June 11, 1915

by Richard van Pelt, WWI Correspondent

From the front pages of the Daily Capital Journal:

PEACE WITH GERMANY ASSURED BY TONE OF PRESIDENT’S REJOINER
Restoration of Cordial Relations Expected and Opinion Expressed That Way May Be Opened Through U. S. For Peace Between England and Germany – Official Circles Fail To See Bryan’s Reason For Objecting to Note

MAILED FIST HIDES UNDER SOFT WORDS OF WILSON’S NOTE
Germans Believe “Great American Bluff” Is Backed Up By Viral Force

LATEST GERMAN NOTE PLACED IN HANDS OF MINISTER VON JAGOW
Until Germany’s Reply Is Received Other International Problems Will Be Held In Background – England May Hasten Answer To American Protests Relative To Stopping Neutral Merchantmen – Full Text of Note Given

“An appeal to reason with threats skillfully concealed.”

This was the interpretation placed upon President Wilson’s rejoinder to Germany in official circles today. Couched in the most friendly terms, the latest note to Berlin has made it easy for Berlin to held to the cardinal principles set up by this government – recognition and safeguarding of American rights at sea – if the imperial government so desires.

If Germany agrees to this principle, the United States will not compel the kaiser to stop his submarine warfare upon merchantmen, provided it is assured that no Americans are aboard the vessels before they are sunk.

In an article, the overtones of which are familiar to readers today, the paper reports former Secretary of State Bryan’s criticism of editors for their jingoistic views:

BRYAN SCORES JINGO EDITORS FOR VIEWS ON NOTE TO KAISER
Ex-Secretary Relieved to Find Emphasis On Friendly Tone of Note

Washington, June 11. – “I am glad to note the change in the tone of the press regarding the note to Germany,” said former Secretary of State Bryan in a statement issued here today.

“From the time papers began to publish forecasts down to yesterday, jingo editors have been predicting the matter would be ‘dealt with with great firmness’ and that Germany would be told she must not delay acceptance to this country’s demands, etc.

“Instead of waiting until the note was issued they took their own conniption in advance and colored it to suit their own purposes. It is a relief to find the papers emphasizing the friendly tone of the note, and pointing out that it does not necessarily mean war. Something has been gained if the warrior journalist at last realizes the country does not want war, but, on the contrary, will support President Wilson’s efforts to find a peaceful solution of the difficult problems raised by the submarine attacks upon merchantmen.”

An op-ed piece, written by David Starr Jordan sets out to define “The Essence of Neutrality:”

A neutral nation is one which in the crisis of war – which is the denial of law – remains law-abiding. A nation remains neutral in its own interest not for the accommodation of belligerents. It has the right to define its own neutrality and no belligerent has the right to call this definition into question. To attempt to do so is, in a degree, an unfriendly act.

But the neutrality of a nation effects only its overt official acts. It does not control the sympathies nor the opinions nor the acts of its citizens so long as these lead to no breach of international law.

In the great war, it is a belief of a vast majority of the people of the United States that the nation should be strictly neutral, that is, rigidly law-abiding. This does not mean that you or I should be indifferent to current events or ignorant of them. Nor does it bind you or me to active or passive equality of sympathy as between government and government or between people and people. Our sympathies naturally flow out to all the suffering peoples, but we should stultify ourselves if we did not have definite, even partisan, opinions concerning acts of government for which the people have the most remote, if indeed any, responsibility. It is our privilege to think what we will and to say what we think as to the origin of the war, the methods by which it is carried on, the motives which shall prevail in the final settlement.

Many of us in America regard manufacture of arms for international warfare as a business dangerous to leave in private hands. Just as nations have found it necessary for their own existence to abolish private armies and private war, so should they for their own welfare abolish private traffic in the means of war.

But no nation has yet taken this step. Nor will any nation take it while war is actually on and one side or another would be aided by the act. One does not “swap horses while crossing stream,” nor does any parliament or congress change international law while the whole fabric itself is under the strain of war.

The United States may not gain friends by rigid adherence to the laws of nations, but she will maintain her own sanity, and her own self-respect, and for a great nation to remain law-abiding amid the havoc of statutes and conventions is to contribute mightily to the future stability of international law.

The sinking of the Lusitania and this country’s attempt to remain neutral presented quandaries that sought to resolve the implicit conflicts between public mood and national interests. Wilson’s dilemma was to, on one hand, defend the right of Americans to travel in safety upon the seas, and on the other, to avoid going to war to vindicate this right. Wilson’s cabinet and administration was divided over the appropriate response to the sinking of the Lusitania.

Secretary of State Bryan sought to have Wilson warn Americans not to travel on Allied ships. Robert Lansing, Bryan’s second at the State Department, took a more aggressive stance and advised Wilson to demand an apology, a disavowal of the U-Boat commander, and a promise that submarines in the future would obey international law. This promise to obey international law would require U-Boat commanders to warn ships and permit passengers and crews to escape before the ships were sunk.

Wilson’s appeals sought to have the German government to respect unarmed and unresisting liners and merchant vessels. The German government refused. In July, the President warned Germany that it would regard unprovoked attacks on merchant ships and liners, when they affected American citizens, as “deliberately unfriendly” – diplomatic language for an act of war.

The Lusitania posed a classic issue with which republics have had to struggle – how does an administration square the values which brought it to power with its responsibility to act and respond to problems in the best interests of the people?

From Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus to our struggles with torture, there do arise issues for which principles strictly adhered to bring great harm to the governed far beyond the principles defended or enforced.

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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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