Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Germany Pledges U.S. Not to Sink "Liners" Without a Warning -- September 1, 2015

Washington Evening Star.

100 years ago today, on 01-September-1915, the German Empire promised the United States that it would no longer practice unrestricted submarine warfare. 

On 04-February-1915, the Germans had announced their policy of unrestricted submarine warfare because the British blockade was threatening their war effort.  Neutral ships, including American ships, would be sunk without warning:

On 07-May-1915, submarine U-20 torpedoed and sank RMS Lusitania near the coast of Ireland.  A number of Americans died and this nearly drove the country into the war on the side of the Allies, Britain, France and Russia:

On 19-August-1915, submarine U-24 sank the SS Arabic, a White Star liner.  44 passengers died, including three Americans. 

This article, from the 01-September-1915 Washington Evening Star, tells of the German promise to stop sinking neutral ships without warning. 

Letter From Ambassador Von Bernstorff Regarded as Full Acceptance of American Contention.
 Count von Bernstorff, the German ambassador, today called on Secretary Lansing at the State Department, on instructions from Berlin, and informed the United States government that the German government has accepted the principle that passenger liners shall be warned before attack by submarines.   The ambassador's conference with Secretary Lansing lasted about fifteen minutes, and followed a conference which President Wilson and Secretary Lansing had earlier in the day at the White House, in which, it is presumed, the Secretary informed the President of what the ambassador intended to say.
 After his conference Ambassador von Bernstorff sent Lansing this letter:
My Dear Mr. Secretary: With reference to our conversation of this morning, I beg to inform you that my instructions concering our answer to your last Lusitania note contain the following passage:
"Liners will not be sunk by our submarines without warning and without safety of the lives of non-combatants, provided that the liners do not try to escape or offer resistance."
Although I know that you do not wish to discuss the Lusitania question till the Arabic incident has been definitely and satisfactorily settled, I desire to inform you of the above because this policy of my government was decided on before the Arabic incident occurred.
I have no objection to your making any use you may please of the above information.
I remain, my dear Mr. Lansing,
Very sincerely yours,
Statement by Mr. Lansing.
 In connection with the letter, made public at the State Department, Secretary Lansing made the following statement:  "In view of the clearness of the foregoing statement, it seems needless to make any comment in regard to it, other than to say that it appears to he a recognition of the fundamental principle for which we have contended."  Count von Bernstorff's letter was forwarded to President Wilson as soon as it was received at the State Department. The President appeared greatly pleased.  In effect, the letter means that Germany has accepted the declarations of the United States in the submarine warfare controversy. On every hand in official quarters there was evidence of gratification that the submarine crisis has passed and that Germany has acknowledged the just of the principles for which President Wilson has been contending.
Agrees With Berlin Reports.
 Count Bernstorff's announcement that the policy had been decided upon before the sinking of the Arabic agrees perfectly with statements by officials in Berlin and with information upon which American officials had been depending. Soon after the dispatch of the last Lusitania note President Wilson understood there would not be another such disaster. The sinking of the Arabic, therefore, came as a double shock.  Inasmuch as there seems a strong probability that the submarine which sunk the Arabic has been destroyed by a British patrol boat, the exact circumstances may never he determined, other than by testimony from British and American sources.
Reparation Next Step.
 The German government's statement that before the sinking of the Arabic her submarine commanders had been ordered to sink no more passenger ships without warning may be taken as a disavowal of that act. The question of reparation for the Americans who lost their lives on the Lusitania, the Arabic and other ships which have been torpedoed probably will be the next step in the proceeding. Secretly Lansing has steadfastly refused to discuss the Lusitania case with the German ambassador until the Arabic incident was closed.  Secretary Lansing and the ambassador discussed at length the significance of the oral statement before the written one was made. Acceptance of the principle that passenger ships are not to be attacked without warning was considered as an answer to President Wilson's last note on the Lusitania, and it established clearly that Germany has yielded to the representations of this government respecting safety of neutrals on the high seas. As he left the Secretary's room Count von Bernstorff said Mr. Lansing would give out a statement as to the conference, but himself refused to discuss his visit.
Asked a Written Statement.
 Count von Bernstorff was informed by Mr. Lansing that the United States could not accept as final an oral transmission of the German point of view. Secretary Lansing said he would withhold comment until a written memorandum was received. Ambassador Bernstorff went directly to the German embassy to prepare the written statement.  Within an hour after the ambassador left the State Department the messenger from the German embassy arrived at Secretary Lansing's office with an official communication from Count von Bernstorff, which was the written statement of the German position for which Mr. Lansing had asked. Apparently the American government accepted the German declaration as meeting its attitude toward the treatment of all neutral shipping as well as passenger-carrying vessels. Count von Bernstorff. in his letter, referred to liners, and in German quarters that was construed as meaning all non-combatant passenger ships.
Covers American Contention.
 At the State Department the German ambassador's letter was considered as covering all that the American government has contended for -- that peaceful merchantmen must not be sunk without warning or without visit and search and opportunity for non-combatants to escape.  It is generally acknowledged that in making concessions to the United States Germany expects President Wilson to renew his representations to Great Britain against interference with neutral trade. The President has steadfastly declined to conduct one negotiation in a relation to the other, taking the position that the diplomatic negotiations of the United States with one belligerent could not be conditioned on its relations with another.  The new American note to Great Britain, making representations against the restrictions imposed by the order in council, is almost ready to go forward to London.
No White House Comment.
 No statement was issued from the White House, but distinct elation was felt there over what was deemed a practical settlement of the differences between the United States and Germany. Senator James Hamilton Lewis of Illinois, who called at the White House, voiced the feeling of friends of the administration. He said that he had been shown a copy of the Bernstorff letter and had talked with Chief Justice White about the outcome, and commented in this manner:  "Concerning this decision of Germany, I wish to repeat the utterance of Mr. Justice White, when he said "It is a great achievement for diplomacy; serves both Germany and the United States, and makes an epoch of peace and good will." As a supporter of the administration I regard the result as a victory for the patient, peaceful policy of President Wilson and a vindication of the course he pursued in doing everything to maintain peaceful relations between Germany and the United States and yet upholds both the honor and the policy of America. The tendering of this message by the German ambassador and the acceptance of it by the President will lessen the tension that has been prevailing in the commercial centers of the United States; will restore all the previous kindly feeling heretofore existing between various elements of our citizenship in the past, and will dismiss from the public mind all apprehension of war."
Paves Way for Negotiations.
 The immediate effect of the communication made by Count von Bernstorff to Secretary Lansing is to open the way for a resumption of negotiations between the governments of the United States and Germany for an agreement upon the rights of neutral shipping on the high seas. It can now he stated that upon the receipt of confirmatory reports on the sinking of the Arabic and the loss of American lives thereby, the State Department had decided that it would indulge in no further exchange of notes with the German government in the nature of prolongation of the argument as to the propriety of the German method of submarine warfare.  Having on two preceding occasions in connection with the Lusitania case solemnly warned the German government against the continuance of attacks without warning upon merchant ships carrying American passengers or crew, the State Department, officials practically had concluded that the apparent disregard of the warnings shown by the sinking of the Arabic demanded a severance of diplomatic relations unless some satisfactory explanation were volunteered by the German goverenment, for it was felt to be undignified for the State Department to solicit such an explanation.
May Ask Elaboration.
 As pointed out by Secretary Lansing, the note delivered today "appears to be" a recognition of the fundamental principle for which the United States government has contended. The cautious qualification is that of a trained diplomatist, and it is understood that the next step will be to require the elaboration of the German note to clear up any possible misunderstandings as to the extent of the concessions.  For instance, it was noted immediately by some of the officials that the orders to the submarine commanders applied only to "liners."  That is satisfactory as far as it goes and will probably be regarded as applying to all passenger ships. But the American contention went further than that. It asserted the same privilege of protection against unwarned attack for all merchant ships on which neutrals might be traveling, either as passengers or part of the crew, it is to be noted that in all of the correspondence up to this point the State Department has not confined itself to an assertion of the rights of Americans to peculiar privileges or exemptions: it has spoken in behalf of the people of all neutral countries.
Reparation Promise Expected.
 Ambassador Bernstorff's note makes it appear that it is only an excerpt from a general and longer communication he has received from the foreign office dealing with the case of the Lusitania, hence it is expected at the State Department that he will be heard from further very soon, and perhaps may clear up the doubts which still exist as to the extent of tin- German concessions and the exact nature of the instructions to German submarine commanders regarding their treatment of merchant vessels. The ambassador's statement that the policy of warning liners before attacking them had been decided upon before the Arabic incident occurred is taken by the officials as an indication that the commander of the German submarine which sank the Arabic acted in violation of his orders, and it is presumed that if he were still alive he will be called to account. The note on the whole is regarded as indicating that at the next stage promise of suitable reparation will be made.  Count von Bernstorff believes that only a formal statement from Berlin remains to settle the entire controversy between the two countries.  Germany cannot admit on partial evidence. it was stated, that the Arabic was sunk by a German submarine, but it is confidently believed that whatever develops, the imperial government will give concrete assurances corresponding to the general statements already made that the Arabic was not destroyed in accordance with any plan or desire of the German admiralty.
Today's declaration, it is said in German quarters, stands without amendment or restriction, and is felt to be complete compliance with the demands of the United States. It was freely admitted, however, that the German government will avail itself of President Wilson's offer of co-operation in a discussion of the question of the freedom pf the seas.

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