File No. 763.72/1620

The Minister in the Netherlands (Van Dyke) to the Secretary of State

No. 216]

Sir: The rapid development of the proposed measures of so-called “reprisal” between Germany-Austria and the Entente Allies in the war upon commerce, has produced an unfavorable impression upon public opinion in the Netherlands.

The people here think that both belligerents are making propositions which disregard the rights of neutrals. Countries at peace have as much right to protect their economic life as countries at war. Otherwise international law is a farce.

The latest British proposition (Mr. Asquith’s speech of March 1) shows a greater consideration for human life than the German proposition (naval declaration of February 42). But both propositions threaten a grave injury to the legitimate non-contraband commerce of neutral nations, upon the continuance of which the life of their people depends.

A practical stoppage of that commerce, either by the sinking of merchant ships by submarines, or by the imprisonment of such ships in belligerent harbors, would amount in effect to an unlawful attack upon the economic life of neutral nations.

It would therefore not be merely a measure of reprisal between belligerents. It would be also a measure of damage to neutrals, and thus an illegitimate pressure upon them to take sides in the war, since a peaceful abstinence would no longer secure them the benefits of non-contraband trade under international law.

The Declaration of Paris would thus be abolished. The rights of property of non-combatants on the sea would be subject entirely to the will and the alleged necessities of the belligerents.

[Page 149]

Already the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce and the leading shipping firms of this country have felt obliged publicly to want foreign consigners to suspend the sending of goods to Holland from or via Germany for further transportation. This means the cutting off of a large portion of the outgoing commerce of the Netherlands. I enclose herewith certain extracts from leading Dutch newspapers.1

In my judgment thoughtful public opinion here looks to the United States for leadership in a firm, united maintenance, by pacific means, of the common rights of neutral nations in commerce during the time of war.

I have [etc.]

Henry van Dyke
  1. Ante, p. 94.
  2. Not printed.