Page 4159

4159 HOW THE WAR CAME TO AMERICA

divided in camps of hostile opinion. "Such divisions among us

might seriously stand in the way of the proper performance of our duty as

the one great nation at peace, the one people holding itself ready to play

a part of impartial mediation and speak counsels of peace and accommodation, not as a partisan, but as a friend."

This purpose-the preservation of a strict neutrality in order that later

we might be of use in the great task of mediation-dominated all the President's early speeches.

"We are the mediating Nation of the world," he declared in an address

on April 20, 1915. "We are compounded of the nations of the world; we

mediate their blood, we mediate their traditions, we mediate their sentiments,

their tastes, their passions; we are ourselves compounded of those things.

We are, therefore, able to understand them in the compound, not separately

as partisans, but unitedly as knowing and comprehending and embodying

them all. It is in that sense that I mean that America is a mediating Nation."

American neutrality, in those first months of the great war, was beyond

any question, real.

But the spirit of neutrality was not easy to maintain. Public opinion

was deeply stirred by the German invasion of Belgium and by reports of

atrocities there. The Royal Belgian Commission, which came in September,

1914, to lay their country's cause for complaint before our National Government, was received with sympathy and respect. The President in his reply

reserved our decision in the affair. It was the only course he could take

without an abrupt departure from our most treasured traditions of noninterference in Old World disputes. But the sympathy of America went

out to the Belgians in their heroic tragedy, and from every section of our

land, money contributions and supplies of food and clothing poured over

to the Commission for Relief in Belgium, which was under the able management of our fellow countrymen abroad.

Still, the thought of taking an active part in this European war was very

far from most of our minds. The Nation shared with the President the

belief that by maintaining a strict neutrality we could best serve Europe

at the end as impartial mediators.

But in the very first days of the war, our Government foresaw that complications on the seas might put us in grave risk of being drawn into the conflict.

No neutral nation could foretell what violations of its vital interests at sea

might be attempted by the belligerents. And so, on August 6, 1914, our

Secretary of State dispatched an identical note to all the powers then at

war, calling attention to the risk of serious trouble arising out of this uncertainty