Difference between revisions of "XXII THE BALFOUR MISSION TO THE UNITED STATES"
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PAGE now took up a subject which had been near his heart for a long time. He believed that one of the most serious causes of Anglo-American misunderstanding was the fact that the leading statesmen of the two countries had never had any personal contact with one another. At one time, as this correspondence shows, the Ambassador had even hoped that President Wilson himself might cross the ocean and make the British people an official visit. The proposal, however, was made before the European war broke out, the occasion which Page had in mind being the dedication of Sulgrave Manor, the old English home of the Washington family, as a perpetual memorial to the racial bonds and common ideals uniting the two countries. The President found it impossible to act upon this suggestion and the outbreak of war made the likelihood of such a visit still more remote. Page had made one unsuccessful attempt to bring the American State Department and the British Foreign Office into personal contact. At the moment when American irritation had been most keen over the blockade and the blacklist, Page had persuaded the Foreign Office to invite to England Mr. Frank L. Polk, at that time Counsellor of the Department; the Ambassador believed that a few conversations between such an intelligent gentleman as Mr. Polk and the British statesmen would smooth out all the points which were then making things so difficult. Unfortunately the pressure of work at Washington prevented Mr. Polk from accepting Sir Edward Grey's invitation.
But now a greater necessity for close personal association had arisen. The United States had entered the war, and this declaration had practically made this country an ally of Great Britain and France. The British Government wished to send a distinguished commission to the United 'States, for two reasons: first, to show its appreciation of the stand which America had taken, and second, to discuss plans for cooperation in the common task. Great Britain frankly admitted that it had made many mistakes in the preceding three years---mistakes naval, military, political, and economic; it would welcome an opportunity to display these errors to Washington, which might naturally hope to profit from them. As soon as his country was in the war, Page took up this suggestion with the Foreign Office. There was of course one man who was preeminently fitted, by experience, position, and personal qualities, to head such a commission; on this point there was no discussion. Mr. Balfour was now in his seventieth year; his activities in British politics dated back to the times of Disraeli; his position in Great Britain had become as near that of an "elder statesman" as is tolerable under the Anglo-Saxon system. By this time Page had established the friendliest possible relations with this distinguished man. Mr. Balfour had become Foreign Secretary in December, 1916, in succession to Lord Grey. Greatly as Page regretted the resignation of Grey, he was much gratified that Mr. Balfour had been selected to succeed him. Mr. Balfour's record for twenty-five years had been one of consistent friendliness toward the United States. When President Cleveland's Venezuelan message, in 1896, had precipitated a crisis in the relations of the two countries, it was Mr. Balfour's influence which was especially potent in causing Great Britain to modify its attitude and to accept the American demand for arbitration. That action not only amicably settled the Venezuelan question; it marked the beginning of a better feeling between the English-speaking countries and laid the basis for that policy of benevolent neutrality which Great Britain had maintained toward the United States in the Spanish War. The excellent spirit which Mr. Balfour had shown at this crisis he had manifested on many occasions since. In the criticisms of the United States during the Lusitania troubles Mr. Balfour had never taken part. The era of "neutrality" had not ruffled the confidence which he had always felt in the United States. During all this time the most conspicuous dinner tables of London had rung with criticisms of American policy; the fact was well known, however, that Mr. Balfour had never sympathized with these reproaches; even when he was not in office, no unfriendly word concerning the United States had ever escaped his lips., His feeling toward this country was well shown in a letter which he wrote Page, in reply to one congratulating him on his seventieth birthday. "I have now lived a long life," said Mr. Balfour, "and most of my energies have been expended in political work, but if I have been fortunate enough to contribute, even in the smallest degree, to drawing closer the bonds that unite our two countries, I shall have done something compared with which all else that I may have attempted counts in my eyes as nothing."
Page's letters and notes contain many references to Mr. Balfour's kindly spirit. On the day following the dismissal of Bernstorff the American Ambassador lunched with the Foreign Secretary at No. 4 Carlton Gardens.
"Mr. Balfour," Page reported to Washington, "gave expression to the hearty admiration which he entertained for the President's handling of a difficult task. He said that never for a moment had he doubted the President's wisdom in the course he was pursuing. He had the profoundest admiration for the manner in which he had promptly broken with Germany after receiving Germany's latest note. Nor had he ever entertained the slightest question of the American people's ready loyalty to their Government or to their high ideals. One of his intellectual pleasures, he added, had long been contemplation of the United States as it is and, even more, as its influence in the world will broaden. 'The world,' said Mr. Balfour, 'will more and more turn on the Great Republic as on a pivot.' "
Occasionally Mr. Balfour's discussion of the United States would take a more pensive turn. A memorandum which Page wrote a few weeks after the above touches another point:
March 27, 1917.
I had a most interesting conversation with Mr. Balfour this afternoon. "It's sad to me," said he, " that we are so unpopular, so much more unpopular than the French, in your country. Why is it? The old schoolbooks?"
I doubted the school-book influence.
"Certainly their influence is not the main cause. It is the organized Irish. Then it's the effect of the very fact that the Irish question is not settled. You've had that problem at your very door for 300 years. What's the matter that you don't solve it?"
"Yes, yes,"---he saw it. But the plaintive tone of such a man asking such a question was significant and interesting and---sad.
Then I told him the curious fact that a British Government made up of twenty individuals, every one of whom is most friendly to the United States, will, when they act together as a Government, do the most offensive things. I mentioned the blacklist; I mentioned certain complaints that I then held in my hand---of Americans here who are told by the British Government that they must turn over to the British Government's agent in New York their American securities which they hold in America!
There's a sort of imperious, arrogant, Tory action that comes natural to the English Government, even when not natural to the
On April 5th, the day before the United States formally declared war, Page notified Washington that the British Government wished Mr. Balfour to go to the United States as the head of a Commission to confer with our Government. "Mr. Balfour is chosen for this mission," Page reported, "not only because he is Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, but because he is personally the most distinguished member of the Government." Page tells the story in more detail in a letter to Mr. Polk, at that time Counsellor of the State Department.
London, May 3, 1917.
American people; and I don't think He ever will or can.
DEAR MR. POLK:
. . . Mr. Balfour accurately represents British character, British opinion, and the British attitude. Nobody who knows him and knows British character and the British attitude ever doubted that. I know his whole tribe, his home-life, his family connections, his friends; and, of course, since he became Foreign Secretary, I've come to know him intimately. When the question first came up here of his going, of course I welcomed it enthusiastically. About that time during a two-hour conversation he asked me why the British were so unpopular in the United States. Among other reasons I told him that our official people on both sides steadfastly refused to visit one another and to become acquainted. Neither he nor Lord Grey, nor Mr. Asquith, nor Mr. Lloyd George, had ever been to the United States, nor any other important British statesman in recent times, and not a single member of the Administration was personally known to a single member of the British Government. "I'll go," said he, "if you are perfectly sure my going will be agreeable to the President." He himself recalled the fact, during one of our several conversations just before he left, that you had not come when he and Lord Grey had invited you. If you had come, by the way, this era of a better understanding would have begun then, and half our old troubles would then have been removed. Keeping away from one another is the best of all methods of keeping all old misunderstandings alive and of making new ones.
I have no doubt that Mr. Balfour's visit will cause visits of many first-class British statesmen during the war or soon afterward. That's all we need to bring about a perfect understanding.
You may remember how I tried to get an official report about the behaviour of the Benham, and how, in the absence of that, Lord Beresford made a disagreeable speech about our Navy in the House of Lords, and how, when months later you sent me Roosevelt's letter, Lord Beresford expressed regret to me and said that he would explain in another speech. I hadn't seen the old fellow for a long time till a fortnight ago. He greeted me cheerily, and I said, "I don't think I ought to shake hands with you till you retract what you said about our navy." He insisted on my dining with him. He invited Admiral Sims also, and those two sailors had a jolly evening of it. Sims's coming has straightened out all that naval misunderstanding and more. He is of immense help to them and to us. But I'm going to make old Beresford's life a burden till he gets up in the Lords and takes that speech back publicly. He's really all right; but it's just as well to keep the records right. The proceedings of the House of Lords are handsomely bound and go into every gentleman's library. I have seen two centuries of them in many a house.
We can now begin a distinctly New Era in the world's history and in its management if we rise to the occasion: there's not a shadow of doubt about that. And the United States can play a part bigger than we have yet dreamed of if we prove big enough to lead the British and the French instead of listening to Irish and Germans. Neither England nor France is a democracy---far from it. We can make them both democracies and develop their whole people instead of about 10 per cent. of their people. We have simply to conduct our affairs by a large national policy and not by the complaints of our really non-American people. See how a declaration of war has cleared the atmosphere!
We're happy yet, on rations. There are no potatoes. We have meatless days. Good wheat meantime is sunk every day. The submarine must be knocked out. Else the earth will be ruled by the German bayonet and natural living will be verboten. We'll all have to goose-step as the Crown Prince orders or---be shot. I see they now propose that the United States shall pay the big war indemnity in raw materials to the value of hundreds of billions of dollars! Not just yet, I guess!
As we get reports of what you are doing, it's most cheerful. I assure you, God has yet made nothing or nobody equal to the
WALTER H. PAGE.
One of the curious developments of this Balfour Mission was a request from President Wilson that Great Britain should take some decisive step for the permanent settlement of the Irish question. "The President," this message ran, "wishes that, when you next meet the Prime Minister, you would explain to him that only one circumstance now appears to stand in the way of perfect cooperation with Great Britain. All Americans who are not immediately connected with Germany by blood ties find their one difficulty in the failure of Great Britain so far to establish a satisfactory form of self-government in Ireland. In the recent debates in Congress on the War Resolution, this sentiment was especially manifest. It came out in the speeches of those enemies of the Declaration who were not Irish themselves nor representatives of sections in which Irish voters possessed great influence---notably members from the Southern States.
"If the American people were once convinced that there was a likelihood that the Irish question would soon be settled, great enthusiasm and satisfaction would result and it would also strengthen the cooperation which we are now about to organize between the United States and Great Britain. Say this in unofficial terms to Mr. Lloyd George, but impress upon him its very great significance. If the British Government should act successfully on this matter, our American citizens of Irish descent and to a great extent the German sympathizers who have made common cause with the Irish, would join hands in the great common cause."
London, May 4,1917.
of the world.
DEAR MR. PRESIDENT:
. . . It is a remarkable commentary on the insularity of the British and on our studied isolation that till Mr. Balfour went over not a member of this Government had ever met a member of our Administration! Quite half our misunderstandings were due to this. If I had the making of the laws of the two governments, I'd have a statutory requirement that at least one visit a year by high official persons should be made either way. We should never have had a blacklist, etc., if that had been done. When I tried the quite humble task of getting Polk to come and the excuse was made that he couldn't be spared from his desk---Mr. President, I fear we haven't half enough responsible official persons in our Government. I should say that no man even of Polk's rank ought to have a desk: just as well give him a mill-stone. Even I try not to have a desk: else I'd never get anything of importance done; for I find that talks and conferences in my office and in the government offices and wherever else I can find out things take all my waking hours. The Foreign Office here has about five high position men to every one in the State Department. God sparing me, I'm going one of these days to prepare a paper for our Foreign Affairs Committee on the Waste of Having too Few High Grade Men in the Department of State; a Plea for Five Assistant Secretaries for Every One Now Existing and for Provision for International Visits by Them.
Here's an ancient and mouldy precedent that needs shattering---for the coming of our country into its proper station and influence in the world.
I am sure that Mr. Balfour's visit has turned out as well as I hoped, and my hopes were high. He is one of the most interesting men that I've ever had the honour to know intimately---he and Lord Grey. Mr. Balfour is a Tory, of course; and in general I don't like Tories, yet liberal he surely is---a sort of high-toned Scotch democrat. I have studied him with increasing charm and interest. Not infrequently when I am in his office just before luncheon he says, "Come, walk over and we'll have lunch with the family." He's a bachelor. One sister lives with him. Another (Lady Rayleigh, the wife of the great chemist and Chancellor of Cambridge University) frequently visits him. Either of those ladies could rule this Empire. Then there are nieces and cousins always about---people of rare cultivation, every one of 'em. One of those girls confirmed the story that "Uncle Arthur" one day concluded that the niblick was something more than a humble necessity of a bad golfer ---that it had positive virtues of its own and had suffered centuries of neglect. He, therefore, proceeded to play with the niblick only, till he proved his case and showed that it is a club entitled to the highest respect.
A fierce old Liberal fighter in Parliamentary warfare, who entered politics about the time Mr. Balfour did, told me this story the other day. "I've watched Balfour for about forty years as a cat watches a rat. I hate his party. I hated him till I learned better, for I hated that whole Salisbury crowd. They wanted to Cecil everything. But I'll tell you, Sir, apropos of his visit to your country, that in all those years he has never spoken of the United States except with high respect and often with deep affection. I should have caught him, if he had."
I went with him to a college in London one afternoon where he delivered a lecture on Dryden, to prove that poetry can carry a certain cargo of argument but that argument can't raise the smallest flight of poetry. Dry as it sounds, it was as good a literary performance as I recall I ever heard.
At his "family" luncheon, I've found Lord Milner or Lord Lansdowne, or some literary man who had come in to find out from Lady Rayleigh how to conduct the Empire or to write a great book; and the modest old chemical Lord sits silent most of the time and now and then breaks loose to confound them all with a pat joke. This is a vigorous family, these Balfours. There's one of them (a cousin of some sort, I think, of the Foreign Secretary) who is a Lord of much of Scotland, about as tall as Ben Nevis is high---a giant of a man. One of his sons was killed early in the war and one was missing---whether dead or not he did not know. Mrs. Page expressed her hope one day to the old man that he had had news from his missing son. "No, no," said he simply, "and me lady is awearying."
We've been lucky, Mr. President, in these days of immortal horrors and of difficulties between two governments that did not know one another---uncommonly lucky, in the large chances that politics gives for grave errors, to have had two such men in the Foreign Office here as Lord Grey and Mr. Balfour. There are men who were mentioned for this post that would have driven us mad---or to war with them. I'm afraid I've almost outgrown my living hero worship. There isn't worshipful material enough lying around in the world to keep a vigorous reverence in practice. But these two gentlemen by birth and culture have at least sometimes seemed of heroic size to me. It has meant much to know them well. I shall always be grateful to them, for in their quiet, forceful way they helped me much to establish right relations with these people---which, pray God, I hope to retain through whatever new trials we may yet encounter. For it will fall to us yet to loose and to free the British, and a Briton set free is an American. That's all you can do for a man or for a nation of men.
These Foreign Secretaries are not only men of much greater cultivation than their Prime Ministers but of greater moral force. But I've come to like Lloyd George very much. He'd never deliver a lecture on Dryden, and he doesn't even play a good game of golf; but he has what both Lord Grey and Mr. Balfour lack---a touch of genius ---whatever that is---not the kind that takes infinite pains, but the kind that acts as an electric light flashed in the dark. He said to me the other day that experts have nearly been the death of him. "The Government has experts, experts, experts, everywhere. In any department where things are not going well, I have found boards and committees and boards of experts. But in one department at least I've found a substitute for them. I let twenty experts go and I put in one Man, and things began to move at once. Do you know any real Men? When you hear of any, won't you let me know?"
A little while ago he dined with me, and, after dinner, I took him to a corner of the drawing room and delivered your message to him about Ireland. "God knows, I'm trying," he replied. "Tell the President that. And tell him to talk to Balfour." Presently he broke out---" Madmen, madmen---I never saw any such task," and he pointed across the room to Sir Edward Carson, his First Lord of the Admiralty-"Madmen." "But the President's right. We've got to settle it and we've got to settle it now." Carson and Jellicoe came across the room and sat down with us. "I've been telling the Ambassador, Carson, that we've got to settle the Irish question now---in spite of you."
"I'll tell you something else we've got to settle now," said Carson. " Else it'll settle us. That's the submarines. The press and public are working up a calculated and concerted attack on Jellicoe and me, and, if they get us, they'll get you. It's an attack on the Government made on the Admiralty, Prime Minister," said this Ulster pirate whose civil war didn't come off only because the big war was begun----"Prime Minister, it may be a fierce attack. Get ready for it." Well, it has been developing ever since. But I can't for the life of me guess at the possible results of an English Parliamentary attack on a government. It's like a baseball man watching a game of cricket. He can't see when the player is out or why, or what caused it. Of course, the submarine may torpedo Lloyd George and his Government. It looks very like it may overturn the Admiralty, as Gallipoli did. If this public finds out the whole truth, it will demand somebody's head. But I'm only a baseball man; cricket is beyond me.
But Lloyd George will outlive the war as an active force, whatever happen to him in the meantime. He's too heavily charged with electricity to stop activity. The war has ended a good many careers that seemed to have long promise. It is ending more every day. But there is only one Lloyd George, and, whatever else he lack, he doesn't lack life.
I heard all the speeches in both Houses on the resolution of appreciation of our coming into the war---Bonar Law's, Asquith's (one of the best), Dillon's, a Labour man's, and, in the Lords, Curzon's, Crewe's, the Archbishop's (who delivered in the course of his remarks a benediction on me) and Bryce's (almost the best of all). It wasn't "oratory," but it was well said and well meant. They know how badly they need help and they do mean to be as good to us as their benignant insularity will permit. They are changing. I can't describe the great difference that the war has made in them. They'll almost become docile in a little more time.
And we came in in the nick of time for them---in very truth. If we hadn't, their exchange would have gone down soon and they know it. I shall never forget the afternoon I spent with Mr. Balfour and Mr. Bonar Law on that subject. They saw blue ruin without our financial help. And now, if we can save them from submarines, those that know will know how vital our help was: Again, the submarine is the great and grave and perhaps the only danger now. If that can be scotched, I believe the whole Teutonic military structure would soon tumble. If not, the Germans may go on as long as they can feed their army, allowing their people to starve.
Of course, you know, we're on rations now---yet we suffer no inconvenience on that score. But these queer people (they are the most amusing and confusing and contradictory of all God's creatures, these English, whose possibilities are infinite and whose actualities, in many ways, are pitiful)---these queer people are fiercely pursuing food-economy by discussing in the newspapers whether a hen consumes more food than she produces, and whether what dogs eat contains enough human food to justify the shooting of every one in the Kingdom. That's the way we are coming down to humble fare. But nothing can quite starve a people who all live near the sea which yields fish enough near shore to feed them wastefully.
All along this South shore, where I am to-day,I see the Stars and Stripes; and everywhere there is a demand for the words and music of the Battle Hymn of the Republic and the Star Spangled Banner.
This our-new-Ally business is bringing me a lot of amusing troubles. Theatres offer me boxes, universities offer me degrees, hospitals solicit visits from me, clubs offer me dinners---I'll have to get a new private secretary or two well-trained to say "No" politely, else I shall not have my work done. But all that will presently wear away as everything wears away (quickly, too) in the grim face of this bloody monster of war which is consuming men as a prairie fire consumes blades of grass. There's a family that lives around the corner from this hotel. One son is in the trenches, another is in a madhouse from shell-shock, a third coming home wounded the other day was barely rescued when a torpedo sunk a hospital ship and may lose his reason. I suppose I saw one hundred men this afternoon on a single mile of beach who had lost both legs. Through the wall from my house in London is a hospital. A young Texan has been there, whose legs are gone at the thighs and one arm at the elbow. God pity us for not having organized the world better than this! We'll do it, yet, Mr. President---you'll do it; and thank God for you. If we do not organize Europe and make another such catastrophe impossible, life will not be worth being born into except to the few whose days happen to fall between recurring devastations
WALTER H. PAGE.
"I hope that the English people," Colonel House wrote to Page about this time, "realize how successful Mr. Balfour's visit to America really was. There is no man they could have sent who could have done it better. He and the President got along marvellously well. The three of us dined and spent the evening together and it was delightful to see how sympathetic their minds were."
A letter from Mr. Polk also discloses the impression which Mr. Balfour made upon Washington:
Washington, May 25, 1917.
MY DEAR MR. PAGE:
I just want to get off a line to catch the pouch.
You probably know what a wonderful success the British Mission has been, but I do not think you can realize what a deep impression they have made on all of us. Mr. Balfour really won the affection of us all, and I do not know when I was more sorry to have a man leave than I was to have him go last night. He expressed himself as having been very much impressed with his reception and the way he was treated. He was most fair in all discussions, and I think has a better understanding of our point of view. I had the good fortune of being present at the financial and the diplomatic conferences, and I think we all felt that we were dealing with a sympathetic friend.
He and the President got on tremendously. The best evidence of that was the fact that the President went up to Congress and sat in the gallery while Mr. Balfour addressed the House. This is without precedent.
The difficult problem of course was the blacklist and bunkering agreement, but I think we are by that. The important thing now is for the British to make all the concessions possible in connection with the release of goods in Rotterdam and the release of goods in Prize Court, though the cases have not been begun. Of course I mean cases of merely suspicion rather than where there is evidence of wrongdoing.
The sending of the destroyers and troops abroad is going to do a great deal toward impressing our people with the fact that we really are in the war. I do not think it is thoroughly borne home on the majority yet what a serious road we have chosen.
With warm regards,
FRANK L. POLK.
Mr. Polk's reference to the blacklist recalls an episode which in itself illustrates the changed character of the relations that had now been established between the American and the British governments. Mr. Balfour discussed shipping problems for the most part with Mr. Polk, under whose jurisdiction these matters fell. As one of these conferences was approaching its end Mr. Balfour slightly coughed, uttered an "er," and gave other indications that he was about to touch upon a ticklish question.
"Before I go," he said, "there-er-is one subject I would-er-like to say something about."
Mr. Polk at once grasped what was coming.
"I know what you have in mind," said Mr. Polk in his characteristically quick way. "You want us to apply your blacklist to neutrals."
In other words, the British hoped that the United States, now that it was in the war, would adopt against South America and other offenders those same discriminations which this country had so fiercely objected to, when it was itself a neutral.
The British statesman gave Mr. Polk one of his most winning smiles and nodded.
"Mr. Balfour," said Mr. Polk, "it took Great Britain three years to reach a point where it was prepared to violate all the laws of blockade. You will find that it will take us only two months to become as great criminals as you are!"
Mr. Balfour is usually not explosive in his manifestations of mirth, but his laughter, in reply to this statement, was almost uproarious. And the State Department was as good as its word. It immediately forgot all the elaborate "notes" and "protests" which it had been addressing to Great Britain. It became more inexorable than Great Britain had ever been in keeping foodstuffs out of neutral countries that were contiguous to Germany. Up to the time the United States entered the war, Germany, in spite of the watchful British fleet, had been obtaining large supplies from the United States through Holland, Denmark, and the Scandinavian peninsula. But the United States now immediately closed these leaks. In the main this country adopted a policy of "rationing"; that is, it would furnish the little nations adjoining Germany precisely the amount of food which they needed for their own consumption. This policy was one of the chief influences in undermining the German people and forcing their surrender. The American Government extended likewise the blacklist to South America and other countries, and, in doing so, it bettered the instruction of Great Britain herself.
Though the whole story of the blockade thus seems finally to have ended in a joke, the whole proceeding has its serious side. The United States had been posing for three years as the champion of neutral rights; the point of view of Washington had been that there was a great principle at stake. If such a principle were involved, it was certainly present in just the same degree after the United States became belligerent as in the days when we were neutrals. The lofty ideals by which the Administration had professed to be guided should have still controlled its actions; the mere fact that we, as a belligerent, could obtain certain advantages would hardly have justified a great and high-minded nation in abandoning its principles. Yet abandon them we did from the day that we declared war. We became just as remorseless in disregarding the rights of small states as Great Britain---according to our numerous blockade notes---had been. Possibly, therefore, Mr. Balfour's mirth was not merely sympathetic or humorous; it perhaps echoed his discovery that our position for three years had really been nothing but a sham; that the State Department had been. forcing points in which it did not really believe, or in which it did not believe when American interests were involved. At any rate, this ending of our long argument with Great Britain was a splendid justification for Page; his contention had always been that the preservation of civilization was more important than the technicalities of the international lawyers. And now the Wilson Administration, by throwing into the waste basket all the finespun theories with which it had been embarrassing the Allied cause since August 4, 1914, accepted---and accepted joyously---his point of view.
One of the first things which Mr. Balfour did, on his arrival in Washington, was personally to explain to President Wilson about the so-called "secret treaties."
The "secret treaty" that especially preyed upon Mr. Wilson's mind, and which led to a famous episode at the Versailles Conference, was that which had been made with Italy in 1915, as consideration for Italy's participation in the war. Mr. Balfour, in telling the President of these territorial arrangements with Italy, naturally did not criticise his ally, but it was evident that he regarded the matter as something about which the United States should be informed.
"This is the sort of thing you have to do when you are engaged in a war," he explained, and then he gave Mr. Wilson the details.
Probably the most important information which Mr. Balfour and the French and Italian Commissions brought to Washington was the desperate situation of the Allied cause. On that point not one of the visiting statesmen or military and naval advisers made the slightest attempt at concealment. Mr. Balfour emphasized the seriousness of the crisis in one of his earliest talks with Mr. McAdoo, Secretary of the Treasury. The British statesman was especially interested in the financial situation and he therefore took up this matter at an early date with the Treasury Department.
"Mr. Balfour," said Mr. McAdoo, "before we make any plans of financial assistance it is absolutely necessary that we know precisely where we stand. The all-important thing is the question as to how long the war is likely to last. If it is only to last a few months, it is evident that we need to make very different arrangements than if it is to last several years. Just what must we make provision for? Let us assume that the United States goes in with all its men and resources---that we dedicate all our money, our manufacturing plants, our army, our navy, everything we have got, to bringing the war to an end. How long will it take?"
Mr. Balfour replied that it would be necessary to consult his naval and military advisers before he answered that question. He said that he would return in a day or two and make an explicit statement. He did so and his answer was this: Under these circumstances---that the United States should make war to the full limit of its power, in men and resources---the war could not be ended until the summer or the autumn of 1919. Mr. McAdoo put the same question in the same form to the French and Italian Missions and obtained precisely the same answer.
Page's papers show that Mr. Balfour, in the early stages of American participation, regarded the financial situation as the thing which chiefly threatened the success of the Allied cause. So much greater emphasis has been laid upon the submarine warfare that this may at first seem rather a misreading of Great Britain's peril. Yet the fact is that the high rate of exchange and the depredatory U-boat represented almost identically the same danger. The prospect that so darkened the horizon in the spring of 1917 was the possible isolation of Great Britain. England's weakness, as always, consisted in the fact that she was an island, that she could not feed herself with her own resources and that she had only about six weeks' supply of food ahead of her at any one time. If Germany could cut the lines of communication and so prevent essential supplies from reaching British ports, the population of Great Britain could be starved into surrender in a very brief time, France would be overwhelmed, and the triumph of the Prussian cause would be complete. That the success of the German submarine campaign would accomplish this result was a fact that the popular mind readily grasped. What it did not so clearly see, however, was that the financial collapse of Great Britain would cut these lines of communication quite as effectually as the submarine itself. The British were practically dependent for their existence upon the food brought from the United States, just as the Allied armies were largely dependent upon the steel which came from the great industrial plants of this country. If Great Britain could not find the money with which to purchase these supplies, it is quite apparent that they could not be shipped. The collapse of British credit therefore would have produced the isolation of the British Isles and led to a British surrender, just as effectively as would the success of the German submarine campaign.
As soon as Bernstorff was sent home, therefore, and the participation of this country in the war became extremely probable, Mr. Balfour took up the financial question with Page.
March 5, 1917.
a collapse may come.
The inquiries which I have made here about financial conditions disclose an international situation which is most alarming to the financial and industrial outlook of the United States. England has not only to pay her own war bills, but is obliged to finance her Allies as well. Up to the present time she has done these tasks out of her own capital. But she cannot continue her present extensive purchases in the United States without shipping gold as payment for them, and there are two reasons why she cannot make large shipments of gold. In the first place, both England and France must keep the larger part of the gold they have to maintain issues of their paper at par; and, in the second place, the German U-boat has made the shipping of gold a dangerous procedure even if they had it to ship. There is therefore a pressing danger that the Franco-American and Anglo-American exchange will be greatly disturbed; the inevitable consequence will be that orders by all the Allied Governments will be reduced to the lowest possible amount and that trans-Atlantic trade will practically come to an end. The result of such a stoppage will be a panic in the United States. The world will therefore be divided into two hemispheres, one of them, our own, will have the gold and the commodities: the other, Great Britain and Europe, will need these commodities, but it will have no money with which to pay for them. Moreover, it will have practically no commodities of its own to exchange for them. The financial and commercial result will be almost as bad for the United States as for Europe. We shall soon reach this condition unless we take quick action to prevent it. Great Britain and France must have a credit in the United States which will be large enough to prevent the collapse of world trade and the whole financial structure of Europe.
If the United States declare war against Germany, the greatest help we could give Great Britain and its Allies would be such a credit. If we should adopt this policy, an excellent plan would be for our Government to make a large investment in a Franco-British loan. Another plan would be to guarantee such a loan. A great advantage would be that all the money would be kept in the United States. We could keep on with our trade and increase it, till the war ends, and after the war Europe would purchase food and an enormous supply of materials with which to reequip her peace industries. We should thus reap the profit of an uninterrupted and perhaps an enlarging trade over a number of years and we should hold their securities in payment.
On the other hand, if we keep nearly all the gold and Europe cannot pay for reestablishing its economic life, there may be a world-wide panic for an indefinite period.
Of course we cannot extend such a credit unless we go to war with Germany. But is there no way in which our Government might immediately and indirectly help the establishment in the United States of a large Franco-British credit without violating armed neutrality? I do not know enough about our own reserve bank law to form an opinion. But these banks would avert such a danger if they were able to establish such a credit. Danger for us is more real and imminent, I think, than the public on either side the Atlantic understands. If it be not averted before its manifestations become apparent, it will then be too late to save the day.
The pressure of this approaching crisis, I am certain, has gone beyond the ability of the Morgan financial agency for the British and French governments. The financial necessities of the Allies are too great and urgent for any private agency to handle, for every such agency has to encounter business rivalries and sectional antagonisms.
It is not improbable that the only way of maintaining our present preeminent trade position and averting a panic is by declaring war on Germany. The submarine has added the last item to the danger of a financial world crash. There is now an uncertainty about our being drawn into the war; no more considerable credits can be privately placed in the United States. In the meantime
Urgent as this message was, it really understated the desperate condition of British and Allied finances. That the warring powers were extremely pressed for money has long been known; but Page's papers reveal for the first time the fact that they were facing the prospect of bankruptcy itself. "The whole Allied combination on this side the ocean are very much nearer the end of their financial resources," he wrote in July, "than anybody has guessed or imagined. We only can save them. . . . The submarines are steadily winning the war. Pershing and his army have bucked up the French for the moment. But for his coming there was more or less danger of a revolution in Paris and of serious defection in the army. Everybody here fears that the French will fail before another winter of the trenches. Yet---the Germans must be still worse off."
The matter that was chiefly pressing at the time of the Balfour visit was the fact that the British balances in the New York banks were in a serious condition. It should always be remembered, however, that Great Britain was financing not only herself, but her Allies, and that the difficult condition in which she now found herself was caused by the not too considerate demands of the nations with which she was allied in the war. Thus by April 6, 1917, Great Britain had overdrawn her account with J. P. Morgan to the extent of $400,000,000 and had no cash available with which to meet this overdraft. This obligation had been incurred in the purchase of supplies, both for Great Britain and the allied governments; and securities, largely British owned stocks and bonds, had been deposited to protect the bankers. The money was now coming due; if the obligations were not met, the credit of Great Britain in this country would reach the vanishing point. Though at first there was a slight misunderstanding about this matter, the American Government finally paid this over-draft out of the proceeds of the first Liberty Loan. This act saved the credit of the allied countries; it was, of course, only the beginning of the financial support that America brought to the allied cause; the advances that were afterward furnished from the American Treasury made possible the purchases of food and supplies in enormous quantities. The first danger that threatened, the isolation and starvation of Great Britain, was therefore overcome. It was the joint product of Page's work in London and that of the Balfour Commission in the United States.
Until these financial arrangements had been made there was no certainty that the supplies which were so essential to victory would ever leave the United States; this obstruction at the source had now been removed. But the greater difficulty still remained. The German submarines were lying off the waters south and west of Ireland ready to sink the supply ships as soon as they entered the prohibited zone. Mr. Balfour and his associates were working also on this problem in Washington; and, at the same time, Page and Admiral Sims and the British Admiralty were bending all their energies in London to obtain immediate cooperation.
A remark which Mr. Balfour afterward made to Admiral Sims shows the frightful nature of the problem which was confronting Great Britain at that time.
"That was a terrible week we spent at sea in that voyage to the United States," Mr. Balfour said. "We knew that the German submarine campaign was succeeding. Their submarines were destroying our shipping and we had no means of preventing it. I could not help thinking that we were facing the defeat of Great Britain."
Page's papers show that as early as February 25th he understood in a general way the disheartening proportions of the German success. "It is a momentous crisis," he wrote at that time. "The submarines are destroying shipping at an appalling rate." Yet it was not until Admiral Sims arrived in London, on April 9th, that the Ambassador learned all the details. In sending the Admiral to England the Navy Department had acted on an earnest recommendation from Page. The fact that the American Navy was inadequately represented in the British capital had long been a matter of embarrassment to him. The ability and personal qualifications of our attachés had been unquestioned; but none of them during the war had been men of high rank, and this in itself proved to be a constant impediment to their success. While America was represented by Commanders, Japan, Italy, and France had all sent Admirals to London. Page's repeated requests for an American Admiral had so far met with no response, but the probability that this country would become involved in the war now gave new point to his representations. In the latter part of March, Page renewed his request in still more urgent form, and this time the President and the Navy Department responded favourably. The result was that, on April 9th, three days after the American declaration of war, Admiral Sims and his flag-lieutenant, Commander Babcock, presented themselves at tile American Embassy. There was little in the appearance of these men to suggest a violent naval demonstration against Germany. Both wore civilian dress, their instructions having commanded them not to bring uniforms; both were travelling under assumed names, and both had no more definite orders than to investigate the naval situation and cable the results to Washington. In spite of these attempts at secrecy, the British had learned that Admiral Sims was on the way; they rejoiced not only in this fact, but in the fact that Sims had been chosen, for there was no American naval officer whose professional reputation stood so high in the British Navy or who was so personally acceptable to British officialdom and the British public. The Admiralty therefore met Admiral Sims at Liverpool, brought him to London in a special train, and, a few hours after his arrival, gave him the innermost secrets on the submarine situation---secrets which were so dangerous that not all the members of the British Cabinet had been let into them.
Page welcomed Admiral Sims with a cordiality which that experienced sea veteran still gratefully remembers. He at once turned over to him two rooms in the Embassy. "You can have everything we've got," the Ambassador said. "If necessary to give you room, we'll turn the whole Embassy force out into the street." The two men had not previously met, but in an instant they became close friends. A common sympathy and a common enthusiasm were greatly needed at that crisis. As soon as Admiral Sims had finished his interview with Admiral Jellicoe, he immediately sought out the Ambassador and laid all the facts before him. Germany was winning the war. Great Britain had only six weeks' food supply on hand, and the submarines were sinking the ships at a rate which, unless the depredations should be checked, meant an early and unconditional surrender of the British Empire. Only the help of the United States could prevent this calamity.
Page, of course, was aghast: the facts and figures Admiral Sims gave him disclosed a situation which was even more desperate than he had imagined. He advised the Admiral to cable the whole story immediately to Washington. Admiral Sims at first had some difficulty in obtaining the Admiralty's consent to doing this, and the reason was the one with which Page had long been familiar ---the fear, altogether too justified, that the news would "leak" out of Washington. Of course there was no suspicion in British naval circles of the good faith of the Washington officials, but important facts had been sent so many times under the seal of the strictest secrecy and had then found their way into the newspapers that there was a deep distrust of American discretion. Certainly no greater damage could have been done the allied cause at that time than to have the Germans learn how successfully their submarine campaign was progressing. The question was referred to the Imperial War Council and its consent obtained. The report, however, was sent to the Navy Department in the British naval code, and decoded in the British Embassy in Washington.
Admiral Sims's message gave all the facts about the submarine situation, and concluded with the recommendation that the United States should assemble all floating craft that could be used in the anti-submarine warfare, destroyers, tugs, yachts, light cruisers, and similar vessels, and send them immediately to Queenstown, where they would do valuable service in convoying merchant vessels and destroying the U-boats. At that time the American Navy had between fifty and sixty destroyers that were patrolling the American coast; these could have been despatched, almost immediately, to the scene of operations; but, in response to this request, the Department sent six to Queentown.
The next few months were very unhappy ones for Admiral Sims. He was the representative in London of one of the world's greatest naval powers, participating in the greatest war that had ever enlisted its energies, yet his constant appeals for warships elicited the most inadequate response, his well-reasoned recommendations for meeting the crisis were frequently unanswered and at other times were met with counter-proposals so childish that they seemed almost to have originated in the brains of newspaper amateurs, and his urgent pictures of a civilization rapidly going to wreck were apparently looked upon with suspicion as the utterances of a man who had been completely led astray by British guile. To give a fair idea of Washington's neglect during this period it is only necessary to point out that, for four months, Admiral Sims occupied the two rooms in the Embassy directly above Page's, with Commander Babcock as his only aid. Sims's repeated requests to Secretary Daniels for an additional staff went unheeded. Had it not been for the Admiral's constant daily association with Page and the comfort and encouragement which the Ambassador gave him, this experience would have been almost unbearable. In the latter part of April, the Admiral's appeals to Washington having apparently fallen on deaf cars, he asked Page to second his efforts. The Admiral and Commander Babcock wrote another message, and drove in a motor car to Brighton, where Page was taking a little rest. The Admiral did not know just how strong a statement the Ambassador would care to sponsor, and so he did not make this representation as emphatic as the judgment of both men would have preferred.
The Admiral handed Page the paper, saying that he had prepared it with the hope that the Ambassador would sign it and send it directly to President Wilson.
"It is quite apparent," Admiral Sims said, "that the Department doesn't believe what I have been saying. Or they don't believe what the British are saying. They think that England is exaggerating the peril for reasons of its own. They think I am hopelessly pro-British and that I am being used. But if you'll take it up directly with the President, then they may be convinced."
Page put on his spectacles, took the paper, and read it through. Then, looking over the rim of his glasses in his characteristic way, he leaned toward Admiral Sims and said:
"Admiral, it isn't half strong enough! I think I can write a better despatch than that, myself! At least let me try."
He immediately took a pen and paper and in a few minutes he had written his own version which he gave the Admiral to read. The latter was delighted with it and in a brief time it was on its way to Washington.
Sent: 27 April, 1917.
immediately would very likely be decisive.
Very confidential for Secretary and President
There is reason for the greatest alarm about the issue of the war caused by the increasing success of the German submarines. I have it from official sources that during the week ending 22nd April, 88 ships of 237,000 tons, allied and neutral, were lost. The number of vessels unsuccessfully attacked indicated a great increase in the number of submarines in action.
This means practically a million tons lost every month till the shorter days of autumn come. By that time the sea will be about clear of shipping. Most of the ships are sunk to the westward and southward of Ireland. The British have in that area every available anti-submarine craft, but their force is so insufficient that they hardly discourage the submarines.
The British transport of troops and supplies is already strained to the utmost, and the maintenance of the armies in the field is threatened. There is food enough here to last the civil population only not more than six weeks or two months.
Whatever help the United States may render at any time in the future, or in any theatre of the war, our help is now more seriously needed in this submarine area for the sake of all the Allies than it can ever be needed again, or anywhere else.
After talking over this critical situation with the Prime Minister and other members of the Government, I cannot refrain from most strongly recommending the immediate sending over of every destroyer and all other craft that can be of anti-submarine use. This seems to me the sharpest crisis of the war, and the most dangerous situation for the Allies that has arisen or could arise.
If enough submarines can be destroyed in the next two or three months, the war will be won, and if we can contribute effective help immediately, it will be won directly by our aid. I cannot exaggerate the pressing and increasing danger of this situation. Thirty or more destroyers and other similar craft sent by us
There is no time to be lost.
This cablegram had a certain effect. The reply came from Washington that "eventually" thirty-six destroyers would be sent.
Page's letters of this period are full of the same subject.
London, May 4, 1917.
will have got ideas about these from Mr. Balfour.
DEAR MR. PRESIDENT:
The submarines have become a very grave danger. The loss of British and allied tonnage increases with the longer and brighter days---as I telegraphed you, 237,000 tons last week; and the worst of it is, the British are not destroying them. The Admiralty publishes a weekly report which, though true, is not the whole truth. It is known in official circles here that the Germans are turning out at least two a week---some say three; and the British are not destroying them as fast as new ones are turned out. If merely the present situation continue, the war will pretty soon become a contest of endurance under hunger, with an increasing proportion of starvation. Germany is yet much the worse off, but it will be easily possible for Great Britain to suffer to the danger point next winter or earlier unless some decided change be wrought in this situation.
The greatest help, I hope, can come from us---our destroyers and similar armed craft---provided we can send enough of them quickly. The area to be watched is so big that many submarine hunters are needed. Early in the war the submarines worked near shore. There are very many more of them now and their range is one hundred miles, or even two hundred, at sea.
The public is becoming very restive with its half-information, and it is more and more loudly demanding all the facts. There are already angry threats to change the personnel of the Admiralty; there is even talk of turning out the Government. "We must have results, we must have results." I hear confidentially that Jellicoe has threatened to resign unless the Salonica expedition is brought back: to feed and equip that force requires too many ships.
And there are other troubles impending. Norway has lost so many of her ships that she dare not send what are left to sea. Unarmed they'll all perish. If she arm them, Germany will declare war against her. There is a plan on foot for the British to charter these Norwegian ships and to arm them, taking the risk of German war against Norway. If war come (as it is expected) England must then defend Norway the best she can. And then England may ask for our big ships to help in these waters. All this is yet in the future, but possibly not far in the future.
For the present the only anti-submarine help is the help we may be able to give to patrol the wide area off Ireland. If we had one hundred destroyers to send, the job there could, I am told, be quickly done. A third of that number will help mightily. At the present rate of destruction more than four million tons will be sunk before the summer is gone.
Such is this dire submarine danger. The English thought that they controlled the sea; the Germans, that they were invincible on land. Each side is losing where it thought itself strongest.
Admiral Sims is of the greatest help imaginable. Of course, I gave him an office in one of our Embassy buildings, and the Admiralty has given him an office also with them. He spends much of his time there, and they have opened all doors and all desks and drawers to him. He strikes me (and the English so regard him) as a man of admirable judgment---unexcitable and indefatigable. I hope we'll soon send a general over, to whom the War Department will act similarly. Hoover, too, must have a good man here as, I dare say, he has already made known. These will cover the Navy, the Army, Food, and Shipping.
Perhaps a Censor and an Intelligence (Secret Service) group ought to come. I mean these for permanent---at least indefinite---service. Exchange visits by a Congressional Committee (such as the French and British make) and by high official persons such as members of your Cabinet (such also as the French and British make)---you
W. H. P.
In the latter part of June Admiral Sims went to Queenstown. Admiral Bayly, who directed the operation of the anti-submarine forces there, had gone away for a brief rest, and Admiral Sims had taken over the command of both the British and American forces at that point. This experience gave Admiral Sims a first-hand picture of a really deplorable situation. The crisis was so desperate that he made another appeal to Page.
Admiralty House, Queenstown,
June 25, 1917.in returning to London.
MY DEAR MR. PAGE:
I enclose herewith a letter on the submarine situation.
I think I have made it plain therein that the Allies are losing the war; that it will be already lost when the loss of shipping reaches the point where fully adequate supplies cannot be maintained on the various battle fronts.
I cannot understand why our Government should hesitate to send the necessary anti-submarine craft to this side.
There are at least seventeen more destroyers employed on our Atlantic coast, where there is no war, not to mention numerous other very useful anti-submarine craft, including sea-going tugs, etc.
Can you not do something to bring our Government to an understanding of how very serious the situation is?
Would it not be well to send another telegram to Mr. Lansing and the President, and also send them the enclosed correspondence?
I am sending this by mail because I may be somewhat delayed
Very sincerely yours,
WM. S. SIMS.
Page immediately acted on this suggestion.
Sims, sends me by special messenger from Queenstown the most
alarming reports of the submarine situation which are confirmed by the Admiralty here. He says that the war will be won or lost in this submarine zone within a few months. Time is of the essence of the problem, and anti-submarine craft which cannot be assembled in the submarine zone almost immediately may come too late. There is, therefore, a possibility that this war may become a war between Germany and the United States alone. Help is far more urgently and quickly needed in this submarine zone than anywhere elsein the whole war area.
The United States had now been in the war for three months and only twenty-eight of the sixty destroyers which were available had been sent into the field. Yet this latest message of Page produced no effect, and, when Admiral Sims returned from Queenstown, the two men, almost in despair, consulted as to the step which they should take next. What was the matter? Was it that Washington did not care to get into the naval war with its full strength, or was it that it simply refused to believe the representations of its Admiral and its Ambassador? Admiral Sims and Page went over the whole situation and came to the conclusion that Washington regarded them both as so pro-British that their reports were subject to suspicion. Just as Page had found that the State Department, and its "trade advisers," had believed that the British were using the blockade as a means of destroying American trade for the benefit of Britain, so now he believed that Mr. Daniels and Admiral Benson, the Chief of Naval Operations, evidently thought that Great Britain was attempting to lure American warships into European waters, to undergo the risk of protecting British commerce, while British warships were kept safely in harbour. Page suggested that there was now only one thing left to do, and that was to request the British Government itself to make a statement to President Wilson that would substantiate his own messages.
"Whatever else they think of the British in Washington," he said, "they know one thing---and that is that a British statesman like Mr. Balfour will not lie."
Mr. Balfour by this time had returned from America. The fact that he had established these splendid personal relations with Mr. Wilson, and that he had impressed the American public so deeply with his sincerity and fine purpose, made him especially valuable for this particular appeal. Page and Admiral Sims therefore went to the Foreign Office and laid all the facts before him. Their own statements, Page informed the Foreign Secretary, were evidently regarded as hysterical and biased by an unreasoning friendliness to Great Britain. If Mr. Balfour would say the same things over his own signature, then they would not be disbelieved.
Mr. Balfour gladly consented. He called in Admiral Jellicoe and asked him to draft a despatch, so that all the technical facts would be completely accurate. He also consulted with Sir Edward Carson, the First Lord of the Admiralty. Then Mr. Balfour put the document in its final shape and signed it. It was as follows:
June 30, 1917.
sent to European waters.
The forces at present at the disposal of the British Admiralty are not adequate to protect shipping from submarine attack in the danger zone round the British Islands. Consequently shipping is being sunk at a greater rate than it can be replaced by new tonnage of British origin.
The time will come when, if the present rate of loss continues, the available shipping, apart from American contribution, will be insufficient to bring to this country sufficient foodstuffs and other essentials, including oil fuel. The situation in regard to our Allies, France, and Italy, is much the same.
Consequently, it is absolutely necessary to add to our forces as a first step, pending the adoption or completion of measures which will, it is hoped, eventually lead to the destruction of enemy submarines at a rate sufficient to ensure safety of our sea communications.
The United States is the only allied country in a position to help. The pressing need is for armed small craft of every kind available in the area where commerce concentrates near the British and French coasts. Destroyers, submarines, gunboats, yachts, trawlers, and tugs would all give invaluable help, and if sent in sufficient numbers would undoubtedly save a situation which is manifestly critical. But they are required now and in as great numbers as possible. There is no time for delay.
The present method of submarine attack is almost entirely by torpedo with the submarine submerged. The gun defense of merchant ships keeps the submarine below the surface but does no more; offensively against a submerged submarine it is useless, and the large majority of the ships torpedoed never see the attacking submarine until the torpedo has hit the ship.
The present remedy is, therefore, to prevent the submarine from using its periscope for fear of attack by bomb or ram from small craft, and this method of defense for the shipping and offense against the submarine requires small craft in very large numbers.
The introduction of the convoy system, provided there are sufficient destroyers to form an adequate screen to the convoy, will, it is hoped, minimize losses when it is working, and the provision of new offensive measures is progressing; but for the next few months there is only one safeguard, viz., the immediate addition to patrols of every small vessel that can possibly be
Page, moreover, kept up his own appeal:
Strictly confidential to the President and the Secretarypolitical situation is in a dangerous state also.
The British Cabinet is engaging in a threatening controversy about the attitude which they should take toward the submarine peril. There is a faction in the Admiralty which possesses the indisputable facts and which takes a very disheartening view of the situation. This group insists that the Cabinet should make a confession at least to us of the full extent of the danger and that it should give more information to the public. The public does not feel great alarm simply because it has been kept in too great ignorance. But the political faction is so far the stronger. It attempts to minimize the facts, and, probably for political reasons, it refuses to give these discouraging facts wide publicity. The politicians urge that it is necessary to conceal the full facts from the Germans. They also see great danger in throwing the public into a panic.
Mr. Lloyd George is always optimistic and he is too much inclined to yield his judgment to political motives. In his recent address in Glasgow he gave the public a comforting impression of the situation. But the facts do not warrant the impression which he gave.
This dispute among the political factions is most unfortunate and it may cause an explosion of public feeling at any time. Changes in the Cabinet may come in consequence. If the British public knew all the facts or if the American people knew them, the present British Government would probably fall. It is therefore not only the submarine situation which is full of danger. The
Wilsford Manor, Salisbury, July 8, 1917.
We can do something to bring this about.
Since admirals and generals began to come from home, they and the war have taken my time so completely, day and night, that I haven't lately written you many things that I should like to tell you. I'll try here---a house of a friend of ours where the only other guest besides your mother and me is Edward Grey. This is the first time I've seen him since he left office. Let me take certain big subjects in order and come to smaller things later:
1. The German submarines are succeeding to a degree that the public knows nothing about. These two things are true: (a) The Germans are building submarines faster than the English sink them. In this way, therefore, they are steadily gaining. (b) The submarines are sinking freight ships faster than freight ships are being built by the whole world. In this way, too, then, the Germans are succeeding. Now if this goes on long enough, the Allies' game is up. For instance, they have lately sunk so many fuel oil ships, that this country may very soon be in a perilous condition---even the Grand Fleet may not have enough fuel. Of course the chance is that oil ships will not continue to fall victims to the U-boats and we shall get enough through to replenish the stock. But this illustrates the danger, and it is a very grave danger.
The best remedy so far worked out is the destroyer. The submarines avoid destroyers and they sink very, very few ships that are convoyed. If we had destroyers enough to patrol the whole approach (for, say, 250 miles) to England, the safety of the sea would be very greatly increased; and if we had enough to patrol and to convoy every ship going and coming, the damage would be reduced to a minimum. The Admiral and I are trying our best to get our Government to send over 500 improvised destroyers---yachts, ocean-going tugs---any kind of swift craft that can be armed. Five hundred such little boats might end the war in a few months; for the Germans are keeping the spirit of their people and of their army up by their submarine success. If that success were stopped they'd have no other cry half so effective. If they could see this in Washington as we see it, they'd do it and do it not halfway but with a vengeance. If they don't do it, the war may be indefinitely prolonged and a wholly satisfactory peace may never be made. The submarine is the most formidable thing the war has produced---by far---and it gives the German the only earthly chance he has to win. And he may substantially win by it yet. That's what the British conceal. In fact, half of them do not see it or believe it. But nothing is truer, or plainer. One hundred thousand submarine chasers next year may be worth far less than 500 would be worth now, for next year see how few ships may be left! The mere arming of ships is not enough. Nearly all that are sunk are armed. The submarine now carries a little periscope and a big one, each painted the colour of the sea. You can't see a little periscope except in an ocean as smooth as glass. It isn't bigger than a coffee cup. The submarine thus sinks its victims without ever emerging or ever being seen. As things now stand, the Germans are winning the war, and they are winning it on the sea; that's the queer and the most discouraging fact. My own opinion is that all the facts ought to be published to all the world. Let the Germans get all the joy they can out of the confession. No matter, if the Government and the people of the United States knew all the facts, we'd have 1,000 improvised destroyers (yachts, tugs, etc., etc.) armed and over here very quickly. Then the tide would turn.
Then there'd be nothing to fear in the long run. For the military authorities all agree that the German Army is inferior to the British and French and will be whipped. That may take a long time yet; but of the result nobody who knows seems to have any doubt---unless the French get tired and stop. They have periods of great war weariness and there is real danger that they may quit and make a separate peace. General Pershing's presence has made the situation safe for the moment. But in a little while something else spectacular and hopeful may be required to keep them in line.
Such is an accurate picture of the war as it is now, and it is a dangerous situation.
2. The next grave danger is financial. The European Allies have so bled the English for money that the English would by this time probably have been on a paper money basis (and of course all the Allies as well) if we had not come to their financial aid. And we've got to keep our financial aid going to them to prevent this disastrous result. That wouldn't at once end the war, if they had all abandoned specie payments; but it would be a frightfully severe blow and it might later bring defeat. That is a real danger. And the Government at Washington, I fear, does not know the full extent of the danger. They think that the English are disposed to lie down on them. They don't realize the cost of the war. This Government has bared all this vast skeleton to me; but I fear that Washington imagines that part of it is a deliberate scare. It's a very real danger.
Now, certain detached items:
Sims is the idol of the British Admiralty and he is doing his job just as well as any man could with the tools and the chance that he has. He has made the very best of the chance and he has completely won the confidence and admiration of this side of the world.
Pershing made an admirable impression here, and in France he has simply set them wild with joy. His coming and his little army have been worth what a real army will be worth later. It is well he came to keep the French in line.
The army of doctors and nurses have had a similar effect.
Even the New England saw-mill units have caused a furor of enthusiasm. They came with absolute Yankee completeness of organization---with duplicate parts of all their machinery, tents, cooks, pots, and pans, and everything ship-shape. The only question they asked was: "Say, where the hell are them trees you want sawed up?" That's the way to do a job! Yankee stock is made high here by such things as that.
We're getting a crowd of Yankee lecturers on the United States to go up and down this Kingdom. There's the greatest imaginable curiosity to hear about the United States in all kinds of society from munition workers to universities. I got the British Government to write Buttrick to come as its guest, and the Rockefeller Boards rose to the occasion. He'll probably be along presently. If he hasn't already sailed when you get this, see him and tell him to make arrangements to have pictures sent over to him to illustrate his lectures. Who else could come to do this sort of a job?
I am myself busier than I have ever been. The kind of work the Embassy now has to do is very different from the work of the days of neutrality. It continues to increase---especially the work that I have to do myself. But it's all pleasant now. We are trying to help and no longer to hinder. To save my life I don't see how the Washington crowd can look at themselves in a mirror and keep their faces straight. Yesterday they were bent on sending everything into European neutral states. The foundations of civilization would give way if neutral trade were interfered with. Now, nothing must go in except on a ration basis. Yesterday it must be a peace without victory. Now it must. be a complete victory, every man and every dollar thrown in, else no peace is worth having. I don't complain. I only rejoice. But I'm glad that kind of a rapid change is not a part of my record. The German was the same beast yesterday that he is to-day; and it makes a simple-minded, straight-minded man like me wonder which attitude was the (or is the) attitude of real conviction. But this doesn't bother me now as a real problem---only as a speculation. What we call History will, I presume, in time work this out. But History is often a kind of lie. But never mind that. The only duty of mankind now is to win. Other things can wait.
I walked over to Stonehenge and back (about six miles) with Lord Grey (Sir Edward, you know) and we, like everybody else, fell to talking about when the war may end. We know as well as anybody and no better than anybody else. I have very different moods about it---no convictions. It seems to me to depend, as things now are, more on the submarines than on anything else. If we could effectually discourage them so that the Germans would have to withdraw them and could no more keep up the spirit of their people by stories of the imminent starvation of England, I have a feeling that the hunger and the war weariness of the German people would lead them to force an end. But, the more they are called on to suffer the more patriotic do they think themselves and they may go on till they drop dead in their tracks.
What I am really afraid of is that the Germans may, before winter, offer all that the Western Allies most want ---the restoration of Belgium and France, the return of Alsace-Lorraine, etc., in the West and the surrender of the Colonies---provided Austria is not dismembered. That would virtually leave them the chance to work out their Middle Europe scheme and ultimately there'd probably have to be another war over that question. That's the real eventuality to be feared---a German defeat in the West but a German victory in the Southeast. Everybody in Europe is so war weary that such a plan may succeed.
On the other hand, what Hoover and Northcliffe fear may come true---that the Germans are going to keep up the struggle for years---till their armies are practically obliterated, as Lee's army was. If the Allies were actually to kill (not merely wound, but actually kill) 5,000 Germans a day for 300 days a year, it would take about four years to obliterate the whole German Army. There is the bare possibility, therefore, of a long struggle yet. But I can't believe it. My dominant mood these days is an end within a very few months after the submarines are knocked out. Send over, therefore, 1,000 improvised destroyers the next two months, and I'll promise peace by Christmas. Otherwise I can make no promises. That's all that Lord Grey and I know, and surely we are two wise men. What, therefore, is the use in writing any more about this?
The chief necessity that grows upon me is that all the facts must be brought out that show the kinship in blood and ideals of the two great English-speaking nations. We were actually coming to believe ourselves that we were part German and Slovene and Pole and What-not, instead of essentially being Scotch and English. Hence the unspeakable impudence of your German who spoke of eliminating the Anglo-Saxon element from American life! The truth should be forcibly and convincingly told and repeated to the end of the chapter, and our national life should proceed on its natural historic lines, with its proper historic outlook and background.
W. H. P.
The labour of getting the American Navy into the war was evidently at first a difficult one, but the determination of Page and Admiral Sims triumphed, and, by August and September, our energies were fully engaged. And the American Navy made a record that will stand everlastingly to its glory. Without its help the German submarines could never have been overcome.
- The reference is to the attack made in October, 1916, by the German Submarine U-53, off Nantucket on several British ships. An erroneous newspaper account said that the Benham, an American destroyer, had moved in a way that facilitated the operations of the German submarine. This caused great bitterness in England, until Page showed the Admiralty a report from the Navy Department proving that the story was false
- This, of course, is Franklin D. Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1917.
- This letter is dated London and was probably begun there. It is evident, however, that the latter part was written at Brighton, where the Ambassador was taking a brief holiday.
- This was a long document describing conditions in great detail.
- The Navy Department had taken the position that arming merchantmen was the best protection against the submarine. This statement was intended to refute this belief.
- Dr. Wallace Buttrick, President of the General Education Board. who was sent at this time to deliver lectures throughout Great Britain on the United States.