February 23, 1915

by Richard van Pelt, WWI Correspondent

The front page of the Capital Journal reported the opinion of a British admiral as to Germany’s policies regarding American shipping:


Lord Charles Beresford, England’s Best Known and Best Loved Sailor Gives Interview to Keen on Germany’s Reasons for Wanting United States in Conflict – Two Theories Advanced By British Admiral

“Germany will sink no American ship – unless by design. A German torpedo which finds its mark in the hull of an American vessel will have been aimed and fired from Berlin. If an American merchantman is sunk, it will be for the express purpose of dragging the United States into the war.”

The speaker was England’s best known and best loved sailor – Admiral Lord Charles Beresford. His name probably more than another carries to Americans a picture of a typical British sea fighter. He is to Englishmen what “Bob” Evans was to Americans. And, also, he is one of the clearest naval thinkers of the age.

He made the above reply to the greatest question of the moment here – one put by Americans hundreds of times daily:

“Do you think Germany is trying to force the United States into the war?”

His statement was the first in which any important personage connected with British naval affairs has discussed this phase of the war. The admiral, upon receiving a United States representative, explained that he spoke only because, knowing America intimately, he recognized the danger of a possible misunderstanding in the United States because of the reticence and secrecy forced upon British officialdom.

He pointed out that, being a democracy where personal liberty is a reality ad military and police authority are virtually not felt, England is more vulnerable to German spying than any other nation except the United Staes.

“I don’t share the opinion of some of my countrymen that the Germans are fools,” said Lord Beresford.

“I don’t favor letting them have that defense when the time of reckoning comes. Every move of any magnitude Germany has made to date has been made deliberately and thinkingly. She must give an accounting on that basis. The controlling intellects of Germany know that the sinking of an American ship, though apparently an accident, would be an event of the first magnitude. They know it would be the shell that would explode the magazine of American patriotism. They know the war wave which swept the United States in 1898 with the slogan: ‘Remember the Maine!’ was a mere ripple in comparison with that which would engulf the republic should an unarmed merchant ship, flying the American flag, be sunk by a German submarine.

“They know that such an event would bring the United States into the war within a week.

“I do not predict to what extremes Germany would go. But I am confident that she would not leave to the judgment of a submarine commander the issue whether or not the United States is to join her enemies.”

“What possible motive could the kaiser or his advisers have in seeking to involve the United States?” was inquired.

Smilingly he searched a cloud of cigar smoke for an answer.

“Possibly British psychology isn’t the best in the world at this particular moment in analyzing Teutonic motives,” he replied.

“But I venture two possible answers:

“First, with the United States in the war, Germany would be in a better position to quit. The kaiser would be able to save his face with his people on the ground that the entire world was against him. Germany might hope to godown in history as having enacted the role of an underdog. Sympathy for the under dog is often given without analyzing the dog’s morals or considering the fact whether he rally deserves to be under.

“The second, and I believe, the more likely reason, is the fact that if America should participate in the war, she necessarily would participate in the peace negotiations. It is unlikely that your country would be invaded or would suffer to the same extent as our allies. Therefore, the United States would enter the negotiations without the poignant hatred naturally affecting those countries whose homes have been invaded, whose ivies and farms have been desolated and whose people have been massacred. Americans, too, do not have the reputation of being revengeful. You are – what shall I call it? – ‘easy,’ as we Britishers are.

* * * *

“. . . Sitting at the peace conference table, America, with her great commercial demands for an early settlement and her relatively lesser grievances, undoubtedly would be a valuable asset to Germany.”

In the lower right hand corner of the front page is this report by German newspapers:

German Papers Say British Flag Disappeared In North

Berlin, via Amsterdam, Feb. 23. – “The English flag has disappeared from the North sea, Admiral von Tirpitz’s naval policy has been in effect but five days, but it has achieved a wonderful victory. Great Britain’s naval power has been humbled in the eyes of the world.”

This article, appearing in a local newspaper today, is typical of others appearing daily in the Berlin press.

All Berlin newspapers today published reports that English sailors had mutinied and refused to sail under the British flag. Sailors of neutral nations, the reports said, were acting similarly.

From the editorial page, we learn that a woman’s work is never done, especially for the women of Europe, faced with their eugenic responsibilities to replenish the population:

Europe must not only be rebuilt after the war in point of commerce but it must be rebuilt as to population. The flower of Europe’s manhood is being killed, maimed and diseased on the battlefields, and if the war continues for several years there may be little left excepting undesirables in the lower strata of society, decaying dukes another scions of an anemic ancestry. It is apparent that however vigorous the female portion of the population may be after the close of the war, the coming crop of children may be inferior. In any event, it seems to be largely up to the women of the warring nations to maintain national intelligence and physique.


About whclarc

We are devoted to providing information fresh from the Archives, Library and Collections of the Willamette Heritage Center in Salem, Oregon. We specialize in the history of Marion County and the greater Salem area.
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