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One of the latest and most shocking instances of this method of warfare was that of the destruction of the French cross-Channel steamer Sussex. It must stand forth, as the sinking of the steamer Lusitania did, as so singularly tragical and unjustifiable as to constitute a truly terrible example of the inhumanity of submarine warfare as the commanders of German vessels have for the past twelvemonth been conducting it. If this instance stood alone, some explanation, some disavowal by the German Government, some evidence of criminal mistake or wilful disobedience on the part of the commander of the vessel that fired the torpedo might be sought or entertained; but unhappily it does not stand alone. Recent events make the conclusion inevitable that it is only one instance, even though it be one of the most extreme and distressing instances, of the spirit and method of warfare which the Imperial German Government has mistakenly adopted, and which from the first exposed that Government to the reproach of thrusting all neutral rights aside in pursuit of its immediate objects.
The Government of the United States has been very patient. At every stage of this distressing experience of tragedy after tragedy in which its own citizens were involved it has sought to be restrained from any extreme course of action or of protest by a thoughtful consideration of the extraordinary circumstances of this unprecedented war, and actuated in all that it said or did by the sentiments of genuine friendship which the people of the United States have always entertained and continue to entertain towards the German nation. It has, of course, accepted the successive explanations and assurances of the Imperial German Government as given in entire sincerity and good faith, and has hoped, even against hope, that it would prove to be possible for the German Government so to order and control the acts of its naval commanders as to square its policy with the principles of humanity as embodied in the law of nations. It has been willing to wait until the significance of the facts became absolutely unmistakable and susceptible of but one interpretation.
That point has now unhappily been reached. The facts are susceptible of but one interpretation. The Imperial German Government has been unable to put any limits or restraints upon its warfare against either freight or passenger ships. It has therefore become painfully evident that the position which this Government took at the very outset is inevitable, namely, that the use of submarines for the destruction of an enemy's commerce is of necessity, because of the very character of the vessels employed and the very methods of attack which their employment of course involves, incompatible with the principles of humanity, the long established and incontrovertible rights of neutrals, and the sacred immunities of non-combatants.
I have deemed it my duty, therefore, to say to the Imperial German Government that if it is still its purpose to prosecute relentless and indiscriminate warfare against vessels of commerce by the use of submarines, notwithstanding the now demonstrated impossibility of conducting that warfare in accordance with what the Government of the United States must consider the sacred and indisputable rules of international law and the universally recognized dictates of humanity, the Government of the United States is at last forced to the conclusion that there is but one course it can pursue; and that unless the Imperial German Government should now immediately declare and effect an abandonment of its present methods of warfare against passenger and freight carrying vessels this Government can have no choice but to sever diplomatic relations with the Government of the German Empire altogether.
This decision I have arrived at with the keenest regret; the possibility of the action contemplated I am sure all thoughtful Americans will look forward to with unaffected reluctance. But we cannot forget that we are in some sort and by the force of circumstances the responsible spokesmen of the rights of humanity, and that we cannot remain silent while those rights seem in process of being swept utterly away in the maelstrom of this terrible war. We owe it to a due regard for our own rights as a nation, to our sense of duty as a representative of the rights of neutrals the world over, and to a just conception of the rights of mankind to take this stand now with the utmost solemnity and firmness.
I have taken it, and taken it in the confidence that it will meet with your approval and support. All soberminded men must unite in hoping that the Imperial German Government, which has in other circumstances stood as the champion of all that we are now contending for in the interest of humanity, may recognize the justice of our demands and meet them in the spirit in which they are made:
THE PRESIDENT'S INNER SELF
Remarkable Heart-to-Heart Talk to Newspaper Men at
the National Press Club, May 15, 1916
MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN OF THE PRESS CLUB:
I am both glad and sorry to be here; glad because I am always happy to be with you, and know and like so many of you, and sorry because I have to make a speech. One of the leading faults of you gentlemen of the press is your inordinate desire to hear other men talk, to draw them out upon all occasions, whether they wish to be drawn out or not. I remember being in this Press Club once before, making many unpremeditated disclosures of myself, and then having you with your singular instinct for publicity insist that I should give it away to everybody else.
I was thinking as I was looking forward to coming here this evening of that other occasion when I stood very nearly at the threshold of the duties that I have since been called upon to perform, and I was going over in my mind the impressions that I then had by way of forecast of the duties of President and comparing them with the experiences that have followed. I must say that the forecast has been very largely verified, and that the impressions I had then have been deepened rather than weakened.
You may recall that I said then that I felt constantly a personal detachment from the Presidency; that one thing that I resented when I was not performing the duties of the office was being reminded that I was the President of the United States. I felt toward it as a man feels toward a great function which, in working hours, he is obliged to perform, but which, out of working hours, he is glad to get away from and almost forget and resume the quiet course of his own thoughts. I am constantly reminded as I go about, as I do sometimes at the week end, of the personal inconvenience of being President of the United States. If I want to know how many people live in a small town all I have to do is to go there and they at once line up to be counted. I might, in a censustaking year, save the census takers a great deal of trouble by asking them to accompany me and count the people on the spot. Sometimes, when I am most beset, I seriously think of renting a pair of whiskers or of doing something else that will furnish me with an adequate disguise, because I am sorry to find that the cut of my jib is unmistakable and that I must sail under false colors if I am going to sail incognito.
Yet as I have matched my experiences with my anticipations, I, of course, have been aware that I was taken by surprise because of the prominence of many things to which I had not looked forward. When we are dealing with domestic affairs, gentlemen, we are dealing with things that to us as Americans are more or less calculable. There is a singular variety among our citizenship, it is true, a greater variety even than I had anticipated; but, after all, we are all steeped in the same atmosphere, we are all surrounded by the same environment, we are all more or less affected by the same traditions, and, moreover, we are working out something that has to be worked out among ourselves, and the elements are there to be dealt with at first hand. But when the fortunes of your own country are, so to say, subject to the incalculable winds of passion that are blowing through other parts of the world, then the strain is of a singular and unprecedented kind, because you do not know by what turn of the wheel of fortune the control of things is going to be