The Lusitania tragedy turned into pretext for US to enter war
New York Times, May 8, 1915, immediately claims “twice torpedoed,” though German U-boat captain says he sent only one torpedo, which was followed by a second explosion from munitions within the ship. It was this secret cargo that caused rapid sinking and great loss of life.
ON MAY 7, 1915 the Cunard ocean liner RMS Lusitania, on its way from New York to Liverpool, was hit by a single torpedo from the German U-boat U-20 eleven miles off the coast of Ireland. The U-boat captain wrote in his log:
Torpedo hits starboard side right behind the bridge. An unusually heavy detonation takes place with a very strong explosive cloud. The explosion of the torpedo must have been followed by a second one [boiler or coal or powder?]... The ship stops immediately and heels over to starboard very quickly, immersing simultaneously at the bow...
At the time she was sunk, Lusitania was carrying over 4 million rounds of U.S.-manufactured Remington .303 bullets, almost 5,000 shrapnel shell casings (for a total of some 50 tons), and 3,240 brass percussion fuses [plus other secret war munitions), in addition to 1,266 passengers and a crew of 696.
The British investigation into the sinking was presided over by Wreck Commissioner Lord Mersey, who resigned immediately afterward, commenting: “The Lusitania case was a damned, dirty business!” Ship Captain Turner, the Cunard Company, and the Royal Navy were absolved of any negligence, and all blame was placed on the German government.
Following are three articles from THE FATHERLAND newspaper of May 19th and 26th that explain very well the German position, which was being put under increasingly angry assault by the more powerful American pro-British advocates as the war wore on. -cy
WHY THE “LUSITANIA” WAS SUNK
LAST week we predicted the fate that has overtaken the Lusitania. The Fatherland did not reach the news-stands till Saturday, but the editorial in question was written several days before publication. Today we make another prediction. Every large passenger ship bound for England is practically a swimming arsenal, carrying vast quantities of ammunition and explosives of every description. An arsenal, whether on sea or land, is not a safe place for women and children. It is not a safe place for anyone. Every now and then we read of a warship blown up by an explosion caused by spontaneous combustion, in spite of the rigid care exercised to prevent such an accident. Our passenger ships carry more explosives than the ordinary man-of-war. No innocent passenger should be allowed to embark on a vessel carrying explosives. It stands to reason that a fate not unlike that of the Lusitania will meet before long a passenger ship by an explosion of vast stores of ammunition within. While Germany is not bound to respect a flag of any ship carrying implements of murder, German submarines may discriminate in favor of a neutral flag. Spontaneous combustion recognizes no international convention.
Much as we regret the staggering loss of life in the disaster that startled the world, the facts in the case absolutely justify the action of the Germans.
Legally and morally there is no basis for any protest on the part of the United States. The Lusitania was a British ship. British ships have been instructed by the Admiralty to ram submarines and to take active measures against the enemy. Hence every British ship must be considered in the light of a warship.
The Lusitania flew the ensign of the British Naval Reserves before the submarine warfare was initiated. Since that time she has hoisted many a flag, including the Stars and Stripes. According to a statement issued by the advertising manager of the Cunard Line, the Lusitania “when torpedoed was entirely out of the control of the Cunard Company and operated under the command of the British Admiralty.”
The Lusitania carried contraband of war from this country to England. If this contraband had reached its destination it would undoubtedly have killed far more Germans than the total number of passengers lost on the Lusitania. As a matter of fact it did actually kill the passengers by precipitating the sinking of the ship. There can be no doubt that the ship would not have sunk for hours, if explosions from within had not hastened its end. Every passenger on a boat carrying contraband of war takes his life into his hands. The explosives in the hold of a ship, we repeat, constitute a graver peril to passengers than the shots of German torpedoes.
It cannot be said that the Lusitania was torpedoed without warning. Ordinarily a half hour's warning is regarded sufficient. In this case the ship was warned of its fate four or five days in advance. We need only turn to the warning notices issued by the German Embassy on the day before the Lusitania left the Harbor of New York.
Instead of urging the President to take steps against Germany, we should impeach the Secretary of State for his neglect of duty in not warning all Americans of the peril of ocean traffic in the war zone, especially under the flag of a belligerent nation. If the Secretary of State, in accordance with the Mexican precedent had issued such a warning, not a single American life would have been forfeited.
Germany, provoked by England which established a war zone as early as November and made the importation of foodstuffs into Germany practically impossible, decided upon submarine warfare as a measure of retaliation. She was forced to do so by the signal failure of the United States to protect the common rights of neutrals. When Germany determines upon a plan of action she means business. The Germans are not a nation of poker players. Germany does not bluff.
The sinking of the Lusitania is a terrific lesson, but in order to drive home its force more fully and to safeguard this country from further losses and from the danger of complications with Germany, the State Department should issue at once a formal notice admonishing American citizens to shun all ships flying the flag of a belligerent nation and all ships, irrespective of nationality, which carry across the sea the tools of destruction.
But if we accuse the State Department of negligence, we should indict the officials of the Cunard Line for murder. They knew that the Lusitania was a floating fortress. Yet, for the sake of sordid gain, they jeopardized the lives of more than two thousand people. When the German Embassy issued its warning, the Cunard Line poo-poohed the danger so as not to forfeit the shekels paid for the passage.
Did the Cunard Line tell its prospective passengers that its crew was short of eighty or ninety stokers?
Did the Cunard Line inform its passengers that the Lusitania, as Marconi states in an interview, narrowly escaped an attack by a submarine on a previous voyage?
Did they inform the passengers of the fact that one of its turbines was defective?
How many of the passengers would have remained on the boat if the officials of the Cunard Line had not suppressed the truth?
Those innocent victims believed in the protection of the British Admiralty. The Captain of the Lusitania admits that the Admiralty “never seemed to bother” about the Lusitania. He knew that England, thought she waives the rules, no longer rules the waves. He is a soldier under orders of the Admiralty. He has a right to take chances with his own life. But what right has he to take chances with the lives of his crew and his two thousand passengers?
FAIR PLAY FOR GERMANY'S SPOKESMAN
By George Sylvester Viereck
ENGLAND'S Alliance with Russia is Russianizing the British Press. Shall it also Russianize the United States? The allied press hysterically demands that the right of free speech be denied to Dr. Bernhard Dernburg, the most eloquent exponent of the German cause in the United States. Because they cannot answer his arguments, they would send him into exile. Because he has told them the truth, manfully and forcefully, they would throw him to the lions. Is this the United States or is it Russia? Is Jefferson forgotten? Has “fair play” lost its meaning?
Cut off, her wires severed, Germany was without a spokesman in the United States. Her able Ambassador, gagged and bound by the red tape of office, was not in the position to break anew from day to day the web of deceit spun by the British spider. Mr Herman Ridder and other Americans of German descent could speak for themselves, they could speak for twenty million Germans and Americans in the United States; they could not speak for Germany. Dr. Bernhard Dernburg was the only man who could present the case of the German people to the American people.
He, Dr. Bernhard Dernburg, still is the only German spokesman, not bound by diplomatic etiquette, whose voice is heard. For still the cables are cut. Still the American Government unneutrally exercises a censorship over the German wireless while placing no restriction whatsoever upon British cables. Still British warships, contrary to the laws of nations, stop German mails to this country.
Even at this moment emissaries of the Allies are attempting by legal means to close the two German wireless stations. If they succeed, and they may succeed, not even the spark that leaps across the ocean to Sayville and Tuckerton will be able to smash the wall of falsehood raised in this country by Great Britain and her American Allies to shut out the truth from the American people.
If we have silenced the one man who can speak freely yet with authority in our midst, who knows into what unwise action, in spite of the wise restraint of President Wilson, the people of the United States may be led by false information? Then, if mischief happens, how shall the German people ever forgive the United States, who choked the voice of German's only spokesman, in the supreme crisis that has faced her since she was cradled in blood and iron?
How shall Americans with German sympathies ever forgive so foul a blow to their feelings and to the best interests of the United States? How shall the American people ever forgive themselves for having so wantonly betrayed their own traditions of free speech and fair play?
President Wilson in his fine speech delivered in Philadelphia, has urged American citizens not to think of themselves in “groups.” His warning should be addressed primarily to American champions of Great Britain. No pro-German ever proposed the incorporation of the United States into the German Empire. The British propaganda distinctly avows that such is its ultimate object. Mr. Andrew Carnegie has distinctly said so. Professor Beer, writing in the Forum for this month, makes a similar admission.
Professor Usher, author of Pan-Germanism, has stated again and again, over his signature, that an “understanding” with the Allies against Germany existed at the time of the Spanish-American war. Shall we be led to suspect that such an understanding exists now? Or why should we throttle German's right of free speech, exercised with extreme moderation and severe restraint by Dr. Dernburg, while opening every avenue of communication to billingsgate from London? Who put the hyphen in German-American except the rabid pro-Allies and their American propaganda? Shall the rift in our citizenship, already serious, be made irreparable by an act of wanton injustice? Fortunately, the destinies of this country are in safer hands than in those of erratic third-term demagogues and irresponsible scribblers.
Germany's exclusion zone around Great Britain, declared on February 18, 1915, in response to England's blockade of the North Sea, preventing foodstuffs from reaching Germany. Allied ships within the marked area were liable to search and attack. It was within this area that the Lusitania was torpedoed.
AN OPEN LETTER TO COL. ROOSEVELT
By Dr. Edmund von Mach, author of “What Germany Wants”
Dear Col. Roosevelt,
EVEN so sincere an admirer of you as I am, feels forced to take issue with you on your protest on the sinking of the Lusitania. Germany sent the torpedo that struck the blow, but the deaths of the American passengers were due to the criminal inefficiency of the English Company and to the subsequent explosions of the dangerous cargo.
Primarily, however, their deaths were due to those who permitted the Americans to be on the ship, and who by a word of official warning could have prevented it. The proper officials of our state department are most to blame. But why did not you, Col. Roosevelt, utter the word of warning? You could have done it. You would have been heard. That you kept silent is incomprehensible, unless you were ignorant of the facts.
Here are some of them:
There were reservists on the Lusitania; and several weeks ago the British Government announced that in the future the Canadian troops would no longer be shipped on special transports but would be distributed among the passenger steamers.
Have you ever heard of a more criminal and ruthless procedure? To jeopardize the lives of innocent Americans—women and children, as the papers love to say—because ordinary transports are no longer safe enough!
Where was your protest, Col. Roosevelt, when this announcement appeared in the papers?
A little while later England ordered her vessels to seek safety by flying the American flag; and when a storm of disapproval arose here, claimed that she had followed the custom of all nations. When she said this she knew that this was not so, and that she herself had seized a tug in 1893 at Rio de Janeiro, when Dr. Charles E. Boynton, an American, had hoisted the British flag to disguise himself from the insurgents. England claimed at that time that her flag had been unlawfully used and the tug been forfeited to her. Her use of the American flag was cowardly and her excuse for her action was false.
Where was your powerful voice, Col Roosevelt, then? Why did you not tell the people the truth?
When England knew she could no longer protect her cargoes with the American flag, she protected them with American passengers.
Did you know that the Lusitania carried contraband? Ambassador Page has cabled that only one torpedo hit the ship. There were two or three explosions and people were overcome with gases.
Do you approve of passengers going on ships that carry such dangerous cargoes? Would you have let your family sail on such a boat? I have lost two friends on the Lusitania. I know the terrible grief in their families. If you had warned the people, none would have gone. Why did you not warn them, Col. Roosevelt? Were their lives not worth saving?
Or did you think the passage safe, in spite of the dangerous cargo? You surely do not belong in the same class with William Jennings Bryan or his Mephisto, Join Perdition Morgan, who gets a commission from England.
Or did you not know that the Cunard Company itself considered the trip too risky, and refused to sail until the British Government had assumed eighty per cent of the insurance? This fact was ascertainable by Mr. Bryan and by the President. If they had made it known, as was their moral duty, how many Americans do you think would have taken passage on the Lusitania? None. But since they did not do their duty—and neither you nor I believe that Mr. Bryan ever will—why did you not raise your voice? You might have saved these innocent lives!
And what do you think of the Cunard Company, that refused to make the trip unless the Government took eighty per cent of the insurance, because it was too dangerous, but then announced to the American public that there was no danger? The Cunard Company refused to risk its ship, but saw no reason why it should not risk American lives. The company did this merely for sordid gain. Where is your protest against this dastardly course, Co. Roosevelt? The German Embassy warned the American public of the danger, and the British and French Embassadors complained of this, and said the trip was safe. Mr. Cecil Spring-Rice knew that the Cunarders considered it so unsafe that the Government had to take eighty percent of the insurance. Do you call this the act of honorable men? Where is your protest, Col. Roosevelt?
When the Lusitania neared England there were no convoys to conduct her safely into port. As Lord Charles Beresford intimated in Parliament, the British Government had ships enough to convoy the transports of horses. For American passengers there were no ships! The British Government was ready to sacrifice them. Living, they could protect the nefarious American-English traffic in arms, and dead, they might embroil America into war.
Did you protest against such recklessness, Col Roosevelt?
But perhaps you do not believe that England actually hoped that some Americans might be killed, and that the captain of the Lusitania courted an attack. Then will you please explain why the captain announced before sailing that his safety from an attack lay in his speed, twenty-five knots, and why he reduced this speed to fifteen knots when he reached the danger zone? Why did he refuse to lower the boats?
Have you no protest against the criminal inefficiency of the Cunard line? It has been claimed that the Lusitania listed badly, and that only the boats on one side were available. She carried less than one-quarter of the number of people she can accommodate. Half her boats should have been sufficient. Do you know that some of the collapsible boats were useless because the hinges were rusted, and that at least one raft sank and drowned the people on her? Do you know that one boat was picked up on the Irish coast several days later with all the people in it dead?
Have you no protest against such carelessness, Col. Roosevelt?
Did you know that a recent order of the British Government had made of every British merchantman a war vessel in the legal term of the word? You might have known this if you had gathered more information than the pro-English press provides. Look at the (British) Shipping Gazette of March 26, 1915, and you will see a copy of the letter from the British Admiralty to J.W. Bell, captain of the Thordis, complimenting him for having rammed a submarine on March 18 and not only appointing him a lieutenant in the Royal Navy but also decorating him.
Did you protest against turning British merchantmen into war vessels and at the same time continuing to solicit passenger trade?
The Lusitania did not only carry dangerous contraband, but she was—even if she carried no guns on this trip—a potential war vessel and subject to immediate attack. Mr. Bryan knew this, and said nothing.
Your only excuse, so far as I can see, is that you did not know these facts. But if you did not know them, you should not have tried to attribute the blame for the sinking of the Lusitania and the subsequent loss of life until you had the facts.
The people really responsible for the deaths of the Americans are the Cunard people, who did it for money, the British Government who did it as a trick of war, the proper American authorities, who did it because they have sold their souls to England, and England's death-agent, J.P. Morgan, and the American press, who kept the truth of the legal standing of the Lusitania from the people.
When the German submarine sent the torpedo the sea was calm, the weather fine, and there were from six to eight hours before dark. The Germans felt morally certain that every life would be saved. And so did the people on shore.
You will agree with me that the conduct of the American Government recently has not commanded the respect of the world. The more necessary, therefore, it is that you, Col. Roosevelt, our foremost citizen, and in the future, I hope, again our leader, should not rashly espouse a wrong cause. Call the really guilty parties murderers, and millions of people will answer you with an “Amen. God bless you, Theodore Roosevelt!”
Very sincerely yours,
EDMUND VON MACH
VON MACH'S LETTER TO THEODORE ROOSEVELT
The Fatherland, unlike Professor von Mach, has abandoned its belief in the fairness of Theodore Roosevelt. We published Von Mach's letter, nevertheless, because the high opinion that Theodore Roosevelt has recently expressed of the author lends a certain piquancy to his epistle.