The German Ambassador ( Bernstorff) to the German Foreign Office 1


No. 239. In connection with No. 120 and No. 238. House asked me of his own accord and on Wilson’s behalf to call upon him and gave me the following message from the President, stating it to [Page 32] be official: Wilson offers in the first place, in confidence, peace mediation based on his message to the Senate, that is, without interfering in the matter of the territorial conditions of peace. He said that Wilson did not consider as confidential his request, simultaneously addressed to us, for a disclosure of our peace conditions.

House related to me in detail the following line of reasoning of the President: That our enemies had publicly announced their peace conditions, which were impossible of acceptance; that, in direct opposition to this, the President had thereupon announced his program; that from now on we too were under the moral obligation of disclosing our peace conditions, because, otherwise, our intentions with regard to peace would not be looked upon as genuine; that after your excellency had informed Mr. Wilson that our peace conditions were of a moderate nature and that we were willing to enter upon the second peace conference, the President was of the opinion that his message to the Senate was in accordance with our views; that Wilson hoped that we would disclose peace conditions to him which could be made public both here and in Germany, in order that they could become openly known throughout the entire world; that if we would only trust him, he was convinced that he would be able to bring about both peace conferences; that he would be particularly pleased if at the same time your excellency would be willing to state that we were prepared to enter upon the conferences on the basis of his message to the Senate; that the reason for our announcement could be explained by the fact that Wilson had now asked us directly for our peace conditions. The President was of the opinion that the Entente note to him was a bluff and, for this reason, need not be taken into consideration; that he hoped with reason to be able to bring about peace conferences and, indeed, at such an early date that unnecessary bloodshed in the spring offensive could be avoided. To what extent your excellency is willing or is able to meet Wilson can not be judged from this side.

In the meantime, I urgently beg leave to make the following suggestion: If the U-boat war is commenced forthwith, the President will look upon this as a slap in the face, and war with the United States will be unavoidable. The war party on this side will gain the upper hand, and we shall not be able, in my opinion, to tell when the war will end, since the resources of the United States are, in spite of all statements to the contrary, very great. On the other hand, if we meet Wilson’s proposition and if, in spite of that fact, these plans are brought to naught by the obstinacy of our opponents, it will be a very difficult thing for the President to undertake a war against us, even if we were then to start the unrestricted U-boat warfare. Thus, at the present, all we need is a brief delay [Page 33] in order to improve our diplomatic position. In any event, my view of the situation is that at this time we can get a better peace by means of conferences than if the United States should join our enemies.

Since cablegrams invariably take more than a few days, I ask to be informed by return wireless if telegraphic despatch 157 is not to be carried out on the 1st of February.

  1. This telegram was transmitted for the Ambassador by the Department of State in the German code. The translation here printed, of the text made public in the report of the committee of inquiry appointed by the German National Constituent Assembly, appears in Official German Documents Relating to the World War, issued by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (2 vols., New York, Oxford University Press, 1923), vol. ii, pp. 1047–1048.