4165 HOW THE WAR CAME TO AMERICA
ever increasing aggressiveness of the German autocracy. There was general
agreement here with the statement of our President, on October 26, 1916,
that this conflict was the last great war involving the world in which we
could remain neutral.
It was in this frame of mind, fearing we might be drawn into the war if
it did not soon come to an end, that the President began the preparation of
his note, asking the belligerent powers to define their war aims. But before
he had completed it, the world was surprised by the peace move of the German Government-an identical note on behalf of the German Empire,
Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey, sent through neutral powers on
December 12, 1916, to the governments of the Allies, proposing negotiations
for peace. While expressing the wish to end this war-"a catastrophe which
thousands of years of common civilization was unable to prevent and which
injures the most precious achievements of humanity"-the greater portion
of the note was couched in terms that gave small hope of a lasting peace.
Boasting of German conquests, "the glorious deeds of our armies," the note
implanted in neutral minds the belief that it was the purpose of the Imperial
German Government to insist upon such conditions as would leave all Central Europe under German dominance and so build up an Empire which
would menace the whole liberal world.
Moreover, the German proposal was accompanied by a thinly veiled threat
to all neutral nations; and from a thousand sources, official and unofficial,
the word came to Washington that unless the neutrals used their influence
to bring the war to an end on terms dictated from Berlin, Germany and
her allies would consider themselves henceforth free from any obligations
to respect the rights of neutrals. The Kaiser ordered the neutrals to exert
pressure on the Entente to bring the war to an abrupt end, or to beware of
the consequences. Clear warnings were brought to our Government that
if the German peace move should not be successful, the submarines would
be unleashed for a more intense and ruthless war upon all commerce.
On the 18th of December, the President dispatched his note to all the
belligerent powers, asking them to define their war aims. There was still
hope in our minds that the mutual suspicions between the warring powers
might be decreased, and the menace of future German aggression and dominance be removed, by finding a guaranty of good faith in a League of Nations.
There was a chance that by the creation of such a league as part of the peace
negotiations, the war could now be brought to an end before our Nation
was involved. Two statements issued to the press by our Secretary of State,
upon the day the note was dispatched, threw a clear light on the seriousness