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tive unimportance by the greater issue created by the sinking of the Lusitania on May 7, 1915. The Lusitania, an unarmed British merchantman, was sunk off the coast of Ireland by a German submarine and more than eleven hundred lives were lost, one hundred and fourteen of them being Americans. No warning had been given and no effort was made to save the lives of the passengers and crew.
It is true that before the Lusitania left New York there had been published as an advertisement in the New York papers a notice, signed by the German embassy at Washington, which warned American citizens against taking passage on any enemy ship going through the war zone.? For the German embassy to send such a notice to the American people except through the regular diplomatic channels was in itself an insult to our Government. Our Secretary of State called attention to its “surprising irregularity” in his first note to Germany after the sinking of the Lusitania.
On May 13, 1915, Secretary Bryan sent a note to the German foreign office, reminding it of the previously announced intention of his Government to hold “the Imperial German Government to a strict accountability for
ability for any infringement,” “intentional or incidental," "of the rights of American ship-masters or of
7 See War Cyclopedia, p. 159.
American citizens bound on lawful errands as passengers on merchant ships of belligerent nationality.” He also expressed the earnest conviction that submarines could not be used against merchantmen “without an inevitable violation of many sacred principles of justice and humanity." The note assumed a threatening tone at the end and closed with this final warning:
The Imperial German Government will not expect the Government 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.
The German reply to this note was made on May 28. It contended that the Lusitania had been built with Government funds as auxiliary cruiser; that on her last trip she had “Canadian troops and munitions on board,” "as on earlier occasions"; that she carried a cargo prohibited by the laws of the United States to passenger vessels; and that, according to evidence in hand, “the Lusitania when she left New York undoubtedly had guns on board which were mounted under decks and masked.” In making these representations the German Government reserved the right to make “a final statement of its position with
8 Jour. (9), 129–133.
regard to the demands made in connection with the sinking of the Lusitania until a reply is received from the American Government." 9
The reply of our Government to this communication was made on June 9 by Mr. Lansing, acting Secretary of State, because Mr. Bryan was unwilling to sign the note and had resigned as Secretary of State on the previous day. Our second note declared that the German Government had been misinformed as to the status of the Lusitania Mr. Lansing pointed out that it was the duty of our Government "to see to it that the Lusitania was not armed for offensive action, that she was not serving as a transport, that she did not carry a cargo prohibited by the statutes of the United States ;—and [that] it performed that duty and enforced its statutes with scrupulous vigilance through its regularly constituted officials.” The question as to whether she carried contraband was irrelevant, as that fact even if established gave the submarine commander no excuse for taking American lives. Only the actual resistance of the Lusitania “to capture or refusal to stop when ordered to do so for the purpose of visit could,” in his opinion, “have afforded the commander of the submarine any justification for so much as putting the lives of those on board the ship in
9 Jour. (9), 133-136.
jeopardy.” The note reaffirmed the former representations and asked for assurances that American lives and ships would be safeguarded in the future. 10
It was nearly a month (July 9) before the German foreign office replied to our second Lusitania note. In this reply Germany promised that American vessels would hereafter not be molested in the war zone provided they had such markings as would render them distinguishable from enemy vessels. This pledge was accompanied by an expression of the hope that the Government of the United States would guarantee that the vessels so marked would have no contraband on board. In order to provide for the safety of American passenger traffic the German Government was willing to extend the same immunity from attack to a reasonable number of neutral vessels, which were to carry the American flag and be marked in the same way “as the American steamers above mentioned.” If the requisite number of neutral vessels could not be acquired by our Government then four enemy vessels could be placed under the flag of the United States under the same conditions as those mentioned for American ships.11
In his reply, on July 21, Secretary Lansing declared the last German note to be "very un10 Jour. (9), 138–141.
11 Jour. (9), 149–153.
satisfactory, because it fails to meet the real differences between the two Governments and indicates no way in which the accepted principles of law and humanity may be applied in the grave matter in controversy, but proposes, on the contrary, arrangements for a partial suspension of those principles which virtually set them aside." He noted with satisfaction the acceptance on the part of the German Goverment of the “principle that the high seas are free, that the character and cargo of a merchantman must first be ascertained before she can lawfully be seized or destroyed, and that the lives of non-combatants may in no case be put in jeopardy unless the vessel resists or seeks to escape after being summoned to submit to examination.” He was disappointed, however, “to find that the Imperial German Government regards itself as in a large degree exempt from the obligation to observe these principles.”
The offer of immunity from attack for vessels having certain markings was rejected, as “the very agreement would, by implication, subject other vessels to illegal attack and would be a curtailment and therefore an abandonment of the principles for which this Government contends." The note ended with the warning that a “repetition by the commanders of German naval vessels of acts in