865.857 An 2/112½: Telegram
The Ambassador in Great Britain (Page) to the Secretary of State
[Received January 4—8:26 a. m.]
3500. The Washington correspondents of the most important London papers report that the last Austrian note on the Ancona 36 would have been acceptable if the Persia had not been sunk. This opinion, the sinking of the Persia, and the [lack of] a settlement [of the] Lusitania provoke unfavorable comment on the administration in every London newspaper today. Following are a few [specimen] comments:
The Morning Post says: “We have long ago relinquished all expectation that neutral nations would effectually intervene in respect of repeated outrages of the law of nations,” and “at the same time it must be said that their position in this regard is singularly inconsistent with their pleadings addressed to the allied belligerents that they may be allowed to trade with the enemy.”
The Times says: “The Germans and Austrians can have no objection against engaging in further diplomatic correspondence with President Wilson to any extent and to congratulating each other upon the ’refreshing and delightfully pungent irony’ with which they answer the ‘clumsy tone’ of his efforts. Why after all the Germans may argue should the killing of a single American in the Persia do more than that of a hundred Americans in the Lusitania and of the many Americans killed in other ships.”
The Daily Telegraph says: “The interchange of notes has now plainly reached and passed the point of farce and no spirited nation can long endure that condition of affairs.”
The Standard says: “If President Wilson thinks it worth while to continue argle-bargling with the governments of Germany and Austria when the crimes of the Yasaka Maru, the Ville de la Ciotat and the Persia have been committed while the note promising redress for that of the Ancona—with the tongue of course in the cheek—was on its way to him, that is his concern.” And the Standard says of the Austrian note: “If the United States will accept this it will accept anything.”
The Pall Mall Gazette says: “Berlin and Vienna we dare say are quite prepared to work upon a commercial tariff in their slaughter of American citizens so long as Washington is content to put a price upon them, and to declare the honor of the United States satisfied by a receipt upon the ’butcher’s bill’,” and “The proverbial fly upon the wheel does as much to influence locomotion as the diplomatic pen can effect in the restraint of German deviltry,” and “It is for the American people to decide whether their national prestige and dignity can be assuaged upon this mercantile basis. But we cannot forget that when President Wilson took up his pen upon the destruction of the Lusitania he announced himself with considerable emphasis as the champion of reason, justice and humanity upon the high seas. After [Page 704]half a year’s correspondence with the Central Empires he must be painfully conscious of the entire futility of his performances in that capacity.”
The Westminster Gazette says: “The German warlords apparently take a cynical pleasure in apologizing to the American Government one day and proving to their own people the next day that their apology was humbug.”
Public opinion both official and unofficial is expressed by these newspaper comments with far greater restraint than it is expressed in private conversations. Ridicule of the administration runs [through] the programs of the theaters; it inspires hundreds of [cartoons]; it is a staple of conversation at private dinners and in the clubs. The [most] serious class of Englishmen including the best friends of the United States feel that the administration’s reliance on notes has reduced our Government to a third or fourth rate power. There is even talk of spheres of German influence in the United States as in China.
No Government could fall lower in English opinion than we shall fall if more notes are sent to Austria or to Germany. The only way to keep any shred of English respect is the immediate dismissal without more parleying of every German and Austrian official at Washington. Nobody here believes that such an act would provoke war.
I can do no real service by mincing matters. [My previous telegrams] and letters have been purposely restrained as this one [is]. We have now come to the parting of the ways. If English respect be worth preserving at all, it can be preserved only by immediate action. Any other course than immediate [severing] of diplomatic relations with both Germany and Austria will deepen the English opinion into a conviction [that the administration was insincere] when it sent the Lusitania notes and that its notes and protests need not be taken seriously on any subject.
And English opinion is Allied opinion. The Italian Ambassador said to me—“What has happened? The United States of today is not the United States [I knew] 15 years ago when I lived in [Washington].” French officers and members of the Government who come here express themselves even more strongly than do the British.
The English newspapers today publish translations of ridicule of the United States from German papers.
Steamers to the United States are still held up at Liverpool presumably because of submarine activity in the Irish Sea.