Page 4165

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