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were at once to implicate ourselves in the war. But the President went further than merely to proclaim official neutrality. He sought popular neutrality as well. He was aware of the large numbers of our own citizens of British, French and other allied nations origin and sympathy, and of the large though lesser numbers of those of Teutonic affiliation, and he dreaded the possible dissensions and conflicts which might arise in this country between the respective partisans of the two belligerent leagues. With this in mind, he exhorted all Americans to observe strict neutrality, not merely in acts and words, but even in thought. We must not, he insisted, permit our inner and secret sympathies to turn toward one side or the other.
That was impossible, of course. It was an exhortation against nature. It is doubtful if many ever seriously tried to obey his injunction; and it is practically certain that few ever succeeded in doing so. But that impossible attitude was the official attitude of record, and it was that by which foreign nations were compelled to judge us. Indeed, even to a date only a little while before the American declaration of war, that attitude was nominally still maintained. As related elsewhere in this volume, in his note suggesting overtures for peace, in December, 1916, President Wilson referred to the two belligerent leagues of Europe as having at least professedly the same objects and purposes in the war; a suggestion against which the Allies strongly protested.
REASONS FOR OUR ATTITUDE Suggestion has already been made of the President's motive, or of one of his motives, in recommending this impossibly neutral attitude. There were other reasons why many of the American people were at first unable to perceive the real issues of the war, and were slow in realizing how immediate and intense was American interest in it.
We had been at peace with the world for many years, and had got out of the habit of thinking in terms of war or of analyzing and comprehending the causes and purposes of war. A stupendous and complex problem was presented to us, and we were unfamiliar with the method of its solution and even with the value of its various factors.
There had grown up in America, too, the strange delusion that we had a traditional policy of complete isolation from European affairs, and that all European wars were necessarily matters of indifference to us, in which we were by no means to become involved.
We must also recognize the facts that there had long been here a persistent and often vigorous anti-British propaganda. It not infrequently happens that dissensions between near relatives are more bitter, up to a certain point, than those between strangers. Thus America, being chiefly of British origin, indulged in a family feud with the Mother Country.
The large and important Irish element in the United States, too, promoted a certain disapproval of and even resentment at Great Britain on account of the undoubted grievances which Ireland had formerly for many years suffered under British rule.
THE GERMAN PROPAGANDA Another potent factor in misleading American opinion at the beginning was the shrewd, insidious and altogether unscrupulous German propaganda, which was Protean in form and often ingenious in the superlative degree. It took the guise of peace societies, of anti-militarist leagues, of petitions against the sale of military munitions, and of other ostensibly neutral and benevolent movements; all organized and directed, however, by Germans or German sympathizers, largely financed with German money, and all aiming at the same end, to create sympathy with Germany and to exacerbate animosity against England.
A single example—one of many—may be cited. Early in the war certain German intriguers and conspirators started the circulation of petitions to Congress to enact an embargo upon the exportation of munitions. This was signed by more than a million persons, all over the country, under the auspices of a so-called “Organization of American Women for Strict Neutrality.” The signatures were solicited on the ground that we ought not to sell munitions to the foes of Germany because “Germany did not permit her citizens to sell arms or munitions of war to Spain during our war with that nation,” and that same statement was embodied in the text of the petition itself. The fact is that that statement was a deliberate falsehood, first put forward by a notorious German agent in New York and later used at German instigation in this petition, for the direct purpose of deceiving and misleading the American people. The indisputable official record of our own government is that during that entire war vessels freely carried ammunition from German ports to Spain.
THE ALLIES ASTONISHED All these things had their effect in America, to the astonishment of the Allies. Those countries saw through the German intrigues and falsehoods far more quickly and more clearly than did we, and they could not understand our blindness. They realized, too, from the very beginning the real character of the war, that it was a war on their side of democracy against autocracy, of the rights of man against the “divine right of kings.” They saw in the violation of treaties, the repudiation of international law, and the subversion of independent nationalities a direct menace to every nation in the world. If Germany could override the rights of Belgium, any nation could override the rights of any other.
All this was very clear to the British and French minds, and they could not understand why it was not equally obvious to the American mind. They could not understand why the United States failed to do so much as to file a protest or a remonstrance against the violation of Belgium, when it was one of the signatories of that treaty of The Hague which declared and covenanted, on the faith of all the signatory nations, that the territory of that kingdom—that is, of all neutral states-should be inviolate.
NOT ASTONISHED BUT ASTOUNDED They were not merely astonished, they were astounded, at some of the further developments. They could not understand why, after the appalling tragedy of the Lusitania, we did not promptly hold Germany to the "strict accountability" which we had threatened. They could not understand how we could continue on terms of friendly diplomatic intercourse with a power after we had found that its Ambassador, attaches and consuls in this country had been systematically conspiring for the commission of felonies against our domestic peace, law and order, and against our status as a neutral power.
They did not, of course, give due weight to the circumstances of this nation-its utter unpreparedness for war, its habitual disinclination toward war, and the essential difference between its point of view and manner of thought and their own. In a lesser emergency there might have been
less misunderstanding. But this world cataclysm was so stupendous, so stupefying, so overwhelming, that neither they nor we could appreciate the other's feelings or point of view.
OUR THREE SAVIORS Meantime three European nations were our saviors. The fact was largely ignored at the time, and was even ignorantly or maliciously denied. But it was and is a fact, which must abide in history. The ultimate purpose of Germany in beginning this war was universal conquest of all nations; and, as John Hay once remarked, "all nations includes America." That fact was made sufficiently clear in the writings of General von Bernhardi and other German militarists. It was unmistakably suggested by the pains with which Germany's army and navy departments secured, long before this war, the most elaborate, accurate and detailed maps and plans of our chief harbors and seaboard cities and the country surrounding them. It was openly boasted at the beginning of the war, by many prominent and authoritative Germans. “In three weeks,” they said, “we shall have Paris; in three months, England; in three years, America!" It may be added that since his return home Mr. Gerard, our Ambassador to Germany from before the beginning of the war until our breach of relations with that country, has amply and emphatically confirmed, from knowledge acquired at Berlin, this account of Germany's intentions.
Now there were three things which frustrated this design of the Kaiser's, and which therefore saved the United States from having to fight for its life against a wholesale German invasion. The first was the sublime heroism and self-immolation of Belgium in resisting with her puny might the onset of the German legions. She was quickly