Germany ought not to be left in a moment’s doubt how the civilized world regards her latest display of “frightfulness.” It is a deed for which a Hun would blush, a Turk be ashamed, and a Barbary pirate apologize. To speak of technicalities and the rules of war, in the face of such wholesale murder on the high seas, is a waste of time. The law of nations and the law of God have been alike trampled upon. There is, indeed, puerile talk of “warning” having been given before the Lusitania sailed. But so does the Black Hand send its warnings. So does Jack the Ripper write his defiant letters to the police. Nothing of this prevents us from regarding such miscreants as wild beasts, against whom society has to defend itself at all hazards. And so must the German Government be given to understand that no plea of military necessity will now avail it before the tribunal on which sits as judge the humane conscience of the world. As was declared by Germany’s own representative at the Hague Congress, the late Marschall von Bieberstein, there are some atrocities which international law does not need to legislate against, since they fall under the instant and universal condemnation of mankind.
In the face of the great crisis thrust upon us, it is necessary for Americans to remain calm. If the Germans have gone mad, all the more reason for us to keep our heads. The duty of our Government is clear; and it is for the people to let the President know that in the discharge of it he has behind him a nation that, without passion or clamor, is resolute and strong. As soon as the facts are officially ascertained, the President should make the clearest and firmest representations to Germany. He should demand full disavowal of the lawless and inhuman act of the commander of the German submarine, with a promise of complete reparation. If the German Government is not entirely given over to a strong delusion and a lie, it will not haughtily refuse what President Wilson will be right in insisting upon, not only in the name of the American people, but in that of humanity.
To see on what grounds our Government has already prepared itself to proceed, in the event of such a monstrous crime as has now been committed, we have merely to turn back to the first announcement of the German Admiralty, and the grave protest which it drew from our Government. On February 4 the “Notice” of the Chief of the Admiralty Staff, Von Pohl, was published. It proclaimed “the waters all around Great Britain and Ireland” as “a theatre of war”; declared that “every hostile merchantman met in this region” would be destroyed, and that “it will not always be possible to avert the danger, thereby threatening the crew and the passengers.” It added that “neutral ships” also run a risk in that “theatre of war,” since “it cannot always be avoided that attacks intended for hostile ships may also hit neutral ships.” To this “Notice” our Government replied on February 10. It informed the German Government that it viewed the proposals of the German Admiralty with “grave concern.” The course of action indicated was “unprecedented in naval warfare,” and “an indefensible violation of neutral right”; and it added that, in the case of the destruction of an American vessel, or the loss of American lives, by the act of “commanders of German vessels of ‘war,” this Government could not fail to “hold the Imperial German Government to a strict accountability.”
This issue between the two Governments, thus sharply marked out in advance, is the one now thrust to the front by the taking of the lives of Americans on the Lusitania. The obligation laid upon our Government is imperative. Such acts have been called “pure piracy.” Strictly speaking, they are not that. Pirates do not act under orders, but the officers of German submarines do. This throws the responsibility back upon their Government which issued the order to sink without warning a merchant vessel with 2,000 non-combatants and neutrals aboard. In the act, that Government becomes piratical and an outlaw. It is this truth which the indignant voice of this mighty nation, joining in the chorus of reprobation rising from all parts of the earth, should now seek to bite into the consciousness of the German people.
No sober mind can fail to grasp the extreme gravity of the crisis forced upon the United States. It is no time for shouting or threatening. All the self-restraint of which we are capable should now be exercised. We ought to present to the world—and especially to Germany—the spectacle of a people too firmly planted on right to be hysterical, and too determined on obtaining justice to bluster. It is a dark and heavy day, but we need not doubt that the light will finally break through. If it is true that Germany has drunk too deep of the wine of military insolence to be turned from it just yet; if she is, the modern example of what the Greeks called hubris—a mad defiance of God and man—then we may be sure that the true and righteous judgments of the Lord will be visited upon her. And a part of that divine judgment will certainly be such a world-sentiment, written into world-law, as will make the horrors and crimes of the past nine months impossible for evermore.
Germany’s Biggest Blunder
While German newspapers are glorying in the infamy of murdering women and children at sea, an Italian newspaper speaks a true word. The Messaggero declares that the torpedoing of the Lusitania is a more heavy blow to the German cause than would have been the loss of a great battle. The German Government, in its official statement, has not a word of regret that so many lives of non-combatants and neutrals were lost. All is military mercilessness. It was a “brilliant success.” But Germans in this country know better. One of them was quoted in Sunday’s papers as saying—what, in fact, has been heard from other German-Americans, and must be deep in the hearts of all of them—that the sinking of the Lusitania was the biggest blunder that the German authorities had been guilty of since the beginning of the war.
It really seemed impossible that the German rulers had left for themselves a climax in deeds fitted to shock the civilized world, and to bring upon them the abhorrence of all humane people, but they had, and they have now attained it. Solemn treaties made scraps of paper; Belgium trampled into bloody mire; Louvain followed by Rheims; asphyxiating gases—it seemed hard to make that atrocious record blacker, but it has been done. As if the ruthless militarists now in control of the German Government were desirous of depriving their country, at one stroke, of every remaining shred of sympathy in neutral lands, they devised this crime of slaughtering the innocents so as to outstrip in hideousness all that had gone before, or that it entered into the imagination of man to conceive. The worst enemy of Germany could not have inflicted a blow upon her so destructive to her repute or to her hopes. The torpedo that sank the Lusitania also sank Germany In the opinion of mankind. Men will now be tempted to say of the Kaiser what Coleridge said of Napoleon, when he heard that Bonaparte had declared that the Interests of small states must always succumb to great ones “Thank God! he has sealed his fate: from this moment his fall is certain.”
What we have to remember is that, from the outbreak of the war, there have been two different tendencies in German officialdom struggling for the mastery. There was one element, represented by the weak Chancellor, which desired to appear at least to be doing the lawful thing, and to be acting humanely; and there was another, of which Admiral von Tirpitz and the General Staff were exponents, which was for hacking through and burning and butchering in a way to terrify opponents—especially to terrify neutrals so that they would never dare to think of defying the German enginery of death. And the point is that it is this latter faction which has now gained complete control. At first, even in the operations of submarines against merchant vessels, there was the appearance of a decent regard for civilized opinion. Crew and passengers received time to escape. We had such testimony as that of the commander of one German submarine, who asked how he could possibly fire without warning upon a ship on board which were women and children. But all this has come to be thought too weak and flabby, too lacking In the necessary “frightfulness.” And so we got the sinking of the Falaba; so we finally got the deep damnation of the destruction of the Lusitania. And Germany exults in it! This is what the doctrine of blood and iron comes to, when it has done its perfect work.
In the complex nature of the German Emperor himself, as he has been exhibiting it to the gaze of mankind for twenty-five years, we can see also the two elements of cultivation and barbarism side by side. William II is a man of versatile accomplishments; a lover of art and music and literature; capable of doing many graceful and considerate acts. But in him there has likewise been all along a fonds of military savagery. His famous address to the German soldiers setting out for China was, even in its softened official version, filled with a stark brutality worthy of Genghis Khan. And expression of these fierce physical passions has escaped him more than once even in questions of German internal policy. Some of his most vehement threats have been leveled at the members of the largest political party within the Empire—the Social-Democrats. His latent motto has been, whoever opposes me I will dash to pieces— in his own words, den zerschmettere ich. It is this smashing-to-pieces policy which has now reached its height—and, at the same moment, we firmly believe, the brink of its final collapse in the awful work off the coast of Ireland.
It is at once a crime and a monumental folly. For a military advantage which is but trifling, and which cannot really affect the course of the war except adversely to Germany, she has affronted the moral sense of the world and sacrificed her standing among the nations.