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THE GERMAN FOREIGN OFFICE TO THE GERMAN EMBASSY AT WASHINGTON.
Please communicate the following to the State Department: The German Government desires to express its deepest sympathy at the loss of lives on board the Lusitania. The responsibility rests, however, with the British Government, which, through its plan of starving the civilian population of Germany, has forced Germany to resort to retaliatory measures.
In spite of the German offer to stop the submarine war in case the starvation plan was given up, British merchant vessels are being generally armed with guns and have repeatedly tried to ram submarines, so that a previous search was impossible.
They can not, therefore, be treated as ordinary merchant vessels. A recent declaration made to the British Parliament by the parliamentary secretary in answer to a question by Lord Charles Beresford said that at the present practically all British merchant vessels were armed and provided with hand grenades.
Besides, it has been openly admitted by the English press that the Lusitania on previous voyages repeatedly carried large quantities of war material. On the present voyage the Lusitania carried 5,400 cases of ammunition, while the rest of her cargo also consisted chefly of contraband.
If England, after repeated official and unofficial warnings, considered herself able to declare that that boat ran no risk and thus lightheartedly assumed responsibility for the human life on board a steamer which, owing to its armament and cargo, was liable to destruction, the German Government, in spite of its heartfelt sympathy for the loss of American lives, can not but regret that Americans felt more inclined to trust to English promises rather than to pay attention to the warnings from the German side.
FOREIGN OFFICE. The next day Germany made a statement in regard to the treatment of neutral vessels in the war zone:
THE GERMAN MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS TO THE AMERICAN AM
First. The Imperial German Government has naturally no intention of causing to be attacked by submarines or aircraft such neutral ships of commerce in the zone of naval warfare, more definitely described in the notice of the German Admiralty staff of February 4 last, as have been guilty of no hostile act. On the contrary, the most definite instructions have repeatedly been issued to German war vessels to avoid attacks on such ships under all circumstances. Even when such ships have contraband of war on board they are dealt with by submarines solely according to the rules of international law applying to prize warfare.
Second. Should a neutral ship nevertheless come to harm through German submarines or aircraft on account of an unfortunate (X) [mistake?] in the above-mentioned zone of naval warfare, the German Government will unreservedly recognize its responsibility therefor. In such a case it will express its regrets and afford damages without first instituting a prize-court action.
Third. It is the custom of the German Government as soon as the sinking of a neutral ship in the above-mentioned zone of naval warfare is ascribed to German war vessels to institute an immediate investigation into the cause. If grounds appear thereby to be given for association of such a hypothesis, the German Navy places itself in communication with the interested neutral Government, so that the latter may also institute an investigation. If the German Government is thereby convinced that the ship has been destroyed by Germany's war vessels it will not delay in carrying out the provisions of paragraph 2 above. In case the German Government, contrary to the viewpoint of the neutral Government, is not convinced by the result of the investigation, the German Government has already on several occasions declared itself ready to allow the question to be decided by an international investigation commission, according to chapter 3 of The Hague Convention of October 18, 1907, for the peaceful solution of international disputes. (The New York Times, May 12, 1915.)
Two days later, May 13, our Government sent the first note on the Lusitania case. This was the famous “omit no word or act” declaration:
THE SECRETARY OF STATE TO THE AMERICAN AMBASSADOR AT BERLIN.
Please call on the Minister of Foreign Affairs and after reading to him this communication leave with him a copy.
In view of recent acts of the German authorities in violation of American rights on the high seas which culminated in the torpedoing and sinking of the British steamship Lusitania on May 7, 1915, by which over 100 American citizens lost their lives, it is clearly wise and desirable that the Government of the United States and the Imperial German Government should come to a clear and full understanding as to the grave situation which has resulted.
The sinking of the British passenger steamer Falaba by a German submarine on March 28, through which Leon C. Thrasher, an American citizen, was drowned; the attack, on April 28, on the American vessel Cushing by a German aeroplane; the torpedoing on May 1 of the American vessel Gulflight by a German submarine, as a result of which two or more American citizens met their death; and, finally, the torpedoing and sinking of the steamship Lusitania, constitute a series of events which the Government of the United States has observed with growing concern, distress, and amazement.
Recalling the humane and enlightened attitude hitherto assumed by the Imperial German Government in matters of international right, and particularly, with regard to the freedom of the seas; having learned to recognize the German views and the German influence in the field of international obligation as always engaged upon the side of justice and humanity; and having understood the instructions of the Imperial German Government to its naval commanders to be upon the same plane of humane action prescribed by the naval codes of other nations, the Government of the United States was loath to believe it can not now bring itself to believe-that these acts, so absolutely contrary to the rules, the practices, and the spirit of modern warfare, could have the countenance or sanction of that great Government. It feels it to be its duty, therefore, to address the Imperial German Government concerning them with the utmost frankness and in the earnest hope that it is not mistaken in expecting action on the part of the Imperial German Government which will correct the unfortunate impressions which have been created and vindicate once more the position of that Government with regard to the sacred freedom of the seas
The Government of the United States has been apprised that the Imperial German Government considered themselves to be obliged by the extraordinary circumstances of the present war and the measures adopted by their adversaries in seeking to cut Germany off from all commerce, to adopt methods of retaliation which go much beyond the ordinary methods of warfare at sea, in the proclamation of a war zone from which they have warned neutral ships to keep away. This Government has already taken occasion to inform the Imperial German Government that it can not admit the adoption of such measures or such a warning of danger to operate as in any degree an abbreviation of the rights of American shipmasters or of American citizens bound on lawful errands as passengers on merchant ships of belligerent nationality; and that it must hold the Imperial German Government to a strict accountability for any infringement of those rights, intentional or incidental. It does not understand the Imperial German Government to question those rights. It assumes, on the contrary, that the Imperial Government accept, as of course, the rule that the lives of noncombatants, whether they be of neutral citizenship or citizens of one of the nations at war, can not lawfully or rightfully be put in jeopardy by the capture or destruction of an unarmed merchantman, and recognize also, as all other nations do, the obligation to take the usual precaution of visit and search to ascertain whether a suspected merchantman is in fact of belligerent pationality or is in fact carrying contraband of war under a neutral flag. :
The Government of the United States, therefore, desires to call the attention of the Imperial German Government with the utmosu earnestness to the fact that the objection to their present method of attack against the trade of their enemies lies in the practical impossibility of employing submarines in the destruction of commerce without disregarding those rules of fairness, reason, justice, and humanity which all modern opinion regards as imperative. It is practically impossible for the officers of a submarine to visit a merchantman at sea and examine her papers and cargo. It is practically impossible for them to make a prize of her; and, if they can not put a prize crew on board of her, they can not sink her without leaving her crew and all on board of her to the mercy of the sea in her small boats. These facts, it is understood, the Imperial German Government frankly admit. We are informed that in the instances of which we have spoken time enough for even that poor measure of safety was not given, and in at least two of the cases cited not so much as a warning was received. Manifestly, submarines can not be used against merchantmen, as the last few weeks have shown, without an inevitable violation of many sacred principles of justice and humanity.
American citizens act within their indisputable rights in taking their ships and in traveling wherever their legitimate business calls them upon the high seas, and exercise those rights in what should be
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the well-justified confidence that their lives will not be endangered by acts done in clear violation of universally acknowledged international obligations, and certainly in the confidence that their own Government will sustain them in the exercise of their rights.
There was recently published in the newspapers of the United States, I regret to inform the Imperial German Government, a formal warning, purporting to come from the Imperial German Embassy at Washington, addressed to the people of the United States, and stating, in effect, that any citizen of the United States who exercised his right of free travel upon the seas would do so at his peril if his journey should take him within the zone of waters within which the Imperial German Navy was using submarines against the commerce of Great Britain and France, notwithstanding the respectful but very earnest protest of his Government, the Government of the United States. I do not refer to this for the purpose of calling the attention of the Imperial German Government at this time to the surprising irregularity of a communication from the Imperial German Embassy at Washington addressed to the people of the United States through the newspapers, but only for the purpose of pointing out that no warning that an unlawful and inhumane act will be committed can possibly be accepted as an excuse or palliation for that act or as an abatement of the responsibility for its commission.
Long acquainted as this Government has been with the character of the Imperial German Government and with the high principles of equity by which they have in the past been accentuated and guided, the Government of the United States can not believe that the commanders of the vessels which committed these acts of lawlessness did so except under a misapprehension of the orders issued by the Imperial German naval authorities. It takes it for granted that, at least within the practical possibilities of every such case, the commanders even of submarines were expected to do nothing that would involve the lives of noncombatants or the safety of neutral ships, even at the cost of failing of their object of capture or destruction. It confidently expects, therefore, that the Imperial German Government will disavow the acts of which the Government of the United States complains; that they will make reparation so far as reparation is possible for injuries which are without measure; and that they will take immediate steps to prevent the recurrence of anything so obviously subversive of the principles of warfare for which the Imperial German Government have in the past so wisely and so firmly contended.
The Government and people of the United States look to the Imperial German Government for just, prompt, and enlightened action in this vital matter with the greater confidence because the United States and Germany are bound together not only by special ties of friendship but also by the explicit stipulations of the treaty of 1828 between the United States and the Kingdom of Prussia.
Expressions of regret and offers of reparation in case of the destruction of neutral ships sunk by mistake, while they may satisfy international obligations, if no loss of life results, can not justify or excuse a practice the natural and necessary effect of which is to subject neutral nations and neutral persons to new and immeasurable risks.
The Imperial German Government will not expect the Govern-' ment of the United States to omit any word or any act necessary to the performance of its sacred duty of maintaining the rights of the United States and its citizens and of safeguarding their free exercise and enjoyment..
BRYAN. On May 28 the first German note on the Lusitania case was transmitted to our Government. This note did not admit the right of Americans on the merchantman and made no offer for reparation:
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THE MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS TO THE AMERICAN AMBASSADOR,
The undersigned has the honor to make the following reply to the note of his excellency, Mr. James W. Gerard, ambassador of the United States of America, dated the 15th instant, on the subject of the impairment of many American interests by the German submarine war.
The Imperial Government has subjected the statements of the Government of the United States to a careful examination, and has the lively wish on its part also to contribute in a convincing and friendly manner to clear up any misunderstandings which may have entered into the relations of the two Governments through the events mentioned by the American Government.
With regard, firstly, to the cases of the American steamers Cushing and Gulflight, the American Embassy has already been informed that it is far from the German Government to have any intention of ordering attacks by submarines or flyers on neutral vessels in the zone which have not been guilty of any hostile act; on the contrary, the most explicit instructions have been repeatedly given the German armed forces to avoid attacking such vessels. If neutral vessels have come to grief through the German submarine war during the past few months by mistake, it is a question of isolated and exceptional cases, which are traceable to the misuse of flags by the British Government in connection with carelessness or suspicious actions on the part of the captains of the vessels. In all cases where a neutral vessel, through no fault of its own, has come to grief through the German submarine or flyers, according to the facts as ascertained by the German Government, this Government has expressed its regret at the unfortunate occurrence and promised indemnification where the facts justified it. The German Government will treat the cases of the American steamers Cushing and Gulflight according to the same principles. An investigation of these cases is in progress. Its results will be communicated to the embassy shortly. The investigation might, if thought desirable, be supplemented by an international commission of inquiry, pursuant to title 3 of The Hague convention of October 18, 1907, for the pacific settlement of international disputes.
In the case of the sinking of the English steamer Falaba the commander of the German submarine had the intention of allowing passengers and crew ample opportunity to save themselves.
It was not until the captain disregarded the order to lay to and took to flight, sending up rocket signals for help, that the German