File No. 763.72119/2211
The Chargé in Great Britain ( Laughlin) to the Secretary of State
[Received October 16, 11.10 p.m.]
2823. The sole topic of interest during the past week has been the German peace offer and the interchange of correspondence between the President and the German Government. The President’s reply to the first German communication met with general approval and is regarded as a shrewd and masterly stroke. The wish was expressed in some quarters that it might have shut the door on all further discussion [save] an offer of unconditional surrender but the best opinion considered it a tactful concise answer in no way compromising our further demands. The prompt rejoinder from Berlin was hailed with unbounded delight. There was a tendency on all sides to consider the war as practically over and to give way to the comforting belief that a complete and overwhelming victory has been won already. Within a few hours, however, a very noticeable reaction set in. Attention was called to the fact that the German understanding of an evacuation could not be satisfactory to the Allies, the entire press combined to point [out] that nothing short of a complete surrender of all German war material together with the German battle fleet and submarines could be considered a guarantee that the Allies would not be tricked into resigning the advantage of their superior military position. Moreover, the mere assurance that Prince Max spoke as the mouthpiece of the German people and not simply as the tool of the military party was not considered in any way conclusive, but the most remarkable change of public opinion is in the attitude of the country toward Germany’s acceptance of the President’s fourteen points.
Hailed at first as a brilliant statement of our war aims, acceptable also as the aims of the Allies, now that their achievement seems possible, grave doubts are expressed as to whether they adequately connote the demands which must be imposed upon Germany to obtain a satisfactory and lasting peace. It is felt even more strongly that some of the points are detrimental to the interests of certain of the Allies, especially Great Britain, and especially is this true of the second point, [calling for] the freedom of the seas. Great [Page 366] Britain’s future welfare is seen to be inseparably linked up with her foreign trade and premier position as a carrier for the world and to be in a large measure dependent upon her control of the waters immediately surrounding the British Isles; it is felt that her safety depends on a maintenance of that control or at least an assurance that such control will not pass into the hands of any other power or group of powers.
Article 3, which calls for the [removal of] all economic barriers, caused embarrassment to the high tariff party Who fear it will prevent erection of a tariff wall around the British Empire and so hamper the Government in its attempt to control the supply of raw materials within the Empire, but even the free traders are [among] those condemning any arrangement which would compel Great Britain to extend to Germany and Austria the same terms of an economic treaty which might be extended to America and France.
Article 5, dealing with colonial claims, is not comprehended at all. The majority of the British people sincerely wish that the best solution possible may be found for the difficult problem of the German colonies and are by no means insistent that this territory should remain under British rule. They will not tolerate, however, the suggestion that the colonies might be returned to Germany [apparent omission] the interests and expressed desire of manufacturers, natives should seem to point to that end. It has also been pointed out that this article might apply to all the French and British [colonial territory] held long before the war and whose allegiance has never been called into question.
Article 12 is also believed to present difficulties which may conflict with previous engagements [contracted] with the other Allies.
This lack of understanding of the fourteen points which Germany is said to have accepted, and a fear that the President may go farther along the road towards a final solution without consulting with and considering the particular wishes of his cobelligerents, is as I have said, causing grave uneasiness. Even should the danger of a premature armistice be avoided it is feared that we may be tricked by this hypocritical waving of a white flag into concluding a peace which will be but the shadow and not the substance of the complete victory which is within sight, and a peace which will provide Germany with undeserved opportunities for future mischief-making. However, as it will undoubtedly prove that there is no real ground for these fears, I think this panicky feeling will pass, as it undoubtedly arises partly from the reaction brought about by a sense of [escape] from the immediate German peril. I do not think the demand for unconditional surrender and nothing short of a dictated peace is as universal in this country as it appears to be in the United States, but the majority undoubtedly distrust any diplomatic [Page 367] negotiations at the present time and are absolutely opposed to the granting of any concessions whatever. If Germany hopes to promote discord among her enemies by approaching United States and ignoring the rest, she has not succeeded in smallest degree; her methods [are] too apparent, her subterfuges too clumsy.
Above was written before the publication of the President’s latest note which has just appeared in this afternoon’s press. This retort to Germany is hailed with enthusiasm and I have heard nothing but unqualified approval of its terms. There can be no mistaking its meaning and I feel sure it will clear away the baseless fears that have been expressed.
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