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British sailors and officers boarding the captured U C-5 German mine-laying submarine.
The open grating shows one of the openings through which mines are laid
“In the event that differences of opinion should develop hereby between the two Governments, the German Government now declares itself ready to have the facts of the case established through mixed commissions of investigation, in accordance with the third title of 'The Hague agreement for the peaceful settlement of international conflicts, November 18, 1907.'”
In explanation of the sinking of the Manchester Engineer, the Englishman, and the Eagle Point, which vessels had Americans on board, the German note professed to be unable to say whether the first-named ship was attacked by a German submarine, but in the case of the two last-named they were attacked after attempting to escape and disregarding signals to stop.
The communication made the worst of impressions on the Washington Government. The clumsy prevarication of attempting to show that a steamer other than the Sussex had been torpedoed in the belief that it was a war vessel merely sufficed to complete the accumulating circumstantial evidence in the possession of the Government that the Sussex had been torpedoed by a German submarine without warning in violation of an express pledge. The Administration had become weary of Germany's protestations of innocence and good behavior, and of shallow excuses for breaking her word, and had lost faith in any German utterance. The cabinet view of the situation, as expressed at a meeting called the day following the receipt of the German note, was that a nation which would accept perjured affidavits as a basis for a note charging that the Lusitania was armed would not hesitate to enter a blanket denial of any act if perpetrated.
The tension created by Germany's unconvincing alibi caused alarm in Berlin, and government officials were reported as showing a nervous anxiety to strain every nerve to avoid a rupture with the United States. A loophole had been provided in the German note for a possible withdrawal of her denial of responsibility for the destruction of the Sussex as will be seen from this passage:
"Should the American Government have at its disposal further material for a conclusion upon the case of the Sussex the German
CC-War St. 5
Government would ask that it be communicated, in order to sub ect this material also to an investigation."
This saving clause gave the German note the aspect of a pre liminary to the usual backdown and to an admission of liability, with the palliating excuse of ignorance of the vessel's identity. At any rate signs were not wanting that Germany recognized, had she had a choice to make, with the American Government reenforced with clinching testimony, to be duly presented, that a German submarine and none other torpedoed the Sussex and jeopardized the lives of twenty-five Americans on board.
On April 19, 1916, President Wilson had the issue with Germany before Congress and addressed that body in person, solemnly informing the legislators that "a situation has arisen in the foreign relations of the country of which it is my plain duty to inform you very frankly." This he proceeded to do, speaking, he said, on behalf of the rights of the United States and its citizens and the rights of humanity in general. He announced that he had notified Germany that "unless the Imperial Government should now immediately declare and effect an abandonment of its present methods of submarine warfare against passenger and freight-carrying vessels, the Government of the United States can have no choice but to sever diplomatic relations with the German Empire altogether."
The President's address was more or less a paraphrase of the note he had that day sent to Berlin, and was in fulfillment of a promise he made to notify Congress of any action he took to bring Germany to realize the serious condition of her relations with the United States.
THE AMERICAN ULTIMATUM
THE American note was an indictment of Germany's con
scienceless practices and broken faith. Secretary Lansing informed the kaiser's advisers that their note denying any attack on the Sussex, but acknowledging that another vessel had been torpedoed under identical circumstances as to time, place, and result, confirmed the inferences the American Government had drawn from information it possessed establishing “the facts in the case of the Sussex."
A "statement of facts" relating to the Sussex accompanied the virtual American ultimatum. It set forth a chain of testimony, citing the source thereof, showing that the passengers of the Sussex, which included about twenty-four American citizens, were of several nationalities, many of them women and children, and half of them subjects of neutral states; that the Sussex carried no armament; that the vessel has never been employed as a troopship, but solely as a Channel ferryboat, and was following a route not used for transporting troops from Great Britain to France; that a torpedo was seen driving toward the vessel and the captain was unable to swing the vessel out of the torpedo's course; that on a subsequent inspection of the broken hull a number of pieces of metal were found which American, French, and British naval experts decided were not parts of a mine, but of a torpedo, with German markings, and were otherwise different from parts of torpedoes used by the French and British.
Regarding the sketch made by the German submarine commander of the steamer which he said he torpedoed, showing that it did not agree with a photograph of the Sussex as published, the American statement made this comment:
“This sketch was apparently made from memory of an observation of the vessel through a periscope. As the only dif