« AnteriorContinuar »
clared a naval war zone, shall not be sunk without warning and without saving human lives unless the ship attempts to escape or offer resistance.'
"But neutrals cannot expect that Germany, forced to fight for existence, shall, for the sake of neutral interests, restrict the use of an effective weapon if the enemy is permitted to continue to apply at will methods of warfare violating rules of international law. Such a demand would be incompatible with the character of neutrality, and the German Government is convinced that the Government of the United States does not think of making such a demand, knowing that the Government of the United States repeatedly declares that it is determined to restore the principle of freedom of the seas, from whatever quarter it has been violated.
"Accordingly, the German Government is confident, that in consequence of the new orders issued to the naval forces, the Government of the United States will also now consider all impediments removed which may have been in the way of a mutual cooperation toward restoration of the freedom of the seas during the war, as suggested in the note of July 23, 1915, and it does not doubt that the Government of the United States will now demand and insist that the British Government shall forthwith observe the rules of international law universally recognized before the war, as are laid down in the notes presented by the Government of the United States to the British Government, December 28, 1914, and Nov. 5, 1915.
“Should steps taken by the Government of the United States not attain the object it desires, to have the laws of humanity followed by all belligerent nations, the German Government would then be facing a new situation, in which it must reserve to itself complete liberty of decision."
The first feeling aroused by the German note, with its wounded tone and qualified compliance with the American demand, was one of irritation. But after closer study the President was willing to accept the German undertaking on probation, without taking a too liberal view of the phraseology employed, and to regard the intrusive strictures on the United States as intended
for German, not for American reading. The disposition was to be charitable and to take cognizance of the matter rather than the manner of Germany's backdown, and to wait and see if her government would live up in good faith to its new instructions to submarine commanders, without recognizing the impossible conditions imposed.
But in the country at large public opinion was less ready to interpret the German note except as it read textually. It was denounced in scathing language as shuffling, arrogant and offensive, or as insulting and dishonest. One paper deemed its terms to be a series of studied insults added to a long inventory of injuries. Said another, Germany's mood is still that of a madman. A third comment on the note described it as "a disingenuous effort to have international petty larceny put on the same plane as international murder and visited with the same punishment.” A fourth paper remarked: “If an American can read the note without his temples getting hot then his blood is poor or his understanding dense.” The weight of American press opinion was against Germany, especially in the South, and either called for the breaking of diplomatic relations or considered such a course inevitable.
For the United States even to contemplate, as Germany proposed, “an alliance between Germany and the United States to break a British blockade that Germany cannot break” was viewed as unthinkable. Intellectual dishonesty, characteristic of Germany in its attitude toward the world since the war began, and especially shown in negotiations with the United States, was seen in the effort to place upon Great Britain the responsibility for wrongs committed by Germany against the United States and in the renewed attempt to convict the American Government of lapses because it has not controlled Great Britain's sea policy. In fact, the attempt to dictate the American attitude to Great Britain in return for a promise to restrict submarine warfare was generally resented as an impertinence.
When all was said, however, the German reply, although having the appearance of being as little conciliatory as words could make it, did in fact yield to President Wilson on the main issue. The President, in considering this view, was guided by Ambassador Gerard's dispatches reporting his interview with the kaiser on the submarine crisis. The kaiser, he said, was animated by a keen desire that relations between the two Governments should continue amicable, but he felt that German public opinion must be considered in making concessions to the United States. From the kaiser's concern for popular approval the ambassador gathered that the German Government faced the necessity of so wording its answer to the United States that the German people would not feel that the Government had been forced to modify the rules under which submarines operated. The Administration received the impression that Germany would go to great length to avoid a rupture with the United States, and the German note must therefore be construed in the light of this feeling. The kaiser's views, as transmitted by the ambassador, tended to soften the irritating tone and language of the German note, and was not without effect on the President and cabinet when they determined to accept it provisionally.
The President decided to ignore the pointed suggestion of Germany that the United States should now seek to prevail on Great Britain to abandon her blockade of Germany. One source of irritation caused by the note was the statement that should the United States fail to raise the British embargo "the German Government would then be facing a new situation in which it must reserve to itself complete liberty of action.” The Administration had no intention of accepting any conditional compliance with its demand for the abandoning of illegal submarine war fare; but the opinion officially prevailed that this effort of Germany to lecture the United States as to its duty toward another nation might be overlooked in view of the accomplishment of the main object for which the Administration had been contending.
Nor would the Government heed Germany's proposal that it undertake the rôle of peacemaker in the absence of any indication that the Allied Powers were willing to respond to Germany's willingness to make peace-presumably on Germany's own terms.
The promises in the German note were accepted per se, and the qualifications and animadversions Germany attached to them ignored. This determined upon, the intimation was made plain to Germany that should another ship be sunk in contravention of her new pledge no exchange of notes would ensue, but a severance of diplomatic relations would automatically be effected by the forbidden act. German submarine commanders held in their hands the key to the situation. Any infraction of Germany's latest word would not call for a disavowal or punishment of the commander; the United States would merely act on the presumption that Germany could not or would not control her own naval forces. Berlin would not be consulted again.
The American response to the German note was sent three days later. It was brief, and swept aside the considerable debating ground Germany had invitingly spread to inveigle the United States into discussing mediation in the war. Its principal passage ran:
“Accepting the Imperial Government's declaration of its abandonment of the policy which has so seriously menaced the good relations between the two countries, the Government of the United States will rely upon a scrupulous execution henceforth of the now altered policy of the Imperial Government, such as will remove the principal danger to an interruption of the good relations existing between the United States and Germany.
“The Government of the United States feels it necessary to state that it takes it for granted that the Imperial German Gov. ernment does not intend to imply that the maintenance of its newly announced policy is in any way contingent upon the course or result of diplomatic negotiations between the Government of the United States and any other belligerent government, notwithstanding the fact that certain passages in the Imperial Government's note of the 4th instant might appear to be susceptible of that construction.
"In order, however, to avoid any possible misunderstanding, the Government of the United States notifies the Imperial Government that it cannot for a moment entertain, much less discuss, a suggestion that respect by German naval authorities for the rights of citizens of the United States upon the high seas should in any way or in the slightest degree be made contingent upon the conduct of any other government affecting the rights of neutrals and noncombatants. Responsibility in such matters is single, not joint; absolute, not relative."
Secretary Lansing, in a comment on this reply, said the German note was devoted to matters which the American Government could not discuss with the German Government. He took the ground, as the American reply indicated, that the only “questions of right” which could be discussed with the German Gov. ernment were those arising out of German or American action exclusively, not out of those questions which were the subject of diplomatic exchanges between the United States and any other country.
“So long as she (Germany) lives up to this altered policy,” he explained, "we can have no reason to quarrel with her on that score, though the losses resulting from the violation of American rights by German submarine commanders operating under the former policy will have to be settled.
“While our differences with Great Britain cannot form a subject of discussion with Germany, it should be stated that in our dealings with the British Government we are acting, as we are unquestionably bound to act, in view of the explicit treaty engagements with that Government. We have treaty obligations as to the manner in which matters in dispute between the two Governments are to be handled. We offered to assume mutually similar obligations with Germany, but the offer was declined."
Mr. Lansing's comment appeared to be more enlightening to German opinion than the official communication. But while the German was frankly puzzled by the American contentionholding that there was an intimate connection between England's "illegal blockade policy" and the submarine war
and wondered naïvely whether or not he was the simple victim of an American confidence game, or strongly suspected that he had been hoodwinked by President Wilson into parting with the effective submarine weapon, with no guarantee of getting any action against England in return, hard German common sense discerned