CHAPTER XXV. THE UNITED STATES AND THE WORLD WAR
In the meanwhile the "overt acts" which the President and the American people hoped might not be committed became sufficiently numerous to prove that Germany had indeed entered upon the most ruthless use of the submarine. Seven American vessels were torpedoed, with the loss of thirteen lives, and many more vessels of belligerent and neutral nations were sunk, in most cases without warning. The President accordingly summoned Congress to meet in special session on April 2. When that body assembled he again and for the last time explained the character of German submarine warfare, charging that vessels of all kinds and all nations, hospital ships as well as merchant vessels were being sunk "with reckless lack of compassion or of principle." International law, he complained, was being swept away; the lives of non-combatant men, women and children destroyed; America filled with hostile spies and attempts made to stir up enemies against us; armed neutrality had broken down in the face of the submarine, and he therefore urged Congress to accept the state of war which the action of Germany had thrust upon the United States. Such action, he believed, should involve the utmost cooperation with the enemies of Germany - liberal loans to them, an abundant supply of war material of all kinds, the better equipment of the navy and an army of at least 500,000 men chosen on the principle of universal liability to service. An important part of the President's address was that in which he distinguished between the German people and the German government. With the former, he asserted, we had no quarrel, for it was not upon their impulse that their government acted in entering the war. But the latter, the Prussian autocracy, "was not and never could be our friend." Once more he disclaimed any desire for conquest or dominion:
We are glad ... to fight thus for the ultimate peace of the world and
for the liberation of its peoples, the German peoples included: for
the rights of nations great and small and the privilege of men
everywhere to choose their way of life and of obedience. The world
must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the
tested foundations of political liberty.
The response of Congress was prompt and nearly unanimous. In the House by a vote of 373 to fifty, and in the Senate by eighty-two to six, a resolution accepting the status of war was quickly passed and proclaimed by the President on April 6. His position was a strong one. His patience and self-control, to be sure, had been carried to the extreme where they seemed like cowardice and lack of policy to the more belligerent East; but they had convinced the more pacific West that he could not be hurried into war without adequate reasons. All sections and all parties were united as the country had never been united before. His insistence that the United States had no ulterior motives in entering the war and his constant emphasis on ideals and the moral issues of the conflict placed the struggle on a lofty plane, besides giving him and his country at that time a position of leadership in the world such as no man or nation had ever hitherto enjoyed. Moreover the evolution through which the President went, from adherence to the traditional aloofness from European affairs to throwing himself enthusiastically into the conflict, was an evolution through which most of his countrymen were passing. Every public address which the President delivered, every message to Congress, every request to the legislative branch of the government was read widely, disagreed to or received with enthusiasm in one quarter or another and discussed everywhere with interest and energy. The result was the education of America in a new foreign policy. It was no slight matter to discard the traditions of a century and a quarter, and the brevity and inconsiderable size of the controversy was the marvel, rather than its length and bitterness.
America had need of her unity and her enthusiasm. The size of the conflict, the number of men that must be raised and trained, the quantity of materials required, the amount of money needed, and, above all, the mental readjustment necessary in a nation that had hitherto buried itself in the pursuits of peace - all these considerations emphasized the importance of the task that the United States was undertaking. Into Washington there poured a bewildering stream of offers of assistance; organizations had to be built up over night to take hold of problems that were new to this country; men found themselves hurried into tasks for which they must prepare as best they might, and under crowded working conditions, changing circumstances and confusion of effort that beggar description. In many cases, America could learn valuable lessons from European experience, and to that end commissions of eminent statesmen and soldiers were sent to this country to give us the benefit of their successes and failures.