IN the autumn of 1914, the rush of getting the Americans out of Germany was over. The care of the British civilians was on a business basis and there were comparatively few camps of prisoners of war. Absolutely tired by working every day and until twelve at night, I went to Munich for a two weeks’ rest.
On February fourth, 1915, Germany announced that on February eighteenth the blockade of Great Britain through submarines would comm ence.
Some very peculiar and mysterious negotiations there-after ensued. About February eighth, an American who was very intimate with the members of the General Staff came to me with a statement that Germany desired peace and was ready to open negotiations to that end. It was, however, to be made a condition of these peace negotiations that this particular American should go to Paris and to Petrograd and inform the governments there of the overwhelming strength of the German armies and of their positions, which knowledge, it was said, he had obtained by personally visiting both the fronts. It was further intimated that von Tirpitz himself was anxious that peace should be concluded, possibly because of his fear that the proposed blockade would not be successful.
Of course, I informed the State Department of these mysterious manoeuvres.
I was taken by back stairways to a mysterious meeting with von Tirpitz at night in rooms in the Navy Department. When I was alone with him, however, he had nothing definite to say or to offer; if there was any opportunity at that time to make peace nothing came of it. It looked somewhat to me as if the whole idea had been to get this American to go to Paris and Petrograd, certify from his personal observation to the strength of the German armies and position, and thereby to assist in enticing one or both of these countries to desert the allied cause. All of this took place about ten days before the eighteenth of February, the time named for the announcement of the blockade of Great Britain.
Medals were struck having the head of von Tirpitz on one side and on the other the words “Gott strafe England,” and a picture of a sort of Neptune assisted by a sub-marine rising from the sea to blockade the distant British coast.
The Ambassador is supposed to have the right to demand an audience with the Kaiser at any time, and as there were matters connected with the treatment of prisoners as well as this coming submarine warfare which I wished to take up with him, I had on various occasions asked for an audience with him; on each occasion my request had been refused on some excuse or other, and I was not even permitted to go to the railway station to bid him good-bye on one occasion when he left for the front.
When our Military Attaché, Major Langhorne, left in March, 1915, he had a farewell audience with the Kaiser and I then asked him to say to the Kaiser that I had not seen him for so long a time that I had forgotten what he looked like. Langhorne reported to me that he had given his message to the Kaiser and that the Kaiser said, “I have nothing against Mr. Gerard personally, but I will not see the Ambassador of a country which furnishes arms and ammunition to the enemies of Germany.”
Before the departure of Langhorne, I had succeeded in getting Germany to agree that six American army officers might visit Germany as military observers. When they arrived, I presented them at the Foreign Office, etc., and they were taken on trips to the East and West fronts.
They were not allowed to see much, and their request to be attached to a particular unit was refused. Nearly everywhere they were subject to insulting remarks or treatment because of the shipment of munitions of war to the Allies from America; and finally after they had been subjected to deliberate insults at the hands of several German generals, Mackensen particularly distinguishing himself, the United States Government withdrew them from Germany.
Colonel (now General) Kuhn, however, who was of these observers, was appointed Military Attaché in place of Major Langhorne. Speaking German fluently and acting with great tact, he managed for a long time to keep sufficiently in the good graces of the Germans to be allowed to see something of the operations of the various fronts. There came a period in x916 when he was no longer invited to go on the various excursions made by the foreign military attaches and finally Major Nicolai, the general intelligence officer of the Great General Headquarters, sent for him early in the autumn of 1916, and informed him that he could no longer go to any of the fronts. Colonel Kuhn answered that he was aware of this already. Major Nicolai said that he gave him this information by direct order of General Ludendorf, that General Ludendorf had stated that he did not believe America could do more damage to Germany than she had done if the two countries were actually at war, and that he considered that, practically, America and Germany were engaged in hostilities. On this being reported to Washington, Colonel Kuhn was quite naturally recalled.
I cannot praise too highly the patience and tact shown by Colonel Kuhn in dealing with the Germans. Although accused in the German newspapers of being a spy, and otherwise attacked, he kept his temper and observed all that he could for the benefit of his own country. As he had had an opportunity to observe the Russian-Japanese war, his experiences at that time, coupled with his experiences in Germany, make him, perhaps, our greatest American expert on modern war.
It was with the greatest pleasure that I heard from Secretary Baker that he had determined to promote Colonel Kuhn to the rank of General and make him head of our War College, where his teachings will prove of the greatest value to the armies of the United States.
Colonel House and his wife arrived to pay us a visit on March 19, 1915, and remained until the twenty-eighth. During this period the Colonel met all the principal members of the German Government and many men of influence and prominence in the world of affairs, such as Herr von Gwinner, head of the Deutsche Bank, and Dr. Walter Rathenau, who succeeded his father as head of the Allgemeine Elektricitats Gesellschaft and hundreds of other corporations. The Colonel dined at the house of Dr. Solf, the Colonial Minister, and lunched with von Gwinner.
In April, negotiations were continued about the sinking of the William P. Frye, an American boat loaded with food and destined for Ireland. The American Government on behalf of the owners of the William P. Frye claimed damages for the boat. Nothing was said about the cargo, but in the German answer it was stated that the cargo of the William P. Frye consisting of foodstuffs destined for an armed port of the enemy and, therefore, presumed to be destined for the armed forces of the enemy was, because of this, contraband. I spoke to von Jagow about this and told him that I thought that possibly this would seem to amount to a German justification of the British blockade of Germany. He said that this note had been drawn by Director Kriege who was their expert on international law, and that he would not interfere with Kriege’s work. Of course, as a matter of fact, all food-stuffs shipped to Germany would have to be landed at some armed port, and, therefore,, according to the contentions of Germany, these would be supposed to be des-tined to the armed forces of the enemy and become contraband of war.
At international law, it had always been recognised that private individuals and corporations have the right to sell arms and ammunitions of war to any belligerent and, in the Hague Convention held in 1907, this right was expressly ratified and confirmed. This same Director Kriege who represented Germany at this Hague Conference in 1907, in the debates on this point said: “The neutral boats which engage in such a trade, commit a violation of the duties of neutrality. However, according to a principle generally recognised, the State of which the boat flies the flag is not responsible for this violation. The neutral States are not called upon to forbid their subjects a commerce which, from the point of view of the belligerents, ought to be considered as unlawful.” (Conférence International de la Paix, La Haye, 15 Juin 18 Octobre 1907. Vol. III, p. 859.)
During our trouble with General Huerta, arms and ammunition for Huerta’s forces from Germany were landed from German ships in Mexico. During the Boer war the Germans, who openly sympathised with the Boers, nevertheless furnished to Great Britain great quantities of arms and munitions, expressly destined to be used against the Boers; and this, although it was manifest that there was no possibility whatever that the Boers could obtain arms. and munitions from German sources during the war. For instance, the firm of Eberhardt in Düsseldorf furnished one hundred and nine cannon, complete, with wagons, caissons and munitions, etc., to the British which were expressly designed for use against the Boers.
At one time the Imperial Foreign Office sent me a formal note making reference to a paragraph in former Ambassador Andrew D. White’s autobiography with reference to the alleged stoppage in a German port of a boat laden with arms and ammunition, for use against the Americans in Cuba during the Spanish War. Of course, former Ambassador White wrote without having the Embassy records at hand and those records show that the position he took at the time of this alleged stoppage was eminently correct.
The files show that he wrote the letter to the State Department in which he stated that knowledge came to him of the proposed sailing of this ship, but he did not protest because he had been advised by a Naval Attaché that the United States did not have the right to interfere. The Department of State wrote to him commending his action in not filing any protest and otherwise interfering.
It seemed as if the German Government expressly de-sired to stir up hatred against America on this issue in order to force the American Government through fear of either the German Government, or the German-American propagandists at home, to put an immediate embargo on the export of these supplies.
In the autumn of 1914 Zimmermann showed me a long list sent him by Bernstorff showing quantities of saddles, automobiles, motor trucks, tires, explosives, foodstuffs and so on, exported from America to the Allies and intimated that this traffic had reached such proportions that it should be stopped.
In February, 1915, in the official Communique of the day appeared the following statement: “Heavy artillery fire in certain sections of the West front, mostly with American ammunition ;” and in April in the official Communiqué something to this effect: “Captured French artillery officers say that they have great stores of American ammunition.” I obtain through the State Department in Washington a statement from the French Ambassador certifying that up to that time, the end of April, 1915, no shells whatever of the French artillery had been furnished from America.
Nothing, however, would satisfy the Germans. They seemed determined that the export of every article, whether of food or munitions which might prove of use to the Allies in the war, should be stopped. Newspapers were filled with bitter attacks upon America and upon President Wilson, and with caricatures referring to the sale of munitions.
It never seemed to occur to the Germans that we could not violate the Hague Convention in order to change the rules of the game because one party, after the commencement of hostilities, found that the rule worked to his disadvantage. Nor did the Germans consider that America could not vary its international law with the changing fortunes of war and make one ruling when the Germans lost control of the sea and another ruling if they regained it.
From early in 1915 until I left Germany, I do not think I ever had a conversation with a German without his alluding to this question. Shortly before leaving Germany, in January, 1917, and after I had learned of the probability of the resumption of ruthless submarine war, at an evening party at the house of Dr. Solf, the Colonial Minister, a large German who turned out to be one of the Grand Dukes of ,Mecklenburg-Schwerin, planted himself some distance away from me and ad-dressed me in German saying, “You are the American Ambassador and I want to tell you that the conduct of America in furnishing arms and ammunition to the enemies of Germany is stamped deep on the German heart, that we will never forget it and will some day have our revenge.” He spoke in a voice So loud and slapped his chest so hard that every one in he room stopped their conversation in order to hear. He wore on his breast the orders of the Black Eagle, the Red Eagle, the Elephant and the Seraphim, and when he struck all this menagerie the rattle alone was quite loud. I reminded him politely of the Hague Convention, of the fact that we could not change international law from time to time with the change in the situation of the war, and that Germany had furnished arms to England to use against the Boers. But he simply answered, “We care nothing for treaties,” and my answer, “That is what they all say,” was a retort too obvious to be omitted.
The German press continually published articles to the effect that the war would be finished if it were not for the shipment of supplies from America. All public opinion was with the German Government when the warning was issued on February fourth, 1915, stating that the blockade of Great Britain would commence on the eighteenth and warning neutral ships to keep out of the war zone. From then on we had constant cases and crises with reference to the sinking of American boats by the German submarine. There were the cases of the Gulf flight and the Cushing and the Falaba, a British boat sunk without warning on which Americans were killed.
On May sixth, 1915, Director Kriege of the Foreign Office asked Mr. Jackson to call and see him, and told him that he would like to have the following three points brought to the attention of the American public:
“1. As the result of the English effort to stop all foreign commerce with Germany, Germany would do everything in her power to destroy English commerce and merchant shipping. There was, however, never at any time an intention to destroy or interfere with neutral commerce or to attack neutral shipping unless engaged in contraband trade. In view of the action of the British Government in arming merchant vessels and causing them to disguise their national character, the occasional destruction of a neutral ship was unavoidable. Naval officers in command of submarines had been instructed originally, and new and more stringent instructions had been issued repeatedly, to use the utmost care, consistent with their own safety, to avoid attacks on neutral vessels.
“2. In case a neutral ship should be destroyed by a submarine the German Government is prepared to make an immediate and formal expression of its regret and to pay an indemnity, without having recourse to a prize court.
“3. All reports with regard w the destruction of a neutral vessel by a German submarine are investigated at once by both the German Foreign Office and Admiralty, and the result is communicated to the Government concerned, which is requested in return to communicate to the German Government the result of its own independent investigation. Where there is any material divergence in the two reports as to the presumed cause of destruction (torpedo or mine), the question is to be submitted to investigation by a commission composed of representatives of the two nations concerned, with a neutral arbiter whose decision will be final. This course has already been adopted in two cases, in which a Dutch and a Norwegian vessel, respectively, were concerned. The German Government reserves its right to refuse this international arbitration in exceptional cases where for military reasons the German Admiralty are opposed to its taking place.”
Director Kriege told Mr. Jackson that a written communication in which the substance of the foregoing would be contained, would soon be made to the Embassy.
Mr. Jackson put this conversation down in the form above given and showed Director Kriege a copy of it.
Later in the day Geheimrat Simon called on Mr. Jackson at the Embassy and said that Dr. Kriege would like to have point two read as follows :
“In case through any unfortunate mistake a neutral ship,” and continuing to the end; and that Dr. Kriege would like to change what was written on point three beginning with “Where there is” so that it should read, as follows :”Where there is any material divergence in the two reports as to the presumed cause of destruction (torpedo or mine), the German Government has already in several instances declared its readiness to submit the question to the decision of an international commission in accordance with the Hague Convention for the friendly settlement of international disputes.”
This had been suggested by Director Kriege in case it should be decided to make a communication to the American Press. Mr. Jackson told Geheimrat Simon that he would report the subject of his conversation to me, but that it would depend upon me whether any communication should be made to the American Government or to the press upon the subject.
Of course, the news of the torpedoing of the Lusitania on May seventh and of the great loss of American lives brought about a very critical situation, and naturally nothing was done with Kriege’s propositions.
It is unnecessary here for me to go into the notes which were exchanged between the two governments because all that is already public property.
Sometime after I had delivered our first Lusitania Note of May 11 th, 1915, Zimmermann was lunching with us. A good looking American woman, married to a German, was also of the party and after lunch although I was talking to some one else I overheard part of her conversation with Zimmermann. When Zimmermann left I asked her what it was that he had said about America, Germany, Mr. Bryan and the Lusitania. She then told me that she had said to Zimmermann that it was a great pity that we were to leave Berlin as it looked as if diplomatic relations between the two, countries would be broken, and that Zimmermann told her not to worry about that because they had just received word from the Austrian Government that Dr. Dumba, the Austrian Ambassador in Washington, had cabled that the Lusitania Note from America to Germany was only sent as a stop to public opinion in America and that the government did not really mean what was said in that note. I then called on Zimmermann at the Foreign Office and he showed me Dumba’s telegram which was substantially as stated above. Of course, I immediately cabled to the State Department and also got word to President Wilson. The rest of the incident is public property. I, of course, did not know what actually occurred between Mr. Bryan and Dr. Dumba, but I am sure that Dr. Dumba must have misunderstood friendly statements made by Mr. Bryan.
It was very lucky that I discovered the existence of this Dumba cablegram in this manner which savours almost of diplomacy as represented on the stage. If the Germans had gone on in the belief that the Lusitania Note was not really meant, war would have inevitably resulted at that time between Germany and America, and it shows how great events may be shaped by heavy luncheons and a pretty woman.
Before this time much indignation had been caused in Germany by the fact that the Lusitania on her eastward voyage from New York early in February, 1915, had raised the American flag when nearing British waters.
Shortly after this incident had become known, I was at the Wintergarten, a large concert hall in Berlin, with Grant Smith, First Secretary of the Embassy at Vienna and other members of my staff. We naturally spoke English among ourselves, a fact which aroused the ire of a German who had been drinking heavily and who was seated in the next box. He immediately began to call out that some one was speaking English and when told by one of the attendants that it was the American Ambassador, he immediately cried in a loud voice that Americans were even worse than English and that the Lusitania had been flying the American flag as protection in British waters.
The audience, however, took sides against him and told him to s ut up and as I left the house at the close of the performance, some Germans spoke to me and apologised for his conduct. The next day the manager of the Wintergarten called on me also to express his regret for the occurrence.
About a year afterwards I was at the races one day and saw this man and asked him what he meant by making such a noise at the Wintergarten. He immediately apologised and said that he had been drinking and hoped that I would forget the incident. This was the only incident o the kind which occurred to me during all the time that I was in Germany.
Both before and after the sinking of the Lusitania, the German Foreign Office put forward all kinds of proposals with reference to American ships in the war zone. On one afternoon, Zimmermann, who had a number of these proposals drafted in German, showed them to me and I wrote down the English translation for him to see how it would look in English. These proposals were about the sailing from America of what might be called certified ships, th ships to be painted and striped in a distinctive way, to c me from certified ports at certain certified times, America to agree that these ships should carry no contraband whatever. All these proposals were sternly rejected by the President.
On February sixteenth, the German answer to our note of February tenth had announced that Germany declined all responsibility for what might happen to neutral ships and, in addition, announced that mines would be allowed in waters surrounding Great Britain and Ireland. This note also contained one of Zimmermann’s proposed solutions, namely, that American warships should convoy American merchantmen.
The German note of the sixteenth also spoke about the great traffic in munitions from the United States to the Allies, and contained a suggestion that the United States should induce the Allies to adopt the Declaration of London and admit the importation not only of food but also of all raw materials into Germany.
February twentieth was the date of the conciliatory note addressed by President Wilson to both Great Britain and Germany; and contained the suggestion that sub-marines should not be employed against merchant vessels of any nationality and that food should be allowed to go through for the civil population of Germany consigned to the agencies named by the United States in Germany, which were to see that the food was received and distributed to the civil population.
In the meantime the mines on the German coast had destroyed two American ships, both loaded with cotton for Germany; one called the Carib and the other the Evelyn.
In America, Congress refused to pass a law to put it in the power of the President to place an embargo on the export of munitions of war.
In April, Count Bernstorff delivered his note concerning the alleged want of neutrality of the United States, referring to the numerous new industries in war materials being built up in the United States, stating, “In reality the United States is supplying only Germany’s enemies, a fact which is not in any way modified by the theoretical willingness to furnish Germany as well.”
To this note, Secretary Bryan in a note replied that it was impossible, in view of the indisputable doctrines of accepte international law, to make any change in our own la s of neutrality which meant unequally affecting, during he progress of the war, the relations of the United States with the various nations at war; and that the placing of embargoes on the trade in arms which constituted such a change would be a direct violation of the neutrality of the United’ States.
But all these negotiations, reproaches and recriminations were put an end to by the torpedoing of the Lusitania, with the killing of American women and civilians who were passengers on that vessel.
I believed myself that we would immediately break diplomatic relations, and prepared to leave Germany. On May eleventh, I delivered to von Jagow the Lusitania Note, which after calling attention to the cases of the sinking of American boats, ending with the Lusitania, contained the statement, “The Imperial German Government will not expect the Government of the United States to omit any word or any act necessary to the sacred duty of maintaining the rights of the United States and its citizens and of safeguarding their free exercises and enjoyments.”
During this period I had constant conversations with von Jagow and Zimmermann, and it was during the conversations about this submarine warfare that Zimmermann on one occasion said to me: “The United States does not dare to do anything against Germany because we have five hundred thousand German reservists in America who will rise in arms against your government if your government should dare to take any action against Germany.” As he said this, he worked himself up to a passion and repeatedly struck the table with his fist. I told him that we had five hundred and one thousand lamp posts in America, and that was where the German reservists would find themselves if they tried any uprising; and I also called his attention to the fact that no German-Americans making use of the American passports which they could easily obtain, were sailing for Germany by way of Scandinavian countries in order to enlist in the German army. I told him that if he could show me one person with an American passport who had come to fight in the German army I might more readily believe what he said about the Germans in America rising in revolution.
As a matter of fact, during the whole course of the war, I knew of only one man with American citizenship who enlisted in the German army. This was an American student then in Germany who enlisted in a German regiment. His father, a business man in New York, cabled me asking me to have his son released from the German army; so I procured the discharge of the young man who immediately wrote to me and informed me that he was over twenty-one, and that he could not see what business his father had to interfere with his military ambitions. I thereupon withdrew my request with reference to him, but he had already been discharged from the army. When his regiment went to the West front he stowed away on the cars with it, was present at the at-tack on Ypres, and was shot through the body. He re-covered in a German hospital, received the Iron Cross, was discharged and sailed for America. What has since become of him I do not know.
I do not intend to go in great detail into this ex-change of notes and the public history of the submarine controversy, as all that properly belongs to the history of the war rather than to an account of my personal experiences; and besides, as Victor Hugo said, “History is not written with a microscope.” All will remember the answer of Germany to the American Lusitania Note, which answer, delivered on May twenty-ninth, contained the charge that the Lusitania was armed and carried munitions, and had been used in the transport of Canadian troops. In the meantime, however, the American ship, Nebraskan, had been torpedoed off the coast of Ireland on the twenty-sixth; and, on May twenty-eighth, Germany stated that the American steamer, Gulf flight, had been torpedoed by mistake, and apologised for this act.
Von Jagow gave me, about the same time, a Note requesting that American vessels should be more plainly marked land should illuminate their marking at night.
The second American Lusitania Note was published on June eleventh, 1915; and its delivery was coincident with the, resignation of Mr. Bryan as Secretary of State. In this last Note President Wilson (for, of course, it is an open secret that he was the author of these Notes) made the issue perfectly plain, referring to the torpedoing of enemy passenger ships. “Only her actual resistance to capture or refusal to stop when ordered to do so for the purpose of visit could have afforded the commander of the submarine any justification for so much as putting t e lives of those on board the ship in jeopardy.” On July eighth the German answer to this American Lusitania Note was delivered, and again stated that “we have been obliged to adopt a submarine war to meet the declare& intentions of our enemies and the method of warfare adopted by them in contravention of international law.” Again referring to the alleged fact of the Lusitania’s carrying munitions they said: “If the Lusitania had been spared, thousands of cases of munitions would have been sent to Germany’s enemies and thereby thou-sands of German mothers and children robbed of bread-winners.” The Note then contained some of Zimmermann’s favourite proposals, to the effect that German submarine commanders would be instructed to permit the passage of American steamers marked in a special way and of whose sailing they had been notified in advance, provided that the American Government guaranteed that these vessels did not carry contraband of was. It was also suggested that a number of neutral vessels should be added to those sailing under the American flag, to give greater opportunity for those Americans who were compelled to travel abroad, and the Note’s most important part continued: “In particular the Imperial Government is unable to admit that the American citizens can protect an enemy ship by mere fact of their presence on board.”
July twenty-first, the American Government rejected the proposals of Germany saying, “The lives of noncombatants may in no case be put in jeopardy unless the vessel resists or seeks to escape after being summoned to submit to examination,” and disposed of the claim that the acts of Great Britain gave Germany the right to retaliate, even though American citizens should be deprived of their lives in the course of retaliation by stating: “For a belligerent act of retaliation is per se an act beyond the law, and the defense, of an act as retaliatory, is an admission that it is illegal.” Continuing it said: “If a belligerent cannot retaliate against an enemy without injuring the lives of neutrals, as well as their property, humanity, as well as justice and a due regard for the dignity of neutral powers, should dictate that the practice be discontinued.”
It was also said: “The United States cannot believe that the Imperial Government will longer refrain from disavowing the wanton act of its naval commander in sinking the Lusitania or from offering reparation for the American lives lost, so far as reparation can be made for the needless destruction of human life by an illegal act.” And the meat of the Note was contained in the following sentence. “Friendship itself prompts it (the United States) to say to the Imperial Government that repetition by the commanders of German naval vessels of acts in contravention of those rights must be regarded by the Government of the United States, when they affect American citizens, as being deliberately unfriendly.”
There the matter has remained so far as the Lusitania was concerned until now. In the meantime, the attack of the American ship, Nebraskan, was disavowed; the German Note stating that “the torpedo was not meant for the American flag and is to be considered an unfortunate accident.”
The diplomatic situation with regard to the use of the submarine and the attack on many merchant ships without notice and without putting the passengers in safety was still unsettled when on August nineteenth, 1915, the British ship Arabic, was torpedoed, without warning, not far from the place where the Lusitania had gone down. Two Americans were among the passengers killed.
The German Government, after the usual quibbling, at length, in its Note of September seventh, claimed that the Captain of the German submarine, while engaged in preparing to sink the Dunsley, became convinced that the approaching Arabic was trying to ram him and, therefore, fired his torpedo. The Imperial Government re-fused to admit any liability but offered to arbitrate.
There followed almost immediately the case of the Ancona, sunk by a submarine flying the Austrian flag. This case was naturally out of my jurisdiction, but formed a link in the chain, and then came the sinking of the Persia in the Mediterranean. On this boat our consul to Aden lost his life.
In the Note of Count Bernstorff to Secretary Lansing, dated September first, 1915, Count Bernstorff said that liners would not be sunk by German submarines without warning, and without putting the passengers in safety, provided that the liners did not try to escape or offer resistance ; and it was further stated that this policy was in effect before the sinking of the Arabic.
There were long negotiations during this period concerning the Arabic. At one time it looked as if diplomatic relations would be broken; but finally the Imperial Government consented to acknowledge that the submarine commander had been wrong in assuming that the Arabic intended to ram his boat, offered to pay an indemnity and disavowed the act of the commander. It was stated that orders so precise had been given to the submarine commanders that a “recurrence of incidents similar to the Arabic is considered out of the question.”
In the same way the Austrian Government gave way to the demands of America in the Ancona case at the end of December, 1915. Ambassador Penfield, in Austria, won great praise by his admirable handling of this case.
The negotiations as to the still pending Lusitania case were carried on in Washington by Count Bernstorff and Secretary Lansing, and finally Germany offered to pay an indemnity for the death of the Americans on the Lusitania whose deaths Germany “greatly regretted,” but re-fused to disavow the act of the submarine commander in sinking the Lusitania or to admit that such act was illegal.
About this time our State Department sent out a Note proposing in effect that submarines should conform to “cruiser” warfare, only sinking a vessel which defended itself or tried to escape, and that before sinking a vessel its passengers and crew should be placed in safety; and that, on the other hand, merchant vessels of belligerent nationality should be prohibited from carrying any armaments whatever. This suggestion was not followed up.
Zimmermann (not the one in the Foreign Office) wrote an article in the Lokal Anzeiger of which he is an editor, saying that the United States had something on their side in the question of the export of munitions. I heard that von Kessel, commander of the Mark of Brandenburg said that he, Zimmermann, ought to be shot as a traitor. Zimmermann hearing of this made von Kessel apologise, but was shortly afterwards mobilised.
Colonel House had arrived in Germany at the end of January, 1916, and remained only three days. He was quite worried by the situation and by an interview he had had with Zimmermann in which Zimmermann expressed the readiness of Germany to go to war with the United States.
In February, 1916, the Junkers in the Prussian Lower House started a fight against von Bethmann-Hollweg and discussed submarine war, a matter out of their province. The Chan cellor hit back at them hard and had the best of the exchange. At this period it was reported that the Emperor went to Wilhelmshafen to warn the submarine commanders to be careful.
About March first it was reported that a grand council of war was held at Charleville and that in spite of the support of von Tirpitz by Falkenhayn, the Chief of Staff, von Bethmann-Hollweg was supported by the Emperor, and once more beat the propositions to recommence ruthless submarine war.
In March too, the “illness” of von Tirpitz was announced, followed shortly by his resignation. On March nineteenth, his birthday, a demonstration was looked for and I saw many police near his dwelling, but nothing unusual occurred.
I contemplated a trip to America, but both von weg and von Jagow begged me not to go.
From the time of the Lusitania sinking to that of the Sussex a 1 Germany was divided into two camps. The party of the Chancellor tried to keep peace with America and did not want to have Germany branded as an out-law among nations. Von Tirpitz and his party of naval and military officers called for ruthless submarine war, and the Conservatives, angry with Bethmann-Hollweg because of his proposed concession as to the extension of the suffrage, joined the opposition. The reception of our last Lusitania Note in July, 1915, was hostile and I was accused of being against Germany, although, of course, I had nothing to do with the preparation of this Note.
In August, 1915, the deputies representing the great industrials of Germany joined in the attack on the Chancellor. These men wished to keep Northern France and Belgium, because they hoped to get possession of the coal and iron deposits there and so obtain a monopoly of the iron and steel trade of the continent. Accelerators of public opinion, undoubtedly hired by the Krupp firm, were hard at work. These Annexationists were opposed by the more reasonable men who signed a petition against the annexation of Belgium. Among the signers of this reasonable men’s petition were Prince Hatzfeld (Duke of Trachenberg) head of the Red Cross, Dernburg, Prince Henkel Donnersmarck, Professor Delbrück, von Harnack and many others.
The rage of the Conservatives at the Arabic settlement knew no bounds, and after a bitter article had appeared in the Tageszeitung about the Arabic affair, that newspaper was suppressed for some days, a rather unexpected showing of backbone on the part of von Bethmann-Hollweg. Reventlow who wrote for this newspaper is one of the ablest editorial writers in Germany. An ex-naval officer, he is bitter in his hatred of America. It was said that he once lived in America and lost a small fortune in a Florida orange grove, but I never succeeded in having this verified.
In November, 1915, after the Arabic settlement there followed a moment for us of comparative calm. Mrs. Gerard was given the Red Cross Orders of the first and third classes, and Jackson and Rives of the Embassy Staff the second and third class. The third class is always given because one cannot have the first and second unless one has the third or lowest.
There were rumours at this time of the formation of a new party; really the Socialists and Liberals, as the Socialists, as such were too unfashionable, in too bad odour, to )open a campaign against the military under their own name. This talk came to nothing.
Von Bethmann-Hollweg always complained bitterly that he could not communicate in cipher via wireless with von Bernstorff. On one occasion he said to me, “How can I arrange as I wish to in a friendly way the Ancona and Lusitania cases if I cannot communicate with my Ambassador? Why does the United States Government not allow me to communicate in cipher?” I said, “The Foreign Office tried to get me to procure a safe-conduct for the notorious von Rintelen on the pretense that he was going to do charitable work for Belgium in America; perhaps Washington thinks you want to communicate with people like that.” The Chancellor then changed the subject a d said that there would be bad feeling in Germany against America after the war. I answered that that idea had been expressed by a great many Germans and German newspapers, and that I had had private letters from a great many Americans who wrote that if Germany intended to make war on America, after this war, perhaps we had better go in now. He then very amiably said that war with America would be ridiculous. He asked) me why public opinion in America was against Germany, and I answered that matters like the Cavell case had ade a bad impression in America and that I knew pers onally that even the Kaiser did not approve of the torpedoing of the Lusitania. Von Bethmann-Hollweg said, “How about the Baralong?” I replied that I did not know the details and that there seemed much doubt ant. confusion about that affair, but that there was no doubt about the fact that Miss Cavell was shot and that she as a woman. I then took up in detail with him the treatment of British prisoners and said that this bad treatment could not go on, This was only one of the many times when I complained to the Chancellor about the condition of prisoners. I am sure that he did not approve of the manner in which prisoners of war in Germany were treated; but he always complained that he was powerless where the military were concerned, and always referred me to Bismarck’s memoirs.
During this winter of submarine controversy an interview with von Tirpitz, thinly veiled as an interview with a “high naval authority,” was published in that usually most conservative of newspapers, the Frankfurter Zei-tung. In this interview the “high naval authority” advocated ruthless submarine war with England, and promised to bring about thereby the speedy surrender of that country. After the surrender, which was to include the whole British fleet, the German fleet with the surrendered British fleet added to its force, was to sail for America, and exact from that country indemnities enough to pay the whole cost of the war.
After his fall, von Tirpitz, in a letter to some admirers who had sent him verses and a wreath, advocated holding the coast of Flanders as a necessity for the war against England and America.
The successor of von Tirpitz was Admiral von Holtzendorff, whose brother is Ballin’s right hand man in, the management of the Hamburg American Line. Be cause of the more reasonable influence and surroundings of von Holtzendorff, I regarded his appointment as a help towards peaceful relations between Germany and America.
I have told in another chapter how the Emperor had refused to receive me as Ambassador of a country which was supplying munitions to the Allies.
From time to time since I learned of this in March, 1915, I kept insisting upon my right as Ambassador to be received by the Emperor; and finally early in October, 1915, wrote the following letter to the Chancellor:
Some time ago I requested you to arrange an audience for me with his majesty.
Please take no further trouble about this matter.
JAMES W. GERARD.”
This seemed to have the desired effect. I was informed that I would be received by the Emperor in the new palace at Potsdam on October twenty-second. He was then to pay a flying visit to Berlin to receive the new Peruvian Minister and one or two others. We went down in the train to Potsdam, von Jagow accompanying us, in the morning; and it was arranged that we should return or the train leaving Potsdam a little after one o’clock. I think that the authorities of the palace expected that I would be with the Emperor for a few minutes only, as when I was shown into the room where he was, a large room opening from the famous shell hall of the palace, the Peruvian Minister and the others to be received were standing waiting in that hall.
The Emperor was alone in the room and no one was present at our interview. He was dressed in a Hussar uniform of the new field grey, the parade uniform of which the frogs and trimmings were of gold. A large table in the corner of the room was covered with maps, compasses, scales and rulers; and looked as if the Emperor there, in company with some of his aides, or possibly the chief of staff, had been working out the plan of campaign of the German armies.
The Emperor was standing; so, naturally, I stood also, and according to his habit, which is quite Rooseveltian, he stood very close to me and talked very earnestly. I was fortunately able to clear up two distinct points which he had against America.
The Emperor said that he had read in a German paper that a number of submarines built in America for Great Britain had crossed the Atlantic to England, escorted by ships of the American Navy. I was, of course, able to deny this ridiculous story at the time and furnish definite proofs later. The Emperor complained because a loan to Great Britain and France had been floated in America. I said that the first loan to a belligerent floated in America was a loan to Germany. The Emperor sent for some of his staff and immediately inquired into the matter. The members of the staff confirmed my statement. The Emperor said that he would not have permitted the torpedoing of the Lusitania if he had known, and that no gentleman would kill so many women and children. He showed, however, great bitterness against the United States and repeatedly said, “America had better look out after this war;” and “I shall stand no nonsense from America after the war.”
The interview lasted about an hour and a quarter, and when I finally emerged from the room the officers of the Emperor’s household were in such a state of agitation that I feel sure they must have thought that something fearful had occurred. As I walked rapidly towards the door of the palace in order to take the carriage which was to drive me to the train, one of them walked along beside me saying, “Is it all right? Is it all right?”
The unfortunate diplomats who were to have been received and who had been standing all this time outside the door waiting for an audience missed their train and their luncheon.
At this interview, the Emperor looked very careworn and seemed nervous. When I next saw him, however, which was not until the end of April, 1916, he was in much better condition.
I was so fearful in reporting the dangerous part of this interview, on account of the many spies not only in my own Embassy but also in the State Department, that I sent b t a very few words in a roundabout way by courier direct to the President.
The year, 1916, opened with this great question still unsettled and, in effect, Germany gave notice that after March fist, 1916, the German submarines would sink all armed merchantmen of the enemies of Germany without warning. It is not my place here to go into the agitation of this question in America or into the history of the votes in Congress, which in fact upheld the policy of the President. A proposal as to armed merchantmen was issued by our State Department and the position taken in this was apparently abandoned at the time of the settlement of the Sussex case to which I now refer.
In the latter half of March, 1916, a number of boats having Americans on board were torpedoed without warning. These boats were the Eaglepoint, the Englishman, the Manc hester Engineer and the Sussex. One American was killed or drowned on the Englishman, but the issue finally came to a head over the torpedoing of the channel passenger boat, Sussex, which carried passengers between Folkstone and Dieppe, France.
On March twenty-fourth the Sussex was torpedoed near the coast of France. Four hundred and thirty-six persons, of whom seventy-five were Americans, were on board. he captain and a number of the passengers saw the torpedo and an endeavour was made to avoid it. After the boat w s struck the many passengers took to the boats. Three Americans were injured and over forty persons lost their ives, although the boat was not sunk but was towed to Boulogne.
I was instructed to inquire from the German Government as t whether a German submarine had sunk the Sussex. The Foreign Office finally, at my repeated request, called on the Admiralty for a report of the torpedoing of the Sussex; and at last on the tenth of April the German Note was delivered to me. In the meantime, and before the delivery of this Note I had been assured again and again that the Sussex had not been torpedoed by a German submarine. In this Note a rough sketch was enclosed, said to have been made by the officer commanding the submarine, of a vessel which he admitted he had torpedoed, in the same locality where the Sussex had been attacked and at about the same time of day. It was said that this boat which was torpedoed was a mine layer of the recently built Arabic class and that a great explosion which was observed to occur in the torpedoed ship war-ranted the certain conclusion that great amounts of munitions were on board. The Note concluded: “The German Government must therefore assume that injury to the Sussex was attributable to another cause than attack by a German submarine.” The Note contained an offer to submit any difference of opinion that might develop to be investigated by a mixed commission in accordance with the Hague Convention of 1907. The Englishman and the Eaglepoint, it was claimed, were attacked by German submarines only after they had attempted to escape, and an explanation was given as to the Manchester Engineer. With reference to the Sussex, the note continued: “Should the American Government have at its disposal other material at the conclusion of the case of the Sussex, the German Government would ask that it be communicated, in order to subject this material also to investigation.”
In the meantime, American naval officers, etc., had been engaged in collecting facts as to the sinking of the Sussex, and this evidence, which seemed overwhelming and, in connection with the admissions in the German note, absolutely conclusive, was incorporated in the note sent to Germany in which Germany was notified: “Unless the Imperial Government should now immediately declare and effect abandonment of this present method. of submarine warfare against passenger and freight carrying vessels, tie Government of the United States can have no choice but to sever diplomatic relations with the German Empire altogether.
The issue was now clearly defined.
I have already spoken of the fact that for a long time there had been growing up two parties in Germany. One party headed by von Tirpitz in favour of what the Germans called rücksichtloser, or ruthless submarine war, in which all enemy merchant ships were to be sunk without warning, and the party then headed by the Chancellor which desired to avoid a conflict with America on this issue.
As I Save explained in a former chapter, the military have always claimed to take a hand in shaping the destinies and foreign policies of Germany. When the Germans began to turn their attention to the creation of a fleet, von Tirpitz was the man who, in a sense, became the leader of the movement and, therefore, the creator of the modern navy of Germany. A skilful politician, he for years dominated the Reichstag and on the question of submarine warfare was most efficiently seconded by the efforts of the Navy League, an organisation having perhaps on million members throughout Germany. Al-though only one of the three heads of the Navy (he was Secretary of the Navy), by the force of his personality, by the political position which he had created for himself, and by the backing of his friends in the Navy League he really dominated the other two departments of the navy, the Marine Staff and the Marine Cabinet.
Like most Germans of the ruling class, ambition is his only passion. These Spartans do not care either for money or for the luxury which it brings. Their life is on very simple lines, both in the Army and Navy, in order that the officers shall not vie with one another in expenditure, and in order that the poorer officers and their wives shall not be subject to the humiliation which would be caused if they had to live in constant contact with brother officers living on a more luxurious footing.
Von Tirpitz’ ambition undoubtedly led him to consider himself as a promising candidate for Bethmann-Hollweg’s shoes. The whole submarine issue, therefore, became not only a question of military expediency and a question for the Foreign Office to decide in connection with the relations of America to Germany, but also a question of internal politics, a means of forcing the Chancellor out of office. The advocates for the ruthless war were drawn from the Navy and from the Army, and those who believed in the use of any means of offence against their enemies and particularly in the use of any means that would stop the shipment of munitions of war to the Allies. The Army and the Navy were joined by the Conservatives and by all those who hoped for the fall of the Chancellor. The conservative newspapers, and even the Roman Catholic newspapers were violent in their call for ruthless submarine war as well as violent in their denunciations of the United States of America.
American passengers on merchant ships of the enemy were called Schutzengel (guardian angels), and caricatures were published, such as one which showed the mate reporting to the Captain of a British boat that everything was in readiness for sailing and the Captain’s inquiry, “Are you sure that the American Schutzengel is on board?” The numerous notes sent by America to Germany also formed a frequent subject of caricature and I remember particularly one quite clever one in the paper called Brummer, representing the celebrations in a German port on the arrival of the one hundredth note from America when the Mayor of the town and the military, flower girls and singing societies and Turnverein were drawn up in welcoming array. The liberal papers were inclined o support von Bethmann-Hollweg in his apparent intention to avoid an open break with America. But even the liberal papers were not very strong in their stand.
The Military, of course, absolutely despised America and claimed that America could do no more harm by declaring war than it was doing then to Germany; and that possibly the war preparations of America might cut down the amount of the munitions available for export to the enemies ?f the Empire. As to anything that America could do in a military way, the Navy and the Army were unanimous in saying that as a military or naval factor the United States might be considered as less than nothing. This was America itself was so long a the situation when the last Sussex Note of brought matters to a crisis, and even the crisis considered a farce as it had been simmering for period.
I arranged that Colonel House should have an interview with von Bethmann-Hollweg at this time, and after dinner one night he had a long talk with the Chancellor in which the dangers of the situation were pointed out.
With this arrival of the last American Sussex Note, I felt that the situation was almost hopeless; that this question which had dragged along for so long must now inevitably lead to a break of relations and possibly to war. Von Jagow had the same idea and said that it was “fate,” and that there was nothing more to be done. I myself felt that nothing could alter public opinion in Germany; that in spite of von Tirpitz’ fall, which had taken place some time before, the advocates of ruthless submarine warfare would win, and that to satisfy them Germany would risk a break with America.
I was sitting in my office in a rather dazed and despairing state when Professor Ludwig Stein, proprietor of a magazine called North and South and a writer of special articles on Germany’s foreign relations for the Vossische Zeitung, under the name of “Diplomaticus,” called to see me.
He informed me that he thought the situation was not yet hopeless, that there was still a large party of reason-able men in Germany and that he thought much good could be done if I should go to the Great General Headquarters and have a talk with the Kaiser, who, he informed me, was reported to be against a break.
I told Dr. Stein that, of course, I was perfectly willing to go if there was the slightest chance of preventing war; and I also told the Chancellor that if he was going to decide this question in favor of peace it would be possibly easier for him if the decision was arrived at under the protection, as it were, of the Emperor; or that, if the decision lay with the Emperor, I might possibly be able to help in convincing him if I had an opportunity to lay the American side of the case before him. I said, more-over, that I was ready at any time on short notice to proceed to the Emperor’s headquarters.
Dr. Hecksher, a member of the Reichstag, who must be classed among the reasonable men of Germany, also advocated my speaking directly to the Kaiser.