The War to End All PeaceF. ROGER DEVLIN AND STEPHEN J. ROSSI
The Unz Review
Apr. 07, 2017
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Today, 6 April 2017, marks the one hundredth anniversary of America's entry into the First World War, probably the decisive factor in the eventual outcome of that war a year and a half later. Most schoolchildren, if they are taught anything at all about this event, hear it attributed to the German sinking of the Lusitania with American passengers aboard. Many do not know that the Lusitania was a British ship, that its sinking occurred nearly two years before our entry into the war, and that it was carrying a substantial amount of munitions, making it fair game under the laws of war. The existence of the munitions was only publicly acknowledged in 1982 after a salvage operation was announced; the British government finally admitted the truth, citing fear that explosives still inside the wreck might claim a few lives even yet.
Anti-German propaganda made much of the fact that the Lusitania was not a warship, but failed to mention that Britain had commonly disguised its warships to look like merchant ships and even to fly the flags of neutral nations. It was in response to such illegal practices that the German navy adopted a policy of treating any and all ships heading for Britain as potential enemy combatants. In the case of the Lusitania, the German Embassy in Washington even issued public warnings to potential travelers that if they sailed on any ships headed for Britain, they did so at their own risk.
A prominent representative of the New York German-American community also tried to take out ads in 50 major American newspapers, warning Americans of the risk of embarking on any transatlantic voyage to England. Only one paper, the New York Tribune, ran the warning--on the very morning the Lusitania sailed, too late for anyone to make new travel plans.
Also absent from the usual accounts of the Lusitania is the information that it was a response to the British blockade of the Central Powers, illegal under the laws of the Hague and Geneva Conventions, as well as the London Declaration concerning the Laws of Naval War. This blockade led to terrible shortages of food and medicine for German soldiers and civilians alike. The people were largely reduced to subsisting on turnips from 1916 onward, and by the end of the war, malnutrition had contributed to over half a million deaths. Unrestricted submarine warfare was a desperate effort to break through the blockade, and the attack upon the Lusitania was consistent with that announced policy.
These were not the only falsehoods that helped nudge America toward involvement in the bloodletting. The outbreak of war was accompanied by copious propaganda about fictitious German atrocities, such as bayoneting Belgian babies, raping nuns, and nailing Entente prisoners on barn doors. The present authors know of a recent case where a US Marine recruit heard the "bayonetting babies" story in boot camp just within the last few years!