by Richard van Pelt, WWI Correspondent
In response to Germany’s attempt at a submarine blockade of the British Isles, the headline in the Statesman reported:
ALL COMMERCE WITH GERMANY TO BE HALTED
Allies Announce Retaliation for German Submarine Blockade
IS EFFECTIVE AT ONCE
London, March 1. – If the combined fleets of Great Britain and France can prevent it, no commodities of any kind except those now on the seas shall henceforth, until the conclusion of the war, reach or leave the shores of Germany.
This is England’s answer to Germany’s submarine blockade, and it is to be effective forthwith.
To “Detain” All Ships
Premier Asquith, reading from a prepared statement, made this announcement in the house of commons this afternoon at a session which will be historic. Studiously avoiding the terms “blockade” and “contraband” – for these words occur nowhere in the prepared statement – the premier explained that after this day the allies considered themselves justified in attempting, and would attempt, to “detain and take into port ships carrying goods of presumed enemy destination, ownership or origin.”
In a second article, the paper noted that “If this policy is enforced it will no longer be possible to ship cotton, manufactured articles and commodities hitherto of a non-contraband character from the United States to Germany, directly or indirectly, and from the latter country the supply of dyestuffs and other merchandise for consumption in this country will be cut off.”
Is it the case that the English language is particularly susceptible to being twisted so as to have words that seem to imply one thing crafted to mean something else? The Statesman’s editor addresses this in an editorial titled, “A Handicapped Movement:”
The American Independence Union, whose organization has just been completed, with Congressman Bartholdt as President and Herman Ridder, editor of the New York Staats-Zeitung, honorary president, gives this account of its intentions:
“Our work will be confined to a peaceful but determined effort to educate public opinion in the United States in favor of the liberation of our country from all undue foreign influences.”
On the face of it, this profession is admirable enough. It squared with the memorable words of George Washington’s Farewell Address, which are peculiarly applicable at this time: “Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence, the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government.”
From the view point of the majority of Americans, however, the neutral professions of this organization – however honest and sincere they are – are necessarily disunited somewhat by the fact that its leaders are recognized and militant pro-Germans, and its membership is almost exclusively German in origin and partisanship.
The difficulties that lie in the way of such an organization accomplishing its declared purpose are well expressed by Prof. Kuno Francke of Harvard university, himself a German-American, who in reply to a request that he join the movement, said:
“I believe it would be against my duties as an American citizen if I were to take part in a propaganda the purpose of which will be thought to be to force our government into hostile attitude toward England.” He adds that an official embargo on the exportation of arms from this country, one of the chief aims of the Independence Union, would not only fail to accomplish its purpose, but that it “would inevitably bring our government into conflict with England and might drive us into war with England.”
“As an American citizen,” he says, “I could not possibly support such a policy.”