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patience. If a break in diplomatic relations were to be avoided it would have to accede to our demands.
When this second American note reached Berlin both Mr. Gerard, American ambassador at Berlin, and Von Jagow, German foreign minister, felt that a break in relations between the two powers was unavoidable. In a few days Ambassador Gerard was invited by Von Jagow to visit the Emperor at Great General Headquarters. The invitation was accepted and Mr. Gerard left Berlin for the meeting with the Kaiser on April 28th. At the interview the Sussex case and other topics were discussed and the Emperor seems to have spoken rather unreservedly. He frankly said that “there was no longer any international law.” He wanted to know why our Government had not brought Great Britain to terms for her alleged breaches of international usage. Our ambassador very tactfully replied that it was for us to decide the order in which we would enforce our rights, and in doing so used this illustration: “I answered that,
I had already told the Chancellor, if two men entered my grounds and one stepped on my flowerbeds and the other killed my sister, I should probably first pursue the murderer of
my sister." 17
17 Gerard, My Four Years in Germany, 260, 324–5, 339—41.
A favorable reply to Lansing's note came on May 4. To what extent the Kaiser had been influenced to meet our demands by the interview with our ambassador can only be conjectured. At any rate Germany had yielded though she had done it with a very bad grace. The general tone of Von Jagow's note was rasping and there was a flat denial of the charge that the sinking of the Sussex was only an instance of “the deliberate method of indiscriminate destruction of vessels of all sorts." It admitted the possibility that “the ship mentioned in the note of April 10 as torpedoed by a German submarine” might be identical with the Sussex and if such should prove to be the case the “German Government will [would] not fail to draw the consequences resulting therefrom.” The astounding statement was also made that the German Government had never pledged itself to conduct submarine warfare in accordance with the general principles of visit and search” in the war zone. Such a promise, however, was now made in the following clause of the note:
The German Government . notifies the Government of the United States that the German naval forces have received the following orders: In accordance with the general principles of visit and search and destruction of merchant vessels recognized by international law, such vessels, both within and without the area declared as a naval war zone, shall not be
sunk without warning and without saving human lives, unless these ships attempt to escape or offer resistance.
With this pledge was coupled the statement that Germany counted on America's inducing Great Britain to observe the rules of international law universally recognized before the war as they are laid down in the notes presented by the Government of the United States to the British Government on December 28, 1914, and November 5, 1915." If the Government of the United States should fail to induce all the belligerents to follow the laws of humanity, then Germany would reserve her liberty of action.18
Our State Department regarded this reply as a virtual acceptance of its demands. It was careful to explain, however, that it took it for granted that the Imperial German Government did “not intend to imply that the maintenance of its newly announced policy is [was] in any way contingent upon the course or result of diplomatic negotiations between the Government of the United States and any other belligerent Government."
The concluding paragraph of the note was as follows:
In order, however, to avoid any possible misunderstanding, the Government of the United States notifies the Imperial Government that it can not for a
18 Jour. (10), 195–199.
moment entertain, much less discuss, a suggestion that respect by German naval authorities for the rights of citizens of the United States upon the high seas should in any way or in the slightest degree be made contingent upon the conduct of any other Government affecting the rights of neutrals and non-combatants. Responsibility in such matters is single, not joint; absolute, not relative.19
The pledge of the German Government was clinched by another note (May 8) which acknowledged that their submarine commander had disobeyed instructions in the Sussex case and had “been appropriately punished.” It also disavowed the act and offered reparation.20 The submarine controversy was now laid to rest for the time being and the firmness of our Government was rewarded with a diplomatic victory.
19 Jour. (10), 199–200. 20 Rogers, 188.
THE FINAL BREAK
WHILE no serious controversy arose between our Government and that of Germany for about eight months after the Sussex pledge was made, still merchant vessels were being sunk without warning and neutral lives lost. The German foreign office, however, always had an explanation or excuse for these sinkings and firmly maintained that the Sussex pledge was being observed. Our Government seems to have accepted these explanations and to have taken the attitude that Germany was trying to live up to her promises.1
Sentiment in Germany was divided as to the wisdom of prosecuting ruthless warfare. One party, composed of the jingoes, led by Von Tirpitz, and of all factions opposed to the chancellor, were in favor of giving free rein to the undersea boats even if it should bring America into the war. They hated America and despised her military and naval strength. The other party, headed by the chancellor, ap
1 Rogers, 192-195; Gerard, 357–8.