March 23, 1915

by Richard van Pelt, WWI Correspondent

An editorial in the Oregon Statesman discusses the problems with the blockade and embargo policies of Germany and Great Britain. The United States, at war with no one, sought the ability to trade with everyone. As a neutral, American policy allowed its citizens to manufacture and sell anything to any purchaser (see March 13, 1915 post):

Both Sides of British Blockade

Great Britain, after long delay and uncertainty, has finally adopted a definite policy with regard to German commerce. Needless to say, it does not please the American people, nor any other neutral nation. In all fairness, however, we must admit that there are two sides to the question.

It is easy to marshal objections against the British ‘orders in council.” The fact is obvious that Great Britain seeks the benefits of a blockade without assuming its responsibilities. International law requires, for a blockade that other nations are bound to recognize, an effective barrier of the enemy’s ports by naval force. Britain does not undertake to establish a patrol of warships outside every German port, for the excellent reason that she doesn’t want her warships torpedoed by submarines. She seeks to accomplish the same purpose without peril, by simply warning neutral nations that they must not trade with Germany, on pain of having their ships and cargoes seized anywhere on the high seas.

This is a “paper blockade,” illegal just as surely as Germany’s “war zone” blockade is illegal. It is not admissible by nations that are jealous of their own rights and anxious for the preservation of international law.

Great Britain seeks to justify such procedure by the “reprisal” argument; Germany has broken international law, therefore she is justified in doing the same in self defense. Outsiders cannot recognize such logic. A man slapped in the face may have a moral right to strike bad; he has no right to punch the face of an innocent bystander.

On the other hand, there is this to say in Great Britain’s favor. Her ambiguous “blockade” offensive as it is, is less offensive than Germany’s. Germany seeks to accomplish her purpose by terror; she sinks British ships of commerce with all on board, in flagrant disregard of law and humanity; she does not scruple to destroy the ships and lives of neutrals under the plea of “accidents.” Great Britain has not killed non-combatant German crews and passengers, has not destroyed neutral shipping or lives, and gives her pledge that she will not. The new measures are to involve no “risk to neutral ships or to neutral or non-combatant life,” and there is to be “a strict observance of the dictates of humanity.”

Our ships, if bound to or from Germany, or bearing cargoes of German origin or consignment, are to be seized but not confiscated. They are to bearings taken before British prize courts, and if the non-contraband cargoes are retained Great Britain herself will pay for them.

This tenderness may be regarded as a “bribe to America,” to win our tolerance. But if Great Britain applies the same method impartially to all neutrals, ever the weakest, she will prove her good faith. It might then appear that her chief reason for not declaring a genuine blockade is what she professes it to be – a desire to harm neutral commerce as little as possible. A genuine blockade would entail the confiscation of every American ship and cargo caught by he blockaders, without hope of compensation.

We are bound to suffer considerably in any event. We can endure the loss of our export trade to Germany better than we can endure the loss of our German imports. The former may be balanced by increased orders from accessible belligerents and neutrals. The latter leaves us without materials necessary to our own manufactures, particularly German dyestuffs. Great Britain ought to let such merchandise, at least, come through, and we must insist on getting it.

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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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