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Besides, it has been the universal practice for nations to permit the sale of munitions to belligerents, a practice in which both Germany and Austria have engaged in previous wars. In one of these wars—that between the Boer republics and Great Britain—the situation was parallel to the one at the present time. The Boer Allies were shut off from getting war supplies, but this fact did not cause Germany to stop the sale of munitions to Great Britain. It is true that in this case the amount sold was not so great as in the present war, but the principle involved is not affected by the extent of the business.
A very important practical reason was also given to explain “why the Government of the United States has from the foundation of the Republic to the present time advocated and practiced unrestricted trade in arms and military supplies. It has never been the policy of this country to maintain in time of peace a large military establishment or stores of arms and ammunition sufficient to repel invasion by a well equipped and powerful enemy. . . . In consequence of this standing policy the United States would, in the event of attack by a foreign power, be at the outset of the war seriexport or transit, on behalf of one or other of the belligerents, of arms, munitions of war, or, in general, of anything which can be of use to an army or fleet.” Hague and Geneva Conventions, United States Navy Department, p. 70.
ously, if not fatally, embarrassed by the lack of arms and ammunition and by the means to produce them in sufficient quantities to supply the requirements of national defense. The United States has always depended upon the right and power to purchase arms and ammunition from neutral nations in case of foreign attack. This right, which it claims for itself, it cannot deny to others." 3
There was another important reason why our Government should not restrain its citizens from the exercise of a right accorded them by international law, but of course it could not be given as an argument in a diplomatic note. This reason was that a large majority of our people were in sympathy with the Allies because they thought that the war had been forced upon them and that they were fighting for the political and social ideals that are held sacred in America. Besides, Germany's treatment of Belgium and her method of conducting the war in defiance of international usage and the principles of humanity had still further alienated American sympathy from her. For that reason public sentiment in America would not permit the Government to strain its neutrality in the interest of the enemies of our kinsmen and friends. Then, too, Germany had before the war made adequate provision for
3 Jour. (9), 127-129, 166–171, 259–60.
munitions and was thus armed. The Allies, on the other hand, had not provided for enough military supplies for the war and were, therefore, not so well armed as their enemies. The situation was like that of an unarmed man in a fight with an armed assailant, reaching for a pistol lying near him. An embargo on arms from America would have had the effect of pushing beyond his reach the pistol that would place him on an equal footing with his enemy and of putting him thereby at the mercy of his opponent. Such a policy on the part of America would not only have been unneutral; it would also have been unnatural. For the unarmed man was, in the case of England, our kinsman; in the case of France, our friend and former helper; and in both cases the champion of our ideals.
Another cause of disagreement between Germany and the United States was the question of armed merchantmen. As early as September 19, 1914, our Government stated its position as favoring the right of a merchantman to carry "armament and ammunition for the sole purpose of defense without acquiring the character of a ship of war." 4 The German foreign office took exception to this ruling and contended (October 15) that an armed merchantman should be considered as a regular
4 Jour. (9), 234.
war ship and should be accorded the same treatment in neutral ports as the latter.5
Acting Secretary Lansing dissented from this opinion (November 7) and reiterated the intention of his Government to allow defensively-armed merchantmen to enjoy the hospitality of our ports. In defense of this policy he pointed out the well-established fact that “the practice of a majority of nations and the consensus of opinion by the leading authorities on international law, including many German writers, support the proposition that merchant vessels may arm for defense without losing their private character.” 6 Our Government now rested its case and the question was not agitated again for more than a year, though Germany had not receded from her position.
The case was reopened, however, at the beginning of the year 1916. "Italian and British ships were armed on account of the ruthless submarine campaign which was being waged in the Mediterranean. The hint was given that Germany intended to sink all armed merchantmen without warning."? Secretary Lansing felt impelled to make an effort to prevent the "appalling loss of life among non5 Ibid., 238.
6 Jour. (9), 238–240; also see Higgins, Amer. Jour. of In. ternational Law, Vol. 8, p. 715. 7 Rogers, 161.
combatants,” and in an effort to do so unfortunately weakened the unassailable position which he had hitherto held with reference to the mooted question. On January 18, 1916, he made proposals for a joint agreement between the Allied and Teutonic powers whereby the former were to promise not to arm their merchant vessels and the latter to pledge themselves to conduct their submarine warfare in accordance with the principle of visit and search, that is, according to international law. He even went so far as to contend that the arrangement proposed by him was just in view of the new situation created by the submarine. His communication closed with the following unhappy statement:
I should add that my Government is impressed with the reasonableness of the argument that a merchant vessel carrying an armament of any sort, in view of the character of submarine warfare and the defensive weakness of undersea craft, should be held to be an auxiliary cruiser and so treated by a neutral as well as by a belligerent Government, and is seriously considering instructing its officials accordingly.
The Teutonic belligerents were quick to take advantage of Lansing's mistake and announced (February 10 and 12) that they would henceforth treat armed merchantmen as war ships. This meant, of course, that they would sink them without warning and would assume 8 Jour. (10), 310–13.