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THE SECOND "LUSITANIA” CRISIS
In Germany, and particularly before the Committee of the National Assembly, the American Government has been reproached with mala fides for having unnecessarily reopened the Lusitania question. The line of argument is approximately as follows:
After the settlement of the Arabic case one can suspect the obstinate harping on the Lusitania affair, which had really died down, as a sign of mala fides. Did the Americans want to secure a fresh diplomatic success against us? They had already carried their principle with the settlement of the Arabic case; was their object now to make a still greater splash? The continued possibility of a conflict with Germany—which was quite within practical politics if nothing intervened—made a very favorable background to make clear to American public opinion, in conjunction with a campaign on the same lines by Wilson himself, the following point: “We must get ourselves out of this situation pregnant with war by vindicating our right with both sides."
Apart from the fact that the negotiations on the Lusitania question had been allowed to hang fire for about six weeks I believe that in this case we have again underestimated the significance of hostile public opinion in America. The best way of making clear the situation in the United States will probably be for me to reproduce here the telegrams and reports in which I informed Berlin of the reopening of the Lusitania negotiations.
1. REPORT IN CIPHER
Washington, 23rd November, 1915. Secretary of State Lansing after long hesitation took up the Lusitania question again with me. At the beginning of October I had handed to him a draft of a letter which contained what I thought myself able to write to him within the scope of my instructions. This draft was merely intended to serve as a basis for more detailed negotiations and was only to be regarded as official in case the American Government should regard the whole incident as satisfactorily settled. There was nothing to be gained by stirring up public opinion again here by publishing documents which were regarded from the beginning as unsatisfactory.
As I have several times had the honor to report, there is, in my opinion, no hope of settling the Lusitania question, as the American Government does not think that it can agree to refer it to a court of arbitration now. They are, however, counting here on a decision at a later date by such a court, which would be sure to award the Americans an indemnity, because the Hague court of arbitration from its very nature is obliged to stand for the protection of neutral non-combatants. Consequently, Mr. Lansing cannot understand why we do not pay the indemnity of our own accord and so settle the whole matter, especially as, in view of our pledge for the future, it is of no practical importance to us. Mr. Lansing is primarily.concerned with the indemnity, whereas President Wilson now, as formerly, lays the chief weight on the pledge for the future and the humanitarian aspect of the question. Mr. Wilson always keeps his eye fixed on the two closely connected goals: the development of international law with regard to the freedom of the seas and the restoration of peace.
Mr. Lansing now reopens the Lusitania question for the following reasons, part of which he has himself openly stated, and the rest have become known to me through other channels. In the first place the Government is afraid of attacks in the impending Congress. It was, therefore, eminently desirable that it should be able to inform Congress that something had been done in the Lusitania affair. Even if nothing comes of it they could answer that they are waiting for a reply from Germany. President Wilson himself does not believe in the possibility of the question being solved, and hopes to keep the matter in the air until the conclusion of peace, provided that public opinion does not become restive or new eventualities occur. The Ancona affair has had an unfavorable effect in this respect. Even though it has not aroused any great excitement, it has caused the whole question to be reopened, and everyone on this side lays at our door the responsibility for the Austrian act; for they base their reasoning on the assumption that the war is directed entirely from Berlin. Whenever mention is made of the Ancona incident it recalls the fact that the Lusitania question still remains unsettled.
It is a well known fact that we are faced here with an anti-German ring of great influence. I have repeatedly pointed this out in my reports. This ring is trying to exploit the Ancona and Lusitania questions with a view to driving into the background the American Note to England and the British infringements of international law. The Government is treating this anti-German ring with the same weakness as are the majority of American private citizens. They are submitting patiently to terrorization as well as continual baiting and sneering. The recluse at the White House has, indeed, great plans, but his freedom of decision is seriously compromised by his anxiety to be re-elected. He refuses to allow himself to be drawn into too serious extravagances; and so he certainly deserves the credit for having prevented war with Germany, but he allows himself, nevertheless, to be influenced by the anti-German ring and hampered in the pursuit of his plans.
2. TELEGRAM IN CIPHER
“Washington, 2nd December, 1915. “The Government here have lost their nerve as a result of the impending Congress, the Hapag case, the Ancona incident, and the explosions and fires in munition and powder works, and like all private individuals here are allowing themselves to be terrorized by the anti-German ring. Hence the anxiety for the recall of Papen and Boy-Ed. The Government fear that Congress will take the above questions, as well as the Lusitania affair, into their own hands, and deal with them in more radical fashion than the Government. This is the reason for the present demand for the recall—which is intended to serve as a safety-valve-lest Congress should break off diplomatic relations with us. Whether there is any real danger of this happening it is difficult to say. Lansing thinks there is. In any case everything is possible in the present state of public feeling. They have not the courage to swim against the stream. Perhaps the recall of the attachés will still the storm for a time, as was the case with Dernburg and Dumba; meanwhile everything turns on the attitude of Congress, who, it is to be hoped, will not be anxious to declare war on us. Colonel House, who is a good reader of the barometer here, sees no danger. I, personally, also do not believe that Congress will decide to resort to extremes on one side,-i.e., without attacking England—for the breaking-off of diplomatic relations would certainly be quickly followed by war. .
“In any case it is my sacred duty to inform your Excellency that Congress may produce unpleasant surprises, and that we must, therefore, be prepared to do something with regard to the Lusitania question. How far we can approach the Lansing draft it is difficult to judge from here. It depends in the first place on the state of public opinion in Germany, for the matter has no further practical importance since we have pledged ourselves to spare passenger-ships.
“Hitherto my personal relations with the American Government have been so good that it was always possible to prevent the worst happening. Lansing volunteered yesterday to send this telegram. But if the matter once gets into the hands of Congress it will be much more difficult to exert influence, especially as nothing can be kept secret here. It is not yet possible to say when Congress will ask for the Lusitania documents, but it will probably be in a few weeks' time, provided that no diplomatic understanding can be reached meanwhile.”
3. REPORT IN CIPHER
“Washington, 7th December, 1915. “The action that Congress will take with regard to the Lusitania question is of primary importance for us. It is my opinion that President Wilson, when he asked for the recall of our two attachés, had the thought in the back of his mind that Congress would let the Lusitania question rest for a time, because relations with Germany are already sufficiently strained and only the rabid proEnglish want war. One cannot, however, count on anything now, because the anti-German ring are seeking to terrorize all who do not agree with them. The senators and members of Congress from the west are certainly more difficult to influence, as their constituents have only