File No. 763.72/3396

The Chargé in the Netherlands ( Langhorne) to the Secretary of State

[Telegram]

737. Press summary from Rotterdamsche Courant: German Chancellor said yesterday in Reichstag the United States went a step further than European neutrals. After receiving our note, January 31, President Wilson suddenly broke off relations with us. We have not received any authentic statement of reasons leading to that step. American Ambassador merely informed Foreign Office orally of break and demanded his passports. This form of break between two great nations living in peace with each other unparalleled in history. Failing official information I had to rely on writer’s account of President’s message, February 3, saying that American Government saw no other course open but the one indicated in note of April 20. This demands prompt refutation. For more than century friendly relations have been cultivated between the two countries, the heritage of Frederick the Great. Since beginning of war things have been different across Atlantic. On August 27, 1913, at time Mexican troubles, Wilson declared neutrality, forbade supply war material of combatants. A year later this was forgotten. America has furnished enormous quantities ammunition to Entente, all the while jealously guarding rights Americans to travel freely to enemy countries on all kinds business even such as had to be paid for with German blood. But it was not deemed proper to insist equally on same right of commerce with Germany. Protests were addressed England but there was, nevertheless, acquiescence in her illegal measures. I emphatically deny that withdrawal our assurances of May 1 affects honor or dignity of [Page 154]United States. We expressly proclaimed at the time that under certain circumstances those assurances would cease to be valid. It is only necessary to read final paragraph our note May 1 [4].1 German Government was convinced that American Government did not demand restriction in use our weapons while our adversaries were permitted to do as they pleased. We relied on statements of America that she was determined to insist on freedom seas from whatever quarter violated. What American Government said in its note May 10, 1916, was so absolutely contradictory to what we had said with such clearness as to admit no misunderstanding that an answer on our part would not have altered in any way standpoints of the two parties. It is indisputable that conditions giving us full freedom action have long been present. Our enemies have not been induced to respect either international law or dictates humanity. They have still further restricted freedom seas and America has not hindered them. All this is publici juris. Can anyone be surprised, then, at our claiming on January 31 that freedom seas has not been established and drawing our conclusions from that fact? America must know England’s countless violations international law. I would fully understand her attitude if she had insisted on observance international laws by all belligerents in same manner or had taken measures stop the war, but I can not possibly conceive that it is vital interest of American people to insist solely on our observance international law. Our enemies and Americans hostile to us pretend there is considerable difference between our actions and England’s; that England merely destroys replaceable economic values, whereas Germany destroys human lives which can not be replaced. But reason why American lives have not been jeopardized by England’s measures is that America voluntarily submitted to them, so that England was enabled reach her object without violence. What would have happened had Americans attached equal value to unhindered passenger and commercial traffic with Bremen and Hamburg as with Liverpool and London? Had they done so we should have been free from painful impressions that American subjection to English power and control was compatible with neutrality as they construed it, but that acceptance German retaliatory measures was unneutral. We see very well that severance relations and mobilization all neutrals against us were not conceived as measures protection of freedom seas or as plan conducive to the peace demanded by Wilson also, but only contemplate stimulation of efforts to starve Germany and increase bloodshed. We deplore break with nation that seemed destined by history to strive not against us but [Page 155]with us for common ideals. But now that our sincere desire to promote peace has met with nothing but ridicule at hands of our enemies there is no longer any retreat for us—nothing but “Forward.”

Langhorne