The President’s Protest to Germany

Woodrow Wilson

July 21, 1915

The Government of the United States is not unmindful of the extraordinary conditions created by this war or of the radical alterations of circumstance and method of attack produced by the use of instrumentalities of naval warfare which the nations of the world cannot have had in view when the existing rules of international law were formulated,
and it is ready to make every reasonable allowance for these novel and unexpected aspects of war at sea; but it cannot consent to abate any essential or fundamental right of its people because of a mere alteration of circumstance. The rights of neutrals in time of war are based upon principle, not upon expediency, and the principles are immutable. It is the duty and obligation of belligerents to find a way to adapt the new circumstances to them.

4. In view of the admission of illegality made by the Imperial Government when it pleaded the right of retaliation in defense of its acts, and in view of the manifest possibility of conforming to the established rules of naval warfare, the Government of the United States cannot believe that the Imperial Government will longer refrain from disavowing the wanton act of its naval commander in sinking the “LUSITANIA” or from offering reparation for the American lives lost, so far as reparation can be made for a needless destruction of human life by an illegal act.

5.{[Neither can a neutral power be expected in such circumstances to accept the concession of a part of its (manifest) rights and the suspension of the rest.]}The Government of the United States, while not indifferent to [fully recognizing] the friendly spirit in which it is made, cannot accept the suggestion of the Imperial German Government that certain vessels be designated and agreed upon which shall be free on [of] the seas now illegally proscribed. The very agreement would, by implication, subject other vessels to illegal attack and would be a curtailment and therefore an abandonment of the principles for which this Government[it] contends and which in times of calmer counsels every nation would concede as of course.

6. The events of the past two months have clearly [fortunately] indicated [shown] that it is possible and practicable to conduct such submarine operations as have characterized the naval activity of the Imperial German navy within the so-called war zone in {general} [[substantial]] {[entire]} accord with the accepted practices of regulated warfare {[;that it is possible to make sure of the character of the vessel attacked and to safeguard (spare) the lives of those on board if it is decided to sink her and her cargo. (she must be sunk.)]} The whole world has looked with interest and increasing [great] satisfaction at the demonstration of that possibility by German naval commanders. It is manifestly possible, therefore, to lift the whole practice of submarine attack above the criticism which it has aroused and remove the chief[all] causes of offenses.

7. The Government of the United States and the Imperial German Government are contending for the same great object, have long stood together in urging the very principles, upon whichthe Government of the United States now so solemnly insists. [upon] They are both contending for the freedom of the seas. The Government of the United States will continue to contend for that freedom, from whatever quarter violated, without compromise and at any cost. It invites the practical cooperation of the Imperial German Government at this time when cooperation may accomplish most and this great common object be most strikingly and effectively achieved.

8. The Imperial German Government expresses the hope that this object may be in some measure accomplished even before the present war ends. It can be. The Government of the United States not only feels obliged to insist upon it, by whomsoever [wherever] violated or ignored, in the protection of its own citizens, but is also deeply interested in seeing it made practicable between the belligerents themselves, and holds itself ready at any time to act as the common friend who may be priveleged to {convey the suggestions of either belligerent to its adversary.}[suggest a way.]

9. In the meantime the very value, which this Government [it] sets upon the long and unbroken friendship between the people and Government of the United States and the people and Government of the German nation impels it to press very solemnly upon the Imperial German Government the necessity for a scrupulous observance of meutral rights in this critical matter. Friendship itself prompts it to say to the Imperial [German] Government that repetition by [continued acts on the part of] the commanders of German naval vessels of acts in contravention of those rightsmust be regarded by the Government of the United States, when they affect American citizens, as deliberately unfriendly.

{10.In the event that this situation should unhappily arise the heavy responsibility would rest upon the Imperial Government for the inevitable consequences. The people and Government of the United States are determined to maintain their just rights and will adopt the steps necessary to insure their respect by all nations.}

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