoples who have lived hitherto under the power of governments devoted to a faith and purpose hostile to their own.
"I speak of this, not because of any desire to exalt an abstract political principle which has always been held very dear by those who have sought to build up liberty in America, but for the same reason that I have spoken of the other conditions of peace which seem to me clearly indispensable,—because I wish frankly to uncover realities. Any peace which does not recognize and accept this principle will inevitably be upset. It will not rest upon the affections or the convictions of mankind. The ferment of spirit of whole populations will fight subtly and constantly against it, and all the world will sympathize. The world can be at peace only if its life is stable, and there can be no stability where the will is in rebellion, where there is not tranquillity of spirit and a sense of justice, of freedom, and of right.
"So far as practicable, moreover, every great people now struggling towards a full development of its resources and of its powers should be assured a direct outlet to the great highways of the sea. Where this cannot be done by the cession of territory, it can no doubt be done by the neutralization of direct rights of way under the general guarantee which will assure the peace itself. With a right comity of arrangement no nation need be shut away from a free access to the open paths of the world's commerce.
"And the paths of the sea must alike in law and in fact be free. The freedom of the seas is the sine qua non of peace, equality, and co-operation. No doubt a somewhat radical reconsideration of many of the rules of international practice hitherto thought to be established may be necessary in order to make the seas indeed free and common in practically all circumstances for the use of mankind, but the motive for such changes is convincing and compelling. There can be no trust or intimacy between the peoples of the world without them. The free, constant, unthreatened intercourse of nations is an essential part of the process of peace and of development. It need not be difficult either to define or to secure the freedom of the seas if the governments of the world sincerely desire to come to an agreement concerning it.
"It is a problem closely connected with the limitation of naval armaments and the co-operation of the navies of the world in keeping the seas at once free and safe. And the question of limiting naval armaments opens the wider and perhaps more difficult question of the limitation of armies and of all programmes of military preparation. Difficult and delicate as these questions are, they must be faced with the utmost candor and decided in a spirit of real accommodation if peace is to come with healing in its wings, and come to stay. Peace cannot be had without concession and sacrifice. There can be no sense of safety and equality among the nations if great preponderating armaments are henceforth to continue here and there to be built up and maintained. The statesmen of the world must plan for peace and nations must adjust and accommodate their policy to it as they have planned for war and made ready for pitiless contest and rivalry. The question of armaments, whether on land or sea is the most immediately and intensely practical question connected with the future fortunes of nations and of mankind.