by Richard van Pelt, WWI Correspondent
German submarine activity and its consequences dominated the news in May and into the summer:
AMERICAN TANKER IS ATTACKED BY GERMAN SUBMARINE
Steamers Gulflight and Cushing Suffer From Sea and Air Raids
STATE DEPARTMENT IS FACING SERIOUS CRISIS
Captain of Gulflight Dies Of Heart Failure and Two Sailors Drowned
Washington, May 3. – The State Department today faced the gravest situation since the outbreak of the European war as a result of the torpedoing of the American tank steamer Gulflight by a German submarine and the attack made upon the steamer Cushing by a German aeroplane.
This was admitted by officials of the department today. The German embassy, usually prompt to defend any seemingly overt acts, today declined to comment upon the attacks made against the two American ships.
The torpedoing of the Gulflight was the first German attack on an American vessel. Ironically the ship did not sink; she was towed into port and later repaired – only to be sunk by a German U-Boat in January of 1942, at the outbreak of the war’s second phase, World War II.
At the time of the attack the ship was being escorted by British warships under the suspicion that she had been refueling German submarines known to be in the area. An investigation by the British admiralty concluded the German commander acted appropriately. “Cruiser rules” in international law provided that merchant ships under military escort forfeited any right to warning prior to being attacked.
Editorially, the Capital Journal came out in opposition to calls to increase the size of the American military:
THIS COUNTRY NEEDS NO GREAT ARMY
This idea that the United States requires a large military establishment for protection from enemies abroad is evidently being advocated by those who hope to profit by such a policy. Any American with common sense enough to think knows that invasion of this country, with its millions of able-bodied men, who with thirty days drilling would make the best soldiers in the world, fighting on their own soil and in defense of their homes and property is out of the question. Volunteers who know what they are fighting for always did make better soldiers than trained warriors – the history of the world’s wars proves that point behind the question of a doubt. The ability to go through certain evolutions because of practice counts for little when opposed to men who can shoot straight, think quickly and have the courage of their convictions of what is right back of every volley they discharge.
Few persons, however, will oppose the policy of maintaining a strong naval establishment, for the protection of our commerce, or the proper fortification of our principal seaports. Plants for the manufacture of modern artillery are also necessary, but the fact that the European belligerents are depending largely upon this country for their arms and ammunition shows that we are already amply supplied in this respect. No other country except Germany is better prepared at the present time to equip an army in the field with arms and munitions.
Talk about maintaining a great military establishment in times of peace is evidently inspired by selfish and not patriotic motives.