by Richard van Pelt, WWI Correspondence
The fate of neutral shipping in and around the North Sea was once again in the headlines:
SECOND REQUEST MADE THAT NEUTRAL SHIPPING GO NORTH OF SCOTLAND
German Ambassador Von Bernstorff presented a note to the state department today in which Germany reiterated her request for neutral shipping to avoid the war zone and take the track around the north of Scotland. The war zone decree was characterized in the note as “a measure of retaliation against England.”
The note declared Germany has information that British merchantmen are being armed preparatory to sailing in groups, in an effort to sink German submarines with bombs and other weapons. It contended that, in the circumstances, it would be out of the question to stop and search a vessel, the only recourse being to fight.
English ships are planning to use neutral flags in the forbidden area, the note added. As neutrals consequently will be endangered, the request that they be diverted to the northern route was repeated.
The note declared that Germany would modify her war zone decree when England stood ready to recognize international laws, which it was declared, she was now ignoring. Ambassador Von Bernstorff again suggested that the United States endeavor to have England modify her position concerning food shipments to Germany.
The American ambassador to Germany had to remind a German interviewer that Americans of German origin were first and foremost American in their loyalties:
The National Zeitung today publishes an interview with James W. Gerard, the United States Ambassador to Germany, concerning the situation brought about by the presentation of the American note to the German government relative to the neutral shipping in the war zone recently created by Germany.
Asked by the interviewer concerning the attitude of German-Americans, Ambassador Gerard is reported in the National Zeitung as having answered:
“People in German are too readily disposed to believe that German-Americans would be first Germans and then Americans in case of war. Exactly the opposite would be the case. American citizens of German birth are first and foremost Americans and the same spirit is true of Irish-Americans.”
When asked concerning the sale of weapons to the allied powers the Ambassador called attention to the provision of the Hague convention which permitted this. He expressed inability to understand why, after six months of war, the United States should now be reproached because of the sale by Americans of war munitions, when no objection had been raised to its legality before.