File No. 701.6211/305

The German Ambassador (Bernstorff) to the Secretary of State

Mr. Secretary: In view of the wide publicity that has been given the documents and memoranda that were stolen from a member of my Embassy and the wholly false and unwarranted deductions that are sought to be drawn from them as evidenced by news comments and editorials, I have concluded, in justice to your excellency and to the cause I represent, to present a brief summary of the facts.

It is inevitable that all sorts of wild and irresponsible offers, proposals, and suggestions should be addressed from every conceivable quarter to one holding the official position in which I am placed as the representative of one of the great nations engaged in this unfortunate world-wide war. That is the character of most of the documents that were contained in the portfolio that was abstracted from Doctor Albert.

The published letter from a Mr. McLane to the effect that said gentleman “has a plan for precipitating a strike of automobile workers” is a fair illustration of the worthless sort of material on which the representatives of my country are charged with conspiring against the industrial peace of this community and are sought to be held up to the public reprobation. Letters and documents of this sort from strangers with whom we have had no dealings or communications and whose very identity is unknown to us, are paraded under blinding headlines as though they constituted evidence of actual [Page 928] transactions with us or were matters [of] which we were cognizant or for which we are responsible. It seems that every person who writes a letter containing any sort of wild proposal is used to discredit a responsible, accredited agent of a friendly government, even to the extent of making his often ridiculous views and proposals the basis of charging me and members of my staff with disloyalty to the country whose protection and hospitality we enjoy and deeply appreciate and which we have in no way abused or infringed.

The recent World publications may be arranged under four heads:

(1) It is said that the documents indicate that the German Government has been engaged in the purchase of munition factories and war materials, whilst at the same time it or its ally has been insisting upon and supporting a propaganda in favor of an embargo by this country against the exportation of arms and ammunition. This is charged to be an inconsistent attitude and as evidence of bad faith.

I insist that it is capable of no such construction and that the two positions are entirely consistent, although in point of fact there has been as yet no purchase made, contracted for or arranged of any munition or other factory producing war material.

Whilst Germany and Austria-Hungary had hoped that there would be such an embargo and have been expecting that the action of Great Britain in seizing control of the seas against neutral countries and in destroying neutral commerce in violation of international law would result in prompt reprisals of that character, we have still considered it our right and duty, whilst Great Britain continues its piracy on the high seas, to endeavor to protect ourselves against this course of international brigandage by stopping the exportation of war materials to the Allies wherever it can be accomplished, whether by a purchase of factories or of war materials even though we are not in a position at this time to make further use of them in our own defense.

I am unable to understand on what theory our action in that direction should be the subject of criticism. If we had the means and the opportunity we would buy every munition factory in the United States, if in that way we could keep munitions from the enemy and in doing so we certainly would not act, either in bad faith or inconsistently.

As further evidencing the utter Worthlessness and misleading character of the publications of which I complain, I beg herewith to quote from an official document filed by the German Embassy with the State Department on June 12, 1915,1 from which you will note that so far from our then contemplated purchase of war materials having been secretly conducted, our intentions were fully explained to the State Department, accompanied by the offer to resell to the United States Government “any or all of the materials purchased.”

If the German Government, during the course of the war, should consider it advisable to purchase arms, ammunition or other war material in the United States, it could do so for no other purpose than to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Allies, her enemies. The right of Germany to effect such purchases could not be questioned, Such purchases could not form a danger to the United States, but would to some extent serve as a limitation upon the casualties of war, thus serving humanity; such purchases would furthermore [Page 929] serve the particular interests of the United States. For it must be, remembered that if the German Government should ever consider it advisable to purchase war materials in the United States, it would do so knowing that delivery in Germany could not be secured and that no use of the purchased material could be hoped for during the war. It will readily be understood, therefore, that the German Government would at any time be willing, and, indeed glad, to sell and transfer to the United States Government any or all of the material it had purchased. Instead of depriving this country of any part of her resources, purchases by Germany would insure the retention within this country of any material it might purchase. From the German point of view, purchases at this time by the German Government of war material manufactured in the United States, while it would involve the sacrifice of large sums of money, would be justified alone by the consideration of the humane effects such purchases might accomplish in the saving of the lives of the German soldiers, whom, in the hands of the Allies, this war material would wound and slay.

This statement was, as your excellency knows, prompted by the simultaneous appearance at the time of articles in leading newspapers in various parts of the country that were almost identical in language in which they refer to an alleged “German plot to get possession of the plants making war materials in order to embarrass the United States in the prosecution of its policies.”

The articles were evidently part of the inspired press campaign to embarrass the German Government in its relations with the United States Government and were, of course, mischievous fabrications.

The criticism, as directed against our negotiations looking to the prevention of exports of liquid chlorid to the Allies by buying the product, seems strangely out, of place, having regard to the fact that the British Government has from the beginning of the war concluded contracts in this country whereby—

Every American manufacturer of rubber goods and of woolen goods has been compelled as a condition of securing the crude rubber or raw wool required in his business, to sell his entire product through a British agency and has been prevented from supplying any part of it to Germany or Austria-Hungary or from dealing with any neutral nation except through the British agency;
The copper producers of the country have been required to deal with their output of copper in like manner;
The great packing industries of America have likewise been compelled to withhold their product from neutral countries, as well as from the enemies of Great Britain, except to the extent to which Great Britain, through its own agents, may permit such sales;
Efforts in the same direction are now being made to tie up the entire cotton crop.

Yet when the German Government endeavors to secure control of the output of a single factory, its entirely legitimate action is widely denounced as amounting to a propaganda “involving the United States in the complications of the European war” and “constituting a flagrant violation of the spirit and intent of the United States antitrust laws.”

Surely, no reasoning mind can be misled by such manifest evidences of blind partisanship, unfairness and insincerity. I doubt whether the world has ever witnessed a publicity campaign or a secret service bureau approaching the dimensions, influence and efficiency of that which is maintained in this country by our enemies.

(2) In answer to the inference based on certain of the letters, that I or anyone connected with the German Embassy has been concerned [Page 930] in fomenting or encouraging strikes in factories manufacturing war materials, I have only to say that there is no basis for any such assertion or insinuation. No such transaction or negotiation as is suggested by the above-mentioned letter from Mr. McLane ever occurred. Whilst it is true, as above stated, that all sorts of offers and proposals were and are being constantly made to us (as they are doubtless being made to the representatives of the Allies in this country) upon that and every other conceivable subject by people unknown to us, to whose proposals we paid not the slightest attention, no such transaction as has been sought to be adduced from the one-sided correspondence that has been printed, ever took place. Our only offense, on the face of these letters, is that of having permitted unknown people to write letters to us and of having tucked away the letters instead of consigning them to the wastebasket.

For months past the newspapers have been filled with inspired romances of our, attempts to foment labor troubles, which I am glad of the opportunity to set at rest. It is quite on a par with the baseless and ridiculous assertion that “the large transactions of Germany suggest a weekly expenditure of $2,000,000.” These sensational falsehoods follow one another so thick and fast that it is impossible to deny them if one were disposed to do so.

(3) As to the Fatherland:

No agent or representative of the German Government has or ever in ever had, directly or, indirectly, any control over or voice in the organization, promulgation, publication, management, policy, or affairs of the Fatherland. The paper was in existence and had, I am told, a wide circulation as a publication of avowedly pro German sympathies, long before I came back to this country after the outbreak of the war.

It so happens that the transaction referred to in Mr. Viereck’s letter of July 1, 1915 (which was entirely legitimate and unobjectionable), was never carried out for the reason that Mr. Viereck refused to subscribe to the conditions set forth in the letter. Mr. Albert explained to him that we were not in sympathy with his attacks upon the administration and especially upon the President, and that we would lend no substantial support to the publication, notwith-standing any claim to which it might otherwise be entitled because of its pro-German attitude, unless he could have a sufficient control over its editorial policy to prevent such attacks. He did this notwithstanding our desire to assist a publication that would place the merits of the German point of view before the American public. Mr. Viereck declined to permit his policies to be in any way influenced by our wishes, and much that he has said in his paper has been against our vigorous and persistent protest.

(4) As to the so-called German Information Service and the alleged newspaper propaganda:

It is not true that an effort has at any time been secretly made to influence American public opinion. The existence of the German Information Service was publicly announced to all the leading newspapers of the country upon its inauguration in October last and has been well known to the public ever since. It was founded for the purpose, as then stated, of counteracting the partisan news service that up to the time had been coming via England in which the happenings of the war and the conditions in European countries [Page 931] were being grossly misrepresented to the injury of Germany. The Embassy, which has a natural and legitimate interest that reliable information regarding Germany should be made available to the press of this country, has always openly assisted that service by giving it access to authentic news items and official reports. Germany is and has been avowedly and anxiously seeking and will continue to seek for its cause the moral support of America and of the other neutral countries of the world. It believes in the justice of its cause and will leave no effort untried to place the merits of its cause before the world, notwithstanding the stupendous obstacles it will be required to overcome in order to secure a fair hearing at the bar of the enlightened public opinion. With every means of cable and almost every other form of communication in the hands of its enemies, with all the powerful financial interests of the country arrayed against it, with a press bureau unequalled in the annals of history for efficiency and imagination working night and day, year in and, out manufacturing the most revolting tales of atrocities to poison the public mind, I fail to see anything reprehensible in the desire of Germany to get its case before the people whose friendship it has had in the past and whose good opinion and sympathetic interest it is anxious to retain.

This effort it has made in the open and in this it will persevere, notwithstanding the discouragements put in its way by this latest attempt to distort its motives and to attribute malign purposes to legitimate and praiseworthy undertakings. For every dollar that it has expended in advancing that praiseworthy object, it is safe to say that thousands of dollars have been expended by Our enemies in subsidizing the source of information by means of garbled censored cable reports and by the many subterranean channels that are open to them, through their control of the news, their vast expenditure and the far-reaching financial, interests that are behind them. It is because we are frankly solicitous for the good opinion of the people of the United States and resentful of these baseless attacks upon our integrity and the use we have made of American hospitality that I have taken the liberty of trespassing to this extent upon your excellency’s attention.

Accept [etc.]

J. Bernstorff
  1. This memorandum not printed, as most of its contents are herein repeated.