CHAPTER XXIV. WOODROW WILSON
The relation of the United States to the conflict seemed remote, and President Wilson on August 4 issued a formal proclamation of neutrality, which was soon followed by an address to the people of the country urging them to be neutral both in thought and in act. For a time it was not difficult for the country to obey the injunction. Although stories of the ruthlessness, of the German soldiery in Belgium poured into the columns of American periodicals, the people found difficulty in believing them because they had long admired the efficiency and virility of the Germans. Scarcely a year before the war broke out, ex-Presidents Roosevelt and Taft had extolled the German Emperor as an apostle of peace, and President Butler of Columbia University had declared that the people of any nation would gladly elect him as their chief executive. More than a month and a half after the invasion of Belgium, Roosevelt published an article in The Outlook in which he expressed pride in the German blood in his veins, asserted that either side in the European conflict could be sincerely taken and defended, and continued:
When a nation feels that the issue of a contest in which ... it
finds itself engaged will be national life or death, it is
inevitable that it should act so as to save itself.... The rights
and wrongs of these cases where nations violate the rules of
abstract morality in order to meet their own vital needs can
be precisely determined only when all the facts are known and
when men's blood is cool.... Of course it would be folly to jump
into the gulf ourselves to no good purpose; and very probably
nothing that we could have done would have helped Belgium. We
have not the smallest responsibility for what has befallen her.
In view of the mass of conflicting rumors concerning the war, which reached American attention, it was natural to take the neutral position adopted by Roosevelt, but it was inevitable, because of our racial diversities, that sympathies and opinions should soon differ widely. Within a short time, pamphlets were published containing the correspondence among the several European powers which had taken place just before the outbreak of the war. These and other documents were widely studied in the United States and led to the belief that England, France and Russia had been the real peace lovers and that Germany had been the aggressor.
The immediate economic effect of the war, in the meanwhile was the unsettlement of American financial and industrial affairs, but when the English navy obtained the mastery of the seas, the vessels of the Teutonic powers were driven to cover in neutral ports or kept harmlessly at home, and American trade with neutral nations and the Allies took on new life. Moreover the latter were in need of food, munitions and war materials of all kinds and they turned to American factories. Manufacturers who could accept "war orders" began at once to make fortunes; wages and prices rose, and it became evident that the United States would be profoundly affected by the struggle. England's control of the sea, moreover, early presented other problems. According to international practice, both sides in the European conflict might purchase munitions from neutrals, of which the United States was the largest, but on account of her weakness on the sea Germany was unable to take advantage of this opportunity, while the Allies constantly purchased whatever supplies were needed. At first, the German government protested through diplomatic channels, but our government was able to show not only that international practice approved the course followed by the United States, but also that Germany had herself followed it in previous wars.
There then followed propaganda on a large scale by German agents under the direction of Dr. Bernhard Dernburg, which was intended to influence public opinion to demand the prohibition of the shipment of munitions to the Allies. As this activity failed of its purpose, resort was then had to fraudulent clearance papers by which military supplies for German use were shipped from the United States without conforming to our customs regulations; bombs were placed in ships carrying supplies to England; fires were set in munitions factories; strikes and labor difficulties were fomented by German agents and at length the government had to ask for the recall of the Austrian Ambassador, Dr. Dumba, and the German military and naval attaches at Washington, Captain Franz von Papen and Captain Karl Boy-Ed.