Saturday, February 04, 2017

Today -100: February 4, 1917: We do not desire any hostile conflict with the German government


Woodrow Wilson breaks diplomatic relations with Germany. But, Wilson tells a joint session of Congress, “We do not desire any hostile conflict with the German government.” He says he “cannot bring myself to believe” that Germany intends to do what it says it will do; “I cannot bring myself to believe that they will indeed pay no regard to the ancient friendship between their people and our own... Only actual overt acts on their part can make me believe it even now.” SPOILER ALERT: Believe it, dude.

Later in the day a note arrives from Austria saying it would be following Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare policy, so Wilson breaks relations with them too (this may be an inaccurate report) (or possibly Wilson changed his mind; one difference between the two Teutonic nations is that Germany’s change in policy violates a promise it made to the US but Austria never promised the US anything). The new ambassador has only just arrived too, and hasn’t even taken up his post.

Congressional support for Wilson is nearly unanimous, although it’s unclear (to me, anyway) how many of them share his belief that they’re not actually on the road to war.

A German u-boat sinks the US steamer Housatonic off the Skilly Isles a couple of hours after Wilson sent Ambassador Johann von Bernstorff packing (“I expect to retire to my farm and raise potatoes,” Bernstorff says). The u-boat gives the ship a one-hour warning to evacuate and even tows its lifeboats towards shore, so this is not the overt act that Wilson doesn’t believe will happen. Housatonic, by the way, is also the name of the first ship ever sunk by a submarine, during the US Civil War.

William Jennings Bryan issues a statement to the American people asking them to tell their president and congresscritters that they don’t want the US to enter the war.

Theodore Roosevelt fully supports Wilson, for once, and volunteers his own services and those of his four sons in the event of war, in a Rough-Riders-type unit he just asked the War Department permission to allow him to raise.

British Prime Minister David Lloyd George calls Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare policy “only a development and advance along the road to complete barbarism which is crushing out of that country the last shreds of civilisation” and says it reveals the “Goth in all his naked savagery.” Sounds like he had a bad experience dating a goth chick. He says that Wilson’s “peace without victory” would just be a rest period for the Central Powers. The prime minister speaks in his constituency of Carnarvon, Wales to an audience that was carefully screened because of the fake assassination plot against him. Organizers planned to exclude women, just like in the good old pre-war suffragette days, but decided to let in a handful of wives and daughters of local notables.

The NYT says there are maybe 10,000 foreign spies (German, Austrian, Turkish, Bulgarian) in the United States, half of them in New York. That’s a lot of spies.


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