File No. 763.72112/12931
Memorandum by the Counselor for the Department of State
In a conversation, which I had this afternoon at the Department with Sir Cecil Spring Rice, I said to him, that information received from many sources indicated that Germany was not suffering from lack of food, but on the contrary had sufficient to last until the next harvest, and that after that there would be a great abundance, as all arable land had been planted with grain and other food crops.
The Ambassador replied that the information was undoubtedly correct as it coincided with the reports received by his Government.
I asked him why, in view of this fact, his Government should be so determined to keep foodstuffs out of Germany. I said, “You admit that you cannot starve Germany by interrupting food imports, and yet you continue your efforts to stop the trade and lay yourself open to the charge of inhumanity by attempting to reduce Germany by starvation.”
He replied that what I said was true, but that knowledge of Germany’s food supply had been only recently obtained by his Government.
I asked him if, knowing the facts and the futility of their “starvation policy,” it would not be a wise course for his Government to [Page 417] accede to the proposal, which was made some time ago, that Great Britain would permit foodstuffs to go to the civil population of Germany, provided Germany would cease her submarine warfare on merchant ships. I pointed out to him that the idea of starving men, women, and children seemed to many people as inhuman as drowning them; that the legality of the attempt was neither here nor there, since the very idea was repugnant to the humane sentiments of modern society; that the attempt offered a more or less plausible excuse for Germany’s sinking of unarmed merchantmen; and that Germany was, as he knew, using this excuse with considerable effect.
The Ambassador replied that what I said was convincing; that he knew that the purpose of starving the German people had made a bad impression in this country, although we had done the same thing in our Civil War; and that the Germans asserted that their submarine warfare was only retaliatory.
I asked him, “Why, then, does not your Government relieve themselves of the odium of pursuing an inhuman policy by agreeing to allow food to go to the civil population of Germany? You have nothing to lose, because you admit you cannot starve the nation into submission, and you have much to gain, because you will put Germany in the position of having to stop her submarine attacks or else bear alone the stigma of being cruel and inhuman. Whichever way the German Government decides, Great Britain would seem to be the gainer. I do not suggest this course on humanitarian grounds, but solely on the ground of expediency. It seems to me the politic thing for your Government to do.”
He replied with marked emphasis, “You are entirely right. It would be the very best course my Government could take, and would put Germany in a serious dilemma. I shall suggest it to Sir Edward Grey and urge its adoption.”
I said to him that, if he proposed to his Government to take that action, I earnestly hoped that he would not mention having had any conversation with me on the subject, that he must understand I had spoken confidentially and personally, and that to have anyone in the Department making, even unofficially, such a suggestion, and especially advancing arguments in its favor from the British standpoint, would be most embarrassing.
The Ambassador replied that he understood my position and would promise that our conversation would be treated as secret and not mentioned in any way. He added, “The suggestion will be my own, and so will the arguments in its favor. I will not mention your name or your Government in connection with the subject.”
He spoke again of the tactical benefit to his Government, if the course proposed should be adopted, and of the favorable effect which he knew it would have on public opinion in this country.
He left me with the impression that he was heartily in favor of the suggestion and would do all that he could to have his Government adopt it.