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.