The Secretary of State to President Wilson

My Dear Mr. President: I am enclosing three communications which we have received from the German Ambassador in regard to the food situation and the war zone.1

The situation is growing more and more delicate and under the proposed war zone plan we are liable, at any time, to have a disaster over there which will inflame public opinion—and we are not in a position to meet this outburst of public opinion unless we have done all that we can do to prevent it.

I am led to believe from Conversations with the German and Austrian Ambassadors that there would be a chance of securing the withdrawal of the military zone order in return for favorable action on the food question.

I do not know in what direction your mind is moving on the subject but I feel myself more and more inclined in the opinion that the British position is without justification. The German Government is willing to give assurances that the food imported will not be taken by the Government and is even willing that American organizations shall distribute that food. This, it seems to me, takes away the British excuse for attempting to prevent the importation of food.

You will notice in the last note the bitterness of the tone in which the German Government speaks of the attempts to starve the noncombatants. If I am not mistaken the efforts to bring this “economic pressure”—as they call it—upon women and children of Germany will offend the moral sense of our country and, of course, still further arouse those who are inclined to sympathize with Germany.

I am constrained to believe that it is worth while for us to make an attempt to adjust the difficulty by setting one of these propositions off [Page 354] against the other. I mean that we should see whether Great Britain will withdraw her objection to food entering Germany—the same to be distributed there through American instrumentalities, in return for the withdrawal of the German order in regard to the war zone.

If we can secure the withdrawal of these two orders it will greatly clear the atmosphere and if we cannot do it I believe that we are approaching the most serious crisis that we have had to meet.

As soon as you have time to consider this will you please let me know your wishes? I shall be at home this evening until nine or half-past and, of course, can remain at home longer if necessary, although I have promised to go out for a little while later in the evening to attend a meeting of the Alumni of the Nebraska University. I will telephone you between nine and half-after and if you have reached a decision we might send a communication to Great Britain tonight. If anything can be done no time should be lost in acting.

With assurances [etc.]

W. J. Bryan
  1. Communications from the German Ambassador on these subjects appear in Foreign Relations, 1915, supp., pp. 94, 95, 102, 104.