THE LIFE AND LETTERS OF WALTER H. PAGE
BURTON J. HENDRICK
GARDEN CITY NEW YORK DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY 1924
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES AT THE COUNTRY LIFE PRESS, GARDEN CITY, N.Y.
CHAPTER PAGE XIV. THE "LUSITANIA" AND AFTER 1 XV. THE AMBASSADOR AND THE LAWYERS 53 XVI. DARK DAYS FOR THE ALLIES 81 XVII. CHRISTMAS IN ENGLAND, 1915 103 XVIII. A PERPLEXED AMBASSADOR 128 XIX. WASHINGTON IN THE SUMMER OF 1916 148 XX. "PEACE WITHOUT VICTORY" 189 XXI. THE UNITED STATES AT WAR 215 XXII. THE BALFOUR MISSION TO THE UNITED STATES 248 XXIII. PAGE—THE MAN 295 XXIV. A RESPITE AT ST. IVES 321 XXV. GETTING THE AMERICAN TROOPS TO FRANCE 349 XXVI. LAST DAYS IN ENGLAND 374 XXVII. THE END 404 APPENDIX 407 INDEX 425
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Sir Edward Grey Frontispiece
Col. Edward M. House. From a painting by P.A. Laszlo 88
The Rt. Hon. Herbert Henry Asquith, Prime Minister of Great Britain, 1908-1916 89
Herbert C. Hoover, in 1914 104
A facsimile page from the Ambassador's letter of November 24, 1916, resigning his Ambassadorship 105
Walter H. Page, at the time of America's entry into the war, April, 1917 216
Resolution passed by the two Houses of Parliament, April 18, 1917, on America's entry into the war 217
The Rt. Hon. David Lloyd George, Prime Minister of Great Britain, 1916— 232
The Rt. Hon. Arthur James Balfour (now the Earl of Balfour), Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, 1916-1919 233
Lord Robert Cecil, Minister of Blockade, 1916-1918, Assistant Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, 1918 344
General John J. Pershing, Commander-in-Chief of the American Expeditionary Force in the Great War 345
Admiral William Sowden Sims, Commander of American Naval Forces operating in European waters during the Great War 360
A silver model of the Mayflower, the farewell gift of the Plymouth Council to Mr. Page 361
LIFE AND LETTERS
WALTER H. PAGE
THE LIFE AND LETTERS OF
WALTER H. PAGE
THE "LUSITANIA"—AND AFTER
The news of the Lusitania was received at the American Embassy at four o'clock on the afternoon of May 7, 1915. At that time preparations were under way for a dinner in honour of Colonel and Mrs. House; the first Lusitania announcement declared that only the ship itself had been destroyed and that all the passengers and members of the crew had been saved; there was, therefore, no good reason for abandoning this dinner.
At about seven o'clock, the Ambassador came home; his manner showed that something extraordinary had taken place; there were no outward signs of emotion, but he was very serious. The first news, he now informed Mrs. Page, had been a mistake; more than one thousand men, women, and children had lost their lives, and more than one hundred of these were American citizens. It was too late to postpone the dinner but that affair was one of the most tragic in the social history of London. The Ambassador was constantly receiving bulletins from his Chancery, and these, as quickly as they were received, he read to his guests. His voice was quiet and subdued; there were no indications of excitement in his manner or in that of his friends, and hardly of suppressed emotion. The atmosphere was rather that of dumb stupefaction. The news seemed to have dulled everyone's capacity for thought and even for feeling. If any one spoke, it was in whispers. Afterward, in the drawing room, this same mental state was the prevailing one; there was little denunciation of Germany and practically no discussion as to the consequences of the crime; everyone's thought was engrossed by the harrowing and unbelievable facts which the Ambassador was reading from the little yellow slips that were periodically brought in. An irresistible fascination evidently kept everybody in the room; the guests stayed late, eager for every new item. When they finally left, one after another, their manner was still abstracted and they said their good-nights in low voices. There were two reasons for this behaviour. The first was that the Ambassador and his guests had received the details of the greatest infamy which any supposedly civilized state had perpetrated since the massacre of Saint Bartholomew. The second was the conviction that the United States would at once declare war on Germany.
On this latter point several of the guests expressed their ideas and one of the most shocked and outspoken was Colonel House. For a month the President's personal representative had been discussing with British statesmen possible openings for mediation, but all his hopes in this direction now vanished. That President Wilson would act with the utmost energy Colonel House took for granted. This act, he evidently believed, left the United States no option. "We shall be at war with Germany within a month," he declared.
The feeling that prevailed in the Embassy this evening was the one that existed everywhere in London for several days. Emotionally the event acted like an anaesthetic. This was certainly the condition of all Americans associated with the American Embassy, especially Page himself. A day or two after the sinking the Ambassador went to Euston Station, at an early hour in the morning, to receive the American survivors. The hundred or more men and women who shambled from the train made a listless and bedraggled gathering. Their grotesque clothes, torn and unkempt—for practically none had had the opportunity of obtaining a change of dress—their expressionless faces, their lustreless eyes, their uncertain and bewildered walk, faintly reflected an experience such as comes to few people in this world. The most noticeable thing about these unfortunates was their lack of interest in their surroundings; everything had apparently been reduced to a blank; the fact that practically none made any reference to their ordeal, or could be induced to discuss it, was a matter of common talk in London. And something of this disposition now became noticeable in Page himself. He wrote his dispatches to Washington in an abstracted mood; he went through his duties almost with the detachment of a sleep-walker; like the Lusitania survivors, he could not talk much at that time about the scenes that had taken place off the coast of Ireland. Yet there were many indications that he was thinking about them, and his thoughts, as his letters reveal, were concerned with more things than the tragedy itself. He believed that his country was now face to face with its destiny. What would Washington do?
Page had a characteristic way of thinking out his problems. He performed his routine work at the Chancery in the daytime, but his really serious thinking he did in his own room at night. The picture is still a vivid one in the recollection of his family and his other intimates. Even at this time Page's health was not good, yet he frequently spent the evening at his office in Grosvenor Gardens, and when the long day's labours were finished, he would walk rather wearily to his home at No. 6 Grosvenor Square. He would enter the house slowly—and his walk became slower and more tired as the months went by—go up to his room and cross to the fireplace, so apparently wrapped up in his own thoughts that he hardly greeted members of his own family. A wood fire was kept burning for him, winter and summer alike; Page would put on his dressing gown, drop into a friendly chair, and sit there, doing nothing, reading nothing, saying nothing—only thinking. Sometimes he would stay for an hour; not infrequently he would remain till two, three, or four o'clock in the morning; occasions were not unknown when his almost motionless figure would be in this same place at daybreak. He never slept through these nights, and he never even dozed; he was wide awake, and his mind was silently working upon the particular problem that was uppermost in his thoughts. He never rose until he had solved it or at least until he had decided upon a course of action. He would then get up abruptly, go to bed, and sleep like a child. The one thing that made it possible for a man of his delicate frame, racked as it was by anxiety and over work, to keep steadily at his task, was the wonderful gift which he possessed of sleeping.
Page had thought out many problems in this way. The tension caused by the sailing of the Dacia, in January, 1915, and the deftness with which the issue had been avoided by substituting a French for a British cruiser, has already been described. Page discovered this solution on one of these all-night self-communings. It was almost two o'clock in the morning that he rose, said to himself, "I've got it!" and then went contentedly to bed. And during the anxious months that followed the Lusitania, the Arabic, and those other outrages which have now taken their place in history, he spent night after night turning the matter over in his mind. But he found no way out of the humiliations presented by the policy of Washington.
"Here we are swung loose in time," he wrote to his son Arthur, a few days after the first Lusitania note had been sent to Germany, "nobody knows the day or the week or the month or the year—and we are caught on this island, with no chance of escape, while the vast slaughter goes on and seems just beginning, and the degradation of war goes on week by week; and we live in hope that the United States will come in, as the only chance to give us standing and influence when the reorganization of the world must begin. (Beware of betraying the word 'hope'!) It has all passed far beyond anybody's power to describe. I simply go on day by day into unknown experiences and emotions, seeing nothing before me very clearly and remembering only dimly what lies behind. I can see only one proper thing: that all the world should fall to and hunt this wild beast down.
"Two photographs of little Mollie on my mantelpiece recall persons and scenes and hopes unconnected with the war: few other things can. Bless the baby, she couldn't guess what a sweet purpose she serves."
* * * * *
The sensations of most Americans in London during this crisis are almost indescribable. Washington's failure promptly to meet the situation affected them with astonishment and humiliation. Colonel House was confident that war was impending, and for this reason he hurried his preparations to leave England; he wished to be in the United States, at the President's side, when the declaration was made. With this feeling about Mr. Wilson, Colonel House received a fearful shock a day or two after the Lusitania had gone down: while walking in Piccadilly, he caught a glimpse of one of the famous sandwich men, bearing a poster of an afternoon newspaper. This glaring broadside bore the following legend: "We are too proud to fight—Woodrow Wilson." The sight of that placard was Colonel House's first intimation that the President might not act vigorously. He made no attempt to conceal from Page and other important men at the American Embassy the shock which it had given him. Soon the whole of England was ringing with these six words; the newspapers were filled with stinging editorials and cartoons, and the music halls found in the Wilsonian phrase materials for their choicest jibes. Even in more serious quarters America was the subject of the most severe denunciation. No one felt these strictures more poignantly than President Wilson's closest confidant. A day or two before sailing home he came into the Embassy greatly depressed at the prevailing revulsion against the United States. "I feel," Colonel House said to Page, "as though I had been given a kick at every lamp post coming down Constitution Hill." A day or two afterward Colonel House sailed for America.
And now came the period of distress and of disillusionment. Three Lusitania notes were sent and were evasively answered, and Washington still seemed to be marking time. The one event in this exciting period which gave Page satisfaction was Mr. Bryan's resignation as Secretary of State. For Mr. Bryan personally Page had a certain fondness, but as head of the State Department the Nebraska orator had been a cause of endless vexation. Many of Page's letters, already printed, bear evidence of the utter demoralization which existed in this branch of the Administration and this demoralization became especially glaring during the Lusitania crisis. No attempt was made even at this momentous period to keep the London Embassy informed as to what was taking place in Washington; Page's letters and cablegrams were, for the most part, unacknowledged and unanswered, and the American Ambassador was frequently obliged to obtain his information about the state of feeling in Washington from Sir Edward Grey. It must be said, in justice to Mr. Bryan, that this carelessness was nothing particularly new, for it had worried many ambassadors before Page. Readers of Charles Francis Adams's correspondence meet with the same complaints during the Civil War; even at the time of the Trent crisis, when for a fortnight Great Britain and the United States were living on the brink of war, Adams was kept entirely in the dark about the plans of Washington. The letters of John Hay show a similar condition during his brief ambassadorship to Great Britain in 1897-1898.
But Mr. Bryan's incumbency was guilty of diplomatic vices which were peculiarly its own. The "leaks" in the State Department, to which Page has already referred, were constantly taking place; the Ambassador would send the most confidential cipher dispatches to his superior, cautioning the Department that they must be held inviolably secret, and then he would pick up the London newspapers the next morning and find that everything had been cabled from Washington. To most readers, the informal method of conducting foreign business, as it is disclosed in these letters, probably comes as something of a shock. Page is here discovered discussing state matters, not in correspondence with the Secretary of State, but in private unofficial communications to the President, and especially to Colonel House—the latter at that time not an official person at all. All this, of course, was extremely irregular and, in any properly organized State Department, it would have been even reprehensible. But the point is that there was no properly organized State Department at that time, and the impossibility of conducting business through the regular channels compelled Page to adopt other means. "There is only one way to reform the State Department," he informed Colonel House at this time. "That is to raze the whole building, with its archives and papers, to the ground, and begin all over again."
This state of affairs in Washington explains the curious fact that the real diplomatic history of the United States and Great Britain during this great crisis is not to be found in the archives of the State Department, for the official documents on file there consist of the most routine telegrams, which are not particularly informing, but in the Ambassador's personal correspondence with the President, Colonel House, and a few other intimates. The State Department did not have the first requisite of a properly organized foreign office, for it could not be trusted with confidential information. The Department did not tell Page what it was doing, but it apparently told the whole world what Page was doing. It is an astonishing fact that Page could not write and cable the most important details, for he was afraid that they would promptly be given to the reporters.
* * * * *
"I shall not send another confidential message to the State Department," Page wrote to Colonel House, September 15, 1914; "it's too dangerous. Time and time again now the Department has leaked. Last week, I sent a dispatch and I said in the body of it, 'this is confidential and under no condition to be given out or made public, but to be regarded as inviolably secret.' The very next morning it was telegraphed from Washington to the London newspapers. Bryan telegraphed me that he was sure it didn't get out from the Department and that he now had so fixed it that there could be no leak. He's said that at least four times before. The Department swarms with newspaper men, I hear. But whether it does or not the leak continues. I have to go with my tail between my legs and apologize to Sir Edward Grey and to do myself that shame and to do my very best to keep his confidence—against these unnecessary odds. The only way to be safe is to do the job perfunctorily, to answer the questions the Department sends and to do nothing on your own account. That's the reason so many of our men do their jobs in that way—or one reason and a strong one. We can never have an alert and energetic and powerful service until men can trust the Department and until they can get necessary information from it. I wrote the President that of course I'd go on till the war ended and all the questions growing out of it were settled, and that then he must excuse me, if I must continue to be exposed to this danger and humiliation. In the meantime, I shall send all my confidential matter in private letters to him."
* * * * *
Page did not regard Mr. Bryan's opinions and attitudes as a joke: to him they were a serious matter and, in his eyes, Bryan was most interesting as a national menace. He regarded the Secretary as the extreme expression of an irrational sentimentalism that was in danger of undermining the American character, especially as the kind of thought he represented was manifest in many phases of American life. In a moment of exasperation, Page gave expression to this feeling in a letter to his son:
To Arthur W. Page
London, June 6, 1915.
... We're in danger of being feminized and fad-ridden—grape juice (God knows water's good enough: why grape juice?); pensions; Christian Science; peace cranks; efficiency-correspondence schools; aid-your-memory; women's clubs; co-this and co-t'other and coddling in general; Billy Sunday; petticoats where breeches ought to be and breeches where petticoats ought to be; white livers and soft heads and milk-and-water;—I don't want war: nobody knows its horrors or its degradations or its cost. But to get rid of hyphenated degenerates perhaps it's worth while, and to free us from 'isms and soft folk. That's the domestic view of it. As for being kicked by a sauerkraut caste—O Lord, give us backbone!
Heartily yours, W.H.P.
In the bottom of this note, Page has cut a notch in the paper and against it he has written: "This notch is the place to apply a match to this letter."
* * * * *
"Again and ever I am reminded," Page also wrote in reference to Bryan's resignation, "of the danger of having to do with cranks. A certain orderliness of mind and conduct seems essential for safety in this short life. Spiritualists, bone-rubbers, anti-vivisectionists, all sort of anti's in fact, those who have fads about education or fads against it, Perfectionists, Daughters of the Dove of Peace, Sons of the Roaring Torrent, itinerant peace-mongers—all these may have a real genius among them once in forty years; but to look for an exception to the common run of yellow dogs and damfools among them is like opening oysters with the hope of finding pearls. It's the common man we want and the uncommon common man when we can find him—never the crank. This is the lesson of Bryan."
* * * * *
At one time, however, Mr. Bryan's departure seemed likely to have important consequences for Page. Colonel House and others strongly urged the President to call him home from London and make him Secretary of State. This was the third position in President Wilson's Cabinet for which Page had been considered. The early plans to make him Secretary of the Interior or Secretary of Agriculture have already been described. Of all cabinet posts, however, the one that would have especially attracted him would have been the Department of State. But President Wilson believed that the appointment of an Ambassador at one of the belligerent capitals, especially of an Ambassador whose sympathies for the Allies were so pronounced as were Page's, would have been an "un-neutral" act, and, therefore, Colonel House's recommendation was not approved.
From Edward M. House
Roslyn, Long Island, June 25th, 1915.
The President finally decided to appoint Lansing to succeed Mr. Bryan. In my opinion, he did wisely, though I would have preferred his appointing you.
The argument against your appointment was the fact that you are an Ambassador at one of the belligerent capitals. The President did not think it would do, and from what I read, when your name was suggested I take it there would have been much criticism. I am sorry—sorrier than I can tell you, for it would have worked admirably in the general scheme of things.
However, I feel sure that Lansing will do the job, and that you will find your relations with him in every way satisfactory.
The President spent yesterday with me and we talked much of you. He is looking well and feeling so. I read the President your letter and he enjoyed it as much as I did.
I am writing hastily, for I am leaving for Manchester, Massachusetts, where I shall be during July and August.
Your sincere friend, E.M. HOUSE.
But, in addition to the Lusitania crisis, a new terror now loomed on the horizon. Page's correspondence reveals that Bryan had more reasons than one for his resignation; he was now planning to undertake a self-appointed mission to Europe for the purpose of opening peace negotiations entirely on his own account.
From Edward M. House
Manchester, Massachusetts, August 12th, 1915.
The Bryans have been stopping with the X's. X writes me that Bryan told him that he intended to go to Europe soon and try peace negotiations. He has Lloyd George in mind in England, and it is then his purpose to go to Germany.
I take it he will want credentials from the President which, of course, he will not want to give, but just what he will feel obliged to give is another story. I anticipated this when he resigned. I knew it was merely a matter of time when he would take this step.
He may find encouragement in Germany, for he is in high favour now in that quarter. It is his purpose to oppose the President upon the matter of "preparedness," and, from what we can learn, it will not be long before there will be open antagonism between the Administration and himself.
It might be a good thing to encourage his going to Europe. He would probably come back a sadder and wiser man. I take it that no one in authority in England would discuss the matter seriously with him, and, in France, I do not believe he could even get a hearing.
Please let me have your impressions upon this subject.
I wish I could be near you to-day for there are so many things I could tell that I cannot write.
Your friend, E.M. House.
To Edward M. House
American Embassy, London [Undated].
Never mind about Bryan. Send him over here if you wish to get rid of him. He'll cut no more figure than a tar-baby at a Negro camp-meeting. If he had come while he was Secretary, I should have jumped off London Bridge and the country would have had one ambassador less. But I shall enjoy him now. You see some peace crank from the United States comes along every week—some crank or some gang of cranks. There've been two this week. Ever since the Daughters of the Dove of Peace met at The Hague, the game has become popular in America; and I haven't yet heard that a single one has been shot—so far. I think that some of them are likely soon to be hanged, however, because there are signs that they may come also from Germany. The same crowd that supplies money to buy labour-leaders and the press and to blow up factories in the United States keeps a good supply of peace-liars on tap. It'll be fun to watch Bryan perform and never suspect that anybody is lying to him or laughing at him; and he'll go home convinced that he's done the job and he'll let loose doves all over the land till they are as thick as English sparrows. Not even the President could teach him anything permanently. He can do no harm on this side the world. It's only your side that's in any possible danger; and, if I read the signs right, there's a diminishing danger there.
No, there's never yet come a moment when there was the slightest chance of peace. Did the Emperor not say last year that peace would come in October, and again this year in October? Since he said it, how can it come?
The ambitions and the actions of men, my friend, are determined by their antecedents, their surroundings, and their opportunities—the great deeds of men before them whom consciously or unconsciously they take for models, the codes they are reared by, and the chances that they think they see. These influences shaped Alexander and Caesar, and they shaped you and me. Now every monarch on the Continent has behind him the Napoleonic example. "Can I do that?" crosses the mind of every one. Of course every one thinks of himself as doing it beneficently—for the good of the world. Napoleon, himself, persuaded himself of his benevolent intentions, and the devil of it was he persuaded other people also. Now the only monarch in Europe in our time who thought he had a chance is your friend in Berlin. When he told you last year (1914) that of course he didn't want war, but that he was "ready," that's what he meant. A similar ambition, of course, comes into the mind of every professional soldier of the continent who rises to eminence. In Berlin you have both—the absolute monarch and the military class of ambitious soldiers and their fighting machine. Behind these men walks the Napoleonic ambition all the time, just as in the United States we lie down every night in George Washington's feather-bed of no entangling alliances.
Then remember, too, that the German monarchy is a cross between the Napoleonic ambition and its inheritance from Frederick the Great and Bismarck. I suppose the three damnedest liars that were ever born are these three—old Frederick, Napoleon, and Bismarck—not, I take it, because they naturally loved lying, but because the game they played constantly called for lying. There was no other way to play it: they had to fool people all the time. You have abundant leisure—do this: Read the whole career of Napoleon and write down the startling and exact parallels that you will find there to what is happening to-day. The French were united and patriotic, just as the Germans now are. When they invaded other people's territory, they said they were attacked and that the other people had brought on war. They had their lying diplomats, their corruption funds; they levied money on cities and states; they took booty; and they were God's elect. It's a wonderful parallel—not strangely, because the game is the same and the moral methods are the same. Only the tools are somewhat different—the submarine, for example. Hence the Lusitania disaster (not disavowed, you will observe), the Arabic disaster, the propaganda, underground and above, in the United States. And there'll be more. The Napoleonic Wars were about eleven years long. I fancy that we shall have war and wars from this attempt to dominate Europe, for perhaps as long a period. The Balkans can't be quieted by this war only, nor Russia and Italy perhaps. And Germany may have a series of earthquakes herself—internal explosions. Then Poland and perhaps some of the Scandinavian States. Nobody can tell.
I cannot express my admiration of the President's management, so far at least, of his colossal task of leading us right. He has shown his supreme wisdom up to this point and I have the profoundest confidence in his judgment. But I hope he doesn't fool himself about the future; I'm sure he doesn't. I see no possible way for us to keep out, because I know the ignorance and falseness of the German leaders. They'll drown or kill more Americans—on the sea and in America. They may at last even attack one of our own passenger ships, or do something that will dramatically reveal them to the whole American people. Then, of course, the tune will be called. It's only a question of time; and I am afraid the war will last long enough to give them time. An early peace is all that can prevent them from driving us at last into war; and I can see no chance of an early peace. You had as well prepare as fast as the condition of public opinion will permit.
There could be no better measure of the immeasurable moral advance that the United States has made over Europe than the incredulity of our people. They simply can't comprehend what the Napoleonic legend can do, nor the low political morality of the Continent—of Berlin in particular. Hence they don't believe it. We have gone on for 100 years working might and main to better our condition and the condition of people about us—the greatest effort made by the largest number of people since the world began to further the mood and the arts of peace. There is no other such chapter in human history as our work for a hundred years. Yet just a hundred years ago the Capitol at Washington was burned by—a political oligarchy in the freest country of Europe—as damnable an atrocity as you will find in history. The Germans are a hundred years behind the English in political development and political morality.
So, let Willum J. come. He can't hurt Europe—nor help it; and you can spare him. Let all the Peace-gang come. You can spare them, too; and they can do no harm here. Let somebody induce Hoke Smith to come, too. You have hit on a great scheme—friendly deportation.
And Bryan won't be alone. Daughters of the Dove of Peace and Sons of the Olive Branch come every week. The latest Son came to see me to-day. He said that the German Chancellor told him that he wanted peace—wants it now and wants it bad, and that only one thing stood in the way—if England would agree not to take Belgium, Germany would at once make peace! This otherwise sensible American wanted me to take him to see Sir Edward to tell him this, and to suggest to him to go over to Holland next week to meet the German Chancellor and fix it up. A few days ago a pious preacher chap (American) who had come over to "fix it all up," came back from France and called on me. He had seen something in France—he was excited and he didn't quite make it clear what he had seen; but he said that if they'd only let him go home safely and quickly he'd promise not to mention peace any more—did I think the American boats entirely safe?—So, you see, I do have some fun even in these dark days.
Yours heartily, W.H. PAGE.
This letter discloses that Page was pinning his faith in President Wilson, and that he still had confidence in the President's determination to uphold the national honour. Page was not one of those who thought that the United States should declare war immediately after the Lusitania. The President's course, in giving Germany a chance to make amends, and to disavow the act, met with his approval, and he found, also, much to admire in Mr. Wilson's first Lusitania note. His judgment in this matter was based first of all upon the merits of the case; besides this, his admiration for Mr. Wilson as a public man was strong. To think otherwise of the President would have been a great grief to the Ambassador and to differ with his chief on the tremendous issue of the war would have meant for Page the severance of one of the most cherished associations of his life. The interest which he had shown in advocating Wilson's presidential candidacy has already been set forth; and many phases of the Wilson administration had aroused his admiration. The President's handling of domestic problems Page regarded as a masterpiece in reconciling statesmanship with practical politics, and his energetic attitude on the Panama Tolls had introduced new standards into American foreign relations. Page could not sympathize with all the details of the Wilsonian Mexican policy, yet he saw in it a high-minded purpose and a genuine humanitarianism. But the outbreak of war presented new aspects of Mr. Wilson's mind. The President's attitude toward the European struggle, his conception of "neutrality," and his failure to grasp the meaning of the conflict, seemed to Page to show a lack of fundamental statesmanship; still his faith in Wilson was deep-seated, and he did not abandon hope that the President could be brought to see things as they really were. Page even believed that he might be instrumental in his conversion.
But in the summer and autumn of 1915 one agony followed another. The "too proud to fight" speech was in Page's mind nothing less than a tragedy. The president's first Lusitania note for a time restored the Ambassador's confidence; it seemed to show that the President intended to hold Germany to that "strict accountability" which he had threatened. But Mr. Wilson's course now presented new difficulties to his Ambassador. Still Page believed that the President, in his own way and in his own time, would find a path out of his dilemma that would protect the honour and the safety of the United States. If any of the Embassy subordinates became impatient over the procedure of Washington, he did not find a sympathetic listener in the Ambassador. The whole of London and of Europe might be resounding with denunciations of the White House, but Page would tolerate no manifestations of hostility in his presence. "The problem appears different to Washington than it does to us," he would say to his confidants. "We see only one side of it; the President sees all sides. If we give him all the facts, he will decide the thing wisely." Englishmen with whom the Ambassador came into contact soon learned that they could not become flippant or critical about Mr. Wilson in his presence; he would resent the slightest hostile remark, and he had a way of phrasing his rebukes that usually discouraged a second attempt. About this time Page began to keep closely to himself, and to decline invitations to dinners and to country houses, even those with which he was most friendly. The reason was that he could not meet Englishmen and Englishwomen, or even Americans who were resident in England, on his old easy familiar terms; he knew the ideas which everybody entertained about his country, and he knew also what they were saying, when he was not among them; the restraint which his presence necessarily put upon his friends produced an uncongenial atmosphere, and the Ambassador therefore gave up, for a time, those distractions which had ordinarily proved such a delightful relief from his duties. For the first time since he had come to England he found himself a solitary man. He even refused to attend the American Luncheon Club in London because, in speeches and in conversation, the members did not hesitate to assail the Wilson policies.
Events, however, eventually proved too strong for the most devoted supporter of President Wilson. After the Arabic and the Hesperian, Page's official intimates saw signs that the Ambassador was losing confidence in his old friend. He would discuss Mr. Wilson occasionally, with those secretaries, such as Mr. Laughlin, in whom his confidence was strongest; his expressions, however, were never flippant or violent. That Page could be biting as well as brilliant in his comments on public personages his letters abundantly reveal, yet he never exercised his talent for sarcasm or invective at the expense of the White House. He never forgot that Mr. Wilson was President and that he was Ambassador; he would still defend the Administration; and he even now continued to find consolation in the reflection that Mr. Wilson was living in a different atmosphere and that he had difficulties to confront of which a man in London could know nothing. The Ambassador's emotion was rather one of disappointment and sorrow, mingled with anxiety as to the plight into which his country was being led. As to his duty in this situation, however, Page never hesitated. In his relations with his Embassy and with the British world he maintained this non-critical attitude; but in his letters to President Wilson and Colonel House, he was describing the situation, and expressing his convictions, with the utmost freedom and frankness. In both these attitudes Page was consistent and absolutely loyal. It was his duty to carry out the Wilson instructions and he had too high a conception of the Ambassadorial office to show to the world any unfavourable opinions he may have held about his country's course. His duty to his post made it just as imperative that he set forth to the President the facts exactly as they were. And this the Ambassador now proceeded to do. For the mere ornamental dignities of an Ambassadorship Page cared nothing; he was wasting his health in his duties and exhausting his private resources; much as he loved the English and congenial as were his surroundings, the fear of being recalled for "disloyalty" or insubordination never influenced him. The letters which he now wrote to Colonel House and to President Wilson himself are probably without parallel in the diplomatic annals of this or of any other country. In them he told the President precisely what Englishmen thought of him and of the extent to which the United States was suffering in European estimation from the Wilson policy. His boldness sometimes astounded his associates. One day a friend and adviser of President Wilson's came into the Ambassador's office just as Page had finished one of his communications to Washington.
"Read that!" the Ambassador said, handing over the manuscript to his visitor.
As the caller read, his countenance displayed the progressive stages of his amazement. When he had finished, his hands dropped helplessly upon his knees.
"Is that the way you write to the President?" he gasped.
"Of course," Page replied, quietly. "Why not? Why shouldn't I tell him the truth? That is what I am here for."
"There is no other person in the world who dare talk to him like that!" was the reply.
This is unquestionably the fact. That President Wilson did not like people about him whose views were opposed to his own is now no secret, and during the period when his policy was one of the great issues of the world there was probably no one except Page who intruded upon his solitude with ideas that so abruptly disagreed with the opinions of the White House. The letters which Page wrote Colonel House were intended, of course, for the President himself, and practically all of them Colonel House read aloud to the head of the nation. The two men would closet themselves in the old cabinet room on the second floor of the White House—that same room in which Lincoln had met his advisers during Civil War days; and here Colonel House would quietly read the letters in which Page so mercilessly portrayed the situation as it appeared in English and European eyes. The President listened impassively, giving no sign of approval or disapproval, and hardly, at times, of much interest. In the earlier days, when Page's letters consisted of pictures of English life and English men, and colourful descriptions of England under the stress of war, the President was vastly entertained; he would laugh loudly at Page's wit, express his delight at his graphic and pungent style and feel deeply the horrors of war as his Ambassador unfolded them. "I always found Page compelling on paper," Mr. Wilson remarked to Mr. Laughlin, during one of the latter's visits to Washington. "I could never resist him—I get more information from his letters than from any other single source. Tell him to keep it up." It was during this period that the President used occasionally to read Page's letters to the Cabinet, expressing his great appreciation of their charm and historical importance. "The President quoted from one of the Ambassador's letters to the Cabinet to-day," a member of the Cabinet wrote to Mrs. Page in February, 1915. "'Some day,' the President said, 'I hope that Walter Page's letters will be published. They are the best letters I have ever read. They make you feel the atmosphere in England, understand the people, and see into the motives of the great actors.'" The President repeated this statement many times, and his letters to Page show how greatly he enjoyed and profited from this correspondence. But after the sinking of the Lusitania and the Arabic his attitude toward Page and his letters changed.
He now found little pleasure or satisfaction in the Page communications. When Mr. Wilson found that one of his former confidants had turned out to be a critic, that man instantaneously passed out of his life. And this was now Page's fate; the friendship and associations of forty years were as though they had never been. Just why Mr. Wilson did not recall his Ambassador is a question that has puzzled Page's friends. He would sometimes refer to him as a man who was "more British than the British," as one who had been taken completely captive by British blandishments, but he never came to the point of dismissing him. Perhaps he did not care to face the public scandal that such an act would have caused; but a more plausible reason is that Page, despite the causes which he had given for irritation, was indispensable to him. Page's early letters had furnished the President ideas which had taken shape in Wilson's policies, and, disagreeable as the communications now became, there are evidences that they influenced the solitary statesman in the White House, and that they had much to do in finally forcing Mr. Wilson into the war. The alternative question, as to why Page did not retire when he found himself so out of sympathy with the President, will be sufficiently answered in subsequent chapters; at present it may be said that he did resign and only consented to remain at the urgent request of Washington. In fact, all during 1915 and 1916, there seemed to be a fear in Washington that Page would definitely abandon the London post. On one occasion, when the newspapers published rumours to this effect, Page received an urgent despatch from Mr. Lansing. The message came at a time—the date was October 26, 1915—when Page was especially discouraged over the Washington policy. "Representatives of the press," said Mr. Lansing, "have repeated rumours that you are planning to resign. These have been brought to the President's attention, and both he and I have denied them. Still these rumours persist, and they cause both the President and me great anxiety. We cannot believe that they are well founded.
"In view of the fact that they are so persistent, we have thought it well to inform you of them and to tell you how earnestly we hope that they are baseless. We trust that you will set both our minds at rest."
If Page had ever had any compunction about addressing the President in blunt phrases these expressions certainly convinced him that he was a free agent.
Yet Page himself at times had his doubts as to the value of this correspondence. He would frequently discuss the matter with Mr. Laughlin. "That's a pretty harsh letter," he would say. "I don't like to talk that way to the President, yet it doesn't express half what I feel."
"It's your duty to tell the President the real state of affairs," Mr. Laughlin would urge.
"But do you suppose it does any good?" Page would ask.
"Yes, it's bound to, and whether it does or not, it's your business to keep him informed."
If in these letters Page seems to lay great stress on the judgment of Great Britain and Europe on American policy, it must be remembered that that was his particular province. One of an Ambassador's most important duties is to transmit to his country the public opinion of the country to which he is accredited. It was Page's place to tell Washington what Great Britain thought of it; it was Washington's business to formulate policy, after giving due consideration to this and other matters.
To Edward M. House
July 21, 1915.
I enclose a pamphlet in ridicule of the President. I don't know who wrote it, for my inquiries so far have brought no real information. I don't feel like sending it to him. I send it to you—to do with as you think best. This thing alone is, of course, of no consequence. But it is symptomatic. There is much feeling about the slowness with which he acts. One hundred and twenty people (Americans) were drowned on the Lusitania and we are still writing notes about it—to the damnedest pirates that ever blew up a ship. Anybody who knows the Germans knows, of course, that they are simply playing for time, that they are not going to "come down," that Von Tirpitz is on deck, that they'd just as lief have war with us as not—perhaps had rather—because they don't want any large nation left fresh when the war ends. They'd like to have the whole world bankrupt. There is a fast growing feeling here, therefore, that the American Government is pusillanimous—dallies with 'em, is affected by the German propaganda, etc., etc. Of course, such a judgment is not fair. It is formed without knowing the conditions in the United States. But I think you ought to realize the strength of this sentiment. No doubt before you receive this, the President will send something to Germany that will amount to an ultimatum and there will be at least a momentary change of sentiment here. But looking at the thing in a long-range way, we're bound to get into the war. For the Germans will blow up more American travellers without notice. And by dallying with them we do not change the ultimate result, but we take away from ourselves the spunk and credit of getting in instead of being kicked and cursed in. We've got to get in: they won't play the game in any other way. I have news direct from a high German source in Berlin which strongly confirms this....
It's a curious thing to say. But the only solution that I see is another Lusitania outrage, which would force war.
P.S. The London papers every day say that the President will send a strong note, etc. And the people here say, "Damn notes: hasn't he written enough?" Writing notes hurts nobody—changes nothing. The Washington correspondents to the London papers say that Burleson, the Attorney-General, and Daniels are Bryan men and are holding the President back.
* * * * *
The prophecy contained in this letter was quickly fulfilled. A week or two after Colonel House had received it, the Arabic was sunk with loss of American life.
Page was taking a brief holiday with his son Frank in Rowsley, Derbyshire, when this news came. It was telegraphed from the Embassy.
"That settles it," he said to his son. "They have sunk the Arabic. That means that we shall break with Germany and I've got to go back to London."
To Edward M. House
American Embassy, London, August 23, 1915.
The sinking of the Arabic is the answer to the President and to your letter to me. And there'll be more such answers. You said to me one day after you had got back from your last visit to Berlin: "They are impossible." I think you told the truth, and surely you know your German and you know your Berlin—or you did know them when you were here.
The question is not what we have done for the Allies, not what any other neutral country has done or has failed to do—such comparisons, I think, are far from the point. The question is when the right moment arrives for us to save our self-respect, our honour, and the esteem and fear (or the contempt) in which the world will hold us.
Berlin has the Napoleonic disease. If you follow Napoleon's career—his excuses, his evasions, his inventions, the wild French enthusiasm and how he kept it up—you will find an exact parallel. That becomes plainer every day. Europe may not be wholly at peace in five years—may be ten.
Hastily and heartily, W.H.P.
I have your note about Willum J.... Crank once, crank always. My son, never tie up with a crank.
To Edward M. House
London, September 2nd, 1915.
You write me about pleasing the Allies, the big Ally in particular. That doesn't particularly appeal to me. We don't owe them anything. There's no obligation. I'd never confess for a moment that we are under any obligation to any of them nor to anybody. I'm not out to "please" anybody, as a primary purpose: that's not my game nor my idea—nor yours either. As for England in particular, the account was squared when she twice sent an army against us—in her folly—especially the last time when she burnt our Capitol. There's been no obligation since. The obligation is on the other foot. We've set her an example of what democracy will do for men, an example of efficiency, an example of freedom of opportunity. The future is ours, and she may follow us and profit by it. Already we have three white English-speaking men to every two in the British Empire: we are sixty per cent. of the Anglo-Saxons in the world. If there be any obligation to please, the obligation is on her to please us. And she feels and sees it now.
My point is not that, nor is it what we or any other neutral nation has done or may do—Holland or any other. This war is the direct result of the over-polite, diplomatic, standing-aloof, bowing-to-one-another in gold lace, which all European nations are guilty of in times of peace—castes and classes and uniforms and orders and such folderol, instead of the proper business of the day. Every nation in Europe knew that Germany was preparing for war. If they had really got together—not mere Hague Sunday-school talk and resolutions—but had really got together for business and had said to Germany, "The moment you fire a shot, we'll all fight against you; we have so many millions of men, so many men-of-war, so many billions of money; and we'll increase all these if you do not change your system and your building-up of armies"—then there would have been no war.
My point is not sentimental. It is:
(1) We must maintain our own self-respect and safety. If we submit to too many insults, that will in time bring Germany against us. We've got to show at some time that we don't believe, either, in the efficacy of Sunday-School resolves for peace—that we are neither Daughters of the Dove of Peace nor Sons of the Olive Branch, and
(2) About nagging and forever presenting technical legal points as lawyers do to confuse juries—the point is the point of efficiency. If we do that, we can't carry our main points. I find it harder and harder to get answers now to important questions because we ask so many unimportant and nagging ones.
I've no sentiment—perhaps not enough. My gushing days are gone, if I ever had 'em. The cutting-out of the "100 years of peace" oratory, etc., etc., was one of the blessings of the war. But we must be just and firm and preserve our own self-respect and keep alive the fear that other nations have of us; and we ought to have the courage to make the Department of State more than a bureau of complaints. We must learn to say "No" even to a Gawdamighty independent American citizen when he asks an improper or impracticable question. Public Opinion in the United States consists of something more than the threats of Congressmen and the bleating of newspapers; it consists of the judgment of honourable men on courageous and frank actions—a judgment that cannot be made up till action is taken.
Heartily yours, W.H.P.
To Edward M. House
American Embassy, London, Sept. 8, 1915.
(This is not prudent. It is only true—nothing more.)
I take it for granted that Dumba is going, of course. But I must tell you that the President is being laughed at by our best friends for his slowness in action. I hardly ever pick up a paper without seeing some sarcastic remark. I don't mean they expect us to come into the war. They only hoped we would be as good as our word—would regard another submarine attack on a ship carrying Americans as an unfriendly act and would send Bernstorff home. Yet the Arabic and now the Hesperian have had no effect in action. Bernstorff's personal note to Lansing, even as far as it goes, does not bind his Government.
The upshot of all this is that the President is fast losing in the minds of our best friends here all that he gained by his courageous stand on the Panama tolls. They feel that if he takes another insult—keeps taking them—and is satisfied with Bernstorff's personal word, which is proved false in four days—he'll take anything. And the British will pay less attention to what we say. That's inevitable. If the American people and the President accept the Arabic and the Hesperian and do nothing to Dumba till the Government here gave out his letter, which the State Department had (and silently held) for several days—then nobody on this side the world will pay much heed to anything we say hereafter.
This, as I say, doesn't mean that these (thoughtful) people wish or expect us to go to war. They wish only that we'd prove ourselves as good as the President's word. That's the conservative truth; we're losing influence more rapidly than I supposed it were possible.
Dumba's tardy dismissal will not touch the main matter, which is the rights of neutrals at sea, and keeping our word in action.
Yours sincerely, W.H.P.
P.S. They say it's Mexico over again—watchful waiting and nothing doing. And the feeling grows that Bryan has really conquered, since his programme seems to prevail.
To Edward M. House
London, Tuesday night, Sept. 8, 1915.
The Germans seem to think it a good time to try to feel about for peace. They have more to offer now than they may have again. That's all. A man who seriously talks peace now in Paris or in London on any terms that the Germans will consider, would float dead that very night in the Seine or in the Thames. The Germans have for the time being "done-up" the Russians; but the French have shells enough to plough the German trenches day and night (they've been at it for a fortnight now); Joffre has been to see the Italian generalissimo; and the English destroy German submarines now almost as fast as the Germans send them out. I am credibly told that several weeks ago a group of Admiralty men who are in the secret had a little dinner to celebrate the destruction of the 50th submarine.
While this is going on, you are talking on your side of the water about a change in German policy! The only change is that the number of submarines available becomes smaller and smaller, and that they wish to use Uncle Sam's broad, fat back to crawl down on when they have failed.
Consequently, they are laughing at Uncle Sam here—it comes near to being ridicule, in fact, for seeming to jump at Bernstorff's unfrank assurances. And, as I have telegraphed the President, English opinion is—well, it is very nearly disrespectful. Men say here (I mean our old friends) that with no disavowal of the Lusitania, the Falaba, the Gulflight, or the Arabic or of the Hesperian, the Germans are "stuffing" Uncle Sam, that Uncle Sam is in the clutches of the peace-at-any-price public opinion, that the United States will suffer any insult and do nothing. I hardly pick up a paper that does not have a sarcastic paragraph or cartoon. We are on the brink of convincing the English that we'll not act, whatever the provocation. By the English, I do not mean the lighter, transitory public opinion, but I mean the thoughtful men who do not wish us or expect us to fire a gun. They say that the American democracy, since Cleveland's day, has become a mere agglomeration of different races, without national unity, national aims, and without courage or moral qualities. And (I deeply regret to say) the President is losing here the high esteem he won by his Panama tolls repeal. They ask, why on earth did he raise the issue if under repeated provocation he is unable to recall Gerard or to send Bernstorff home? The Hesperian follows the Arabic; other "liners" will follow the Hesperian, if the Germans have submarines. And, when Sackville-West was promptly sent home for answering a private citizen's inquiry about the two political parties, Dumba is (yet awhile) retained in spite of a far graver piece of business. There is a tone of sad disappointment here—not because the most thoughtful men want us in the war (they don't), but because for some reason, which nobody here understands, the President, having taken a stand, seems unable to do anything.
All this is a moderate interpretation of sorrowful public opinion here. And the result will inevitably be that they will pay far less heed to anything we may hereafter say. In fact men now say here every day that the American democracy has no opinion, can form no opinion, has no moral quality, and that the word of its President never gets as far as action even of the mildest form. The atmosphere is very depressing. And this feeling has apparently got beyond anybody's control. I've even heard this said: "The voice of the United States is Mr. Wilson's: its actions are controlled by Mr. Bryan."
So, you see, the war will go on a long long time. So far as English opinion is concerned, the United States is useful to make ammunition and is now thought of chiefly in this connection. Less and less attention is paid to what we say. Even the American telegrams to the London papers have a languid tone.
Yet recent revelations have made it clearer than ever that the same qualities that the English accuse us of having are in them and that these qualities are directly to blame for this war. I recall that when I was in Germany a few weeks, six years ago, I became convinced that Germany had prepared to fight England; I didn't know when, but I did know that was what the war-machine had in mind. Of course, I had no opportunities to find out anything in particular. You were told practically that same thing by the Kaiser, before the war began. "We are ready," said he. Of course the English feared it and Sir Edward put his whole life into his effort to prevent it. The day the war began, he told me with tears that it seemed that his life had been wasted—that his life work had gone for naught.—Nobody could keep from wondering why England didn't—
(Here comes a parenthesis. Word came to me a little while ago that a Zeppelin was on its way to London. Such a remark doesn't arouse much attention. But just as I had finished the fifth line above this, Frank and Mrs. Page came in and challenged me to play a game of cards before we should go to bed. We sat down, the cards were dealt, and bang! bang!—with the deep note of an explosion. A third, a fourth shot. We went into the street. There the Zeppelin was revealed by a searchlight—sailing along. I think it had probably dropped its bombs; but the aircraft guns were cracking away at it. Some of them shot explosive projectiles to find the range. Now and then one such explosive would almost reach the Zeppelin, but it was too high for them and it sailed away, the air guns doing their ineffectual best. I couldn't see whether airplanes were trying to shoot it or not. The searchlight revealed the Zeppelin but nothing else.—While we were watching this battle in the air, the maids came down from the top of the house and went into the cellar. I think they've already gone back. You can't imagine how little excitement it caused. It produces less fright than any other conceivable engine of war.
We came back as soon as the Zeppelin was out of sight and the firing had ceased; we played our game of cards; and here I am writing you the story-all within about half an hour.—There was a raid over London last night, too, wherein a dozen or two women and children and a few men were killed. I haven't the slightest idea what harm this raid to-night has done. For all I know it may not be all done. But of all imaginable war-experiences this seems the most futile. It interrupted a game of cards for twenty minutes!)
Now—to go on with my story: I have wondered ever since the war began why the Allies were not better prepared—especially England on land. England has just one big land gun—no more. Now it has turned out, as you have doubtless read, that the British Government were as good as told by the German Government that Germany was going to war pretty soon—this in 1912 when Lord Haldane was sent to make friends with Germany.
The only answer he brought back was a proposition that England should in any event remain neutral—stand aside while Germany whipped Russia and France. This insulting proposal was kept secret till the other day. Now, why didn't the British Cabinet inform the people and get ready? They were afraid the English people wouldn't believe it and would accuse them of fomenting war. The English people were making money and pursuing their sports. Probably they wouldn't have believed it. So the Liberal Cabinet went on in silence, knowing that war was coming, but not exactly when it was coming, and they didn't make even a second big gun.
Now here was the same silence in this "democracy" that they now complain of in ours. Rather an interesting and discouraging parallel—isn't it? Public opinion has turned Lord Haldane out of office because he didn't tell the public what he declares they wouldn't have believed. If the English had raised an army in 1912, and made a lot of big guns, Austria would not have trampled Serbia in the earth. There would have been no war now; and the strong European Powers might have made then the same sort of protective peace-insurance combine that they will try to make after this war is ended. Query: A democracy's inability to act—how much is this apparently inherent quality of a democracy to blame for this war and for—other things?
When I am asked every day "Why the United States doesn't do something—send Dumba and Bernstorff home?"—Well, it is not the easiest question in the world to answer.
Yours heartily, W.H.P.
P.S. This is the most comical of all worlds: While I was writing this, it seems the maids went back upstairs and lighted their lights without pulling their shades down—they occupy three rooms, in front. The doorbell rang furiously. Here were more than half a dozen policemen and special constables—must investigate! "One light would be turned on, another would go out; another one on!"—etc., etc. Frank tackled them, told 'em it was only the maids going to bed, forgetting to pull down the shades. Spies and signalling were in the air! So, in the morning, I'll have to send over to the Foreign Office and explain. The Zeppelin did more "frightfulness" than I had supposed, after all. Doesn't this strike you as comical?
Friday, September 10, 1915.
P.S. The news is just come that Dumba is dismissed. That will clear the atmosphere—a little, but only a little. Dumba committed a diplomatic offence. The German Government has caused the death of United States citizens, has defied us, has declared it had changed its policy and yet has gone on with the same old policy. Besides, Bernstorff has done everything that Dumba did except employ Archibald, which was a mere incident of the game. The President took a strong stand: they have disregarded it—no apology nor reparation for a single boat that has been sunk. Now the English opinion of the Germans is hardly a calm, judicial opinion—of course not. There may be facts that have not been made known. There must be good reasons that nobody here can guess, why the President doesn't act in the long succession of German acts against us. But I tell you with all solemnity that British opinion and the British Government have absolutely lost their respect for us and their former high estimate of the President. And that former respect is gone for good unless he acts now very quickly. They will pay nothing more than formal and polite attention to anything we may hereafter say. This is not resentful. They don't particularly care for us to get into the war. Their feeling (I mean among our best old friends) is not resentful. It is simply sorrowful. They had the highest respect for our people and our President. The Germans defy us; we sit in silence. They conclude here that we'll submit to anything from anybody. We'll write strong notes—nothing more.
I can't possibly exaggerate the revulsion of feeling. Members of the Government say (in private, of course) that we'll submit to any insult. The newspapers refuse to publish articles which attempt to make the President's silence reasonable. "It isn't defensible," they say, "and they would only bring us thousands of insulting letters from our readers." I can't think of a paper nor of a man who has a good word to say for us—except, perhaps, a few Quaker peace-at-any-price people. And our old friends are disappointed and sorrowful. They feel that we have dropped out of a position of influence in the world.
I needn't and can't write more. Of course there are more important things than English respect. But the English think that every Power has lost respect for us—the Germans most of all. And (unless the President acts very rigorously and very quickly) we'll have to get along a long time without British respect.
P.S. The last Zeppelin raid—which interrupted the game of cards—killed more than twenty persons and destroyed more than seven million dollars' worth of private business property—all non-combatants!
To Edward M. House
21st of September, 1915.
The insulting cartoon that I enclose (destroy it without showing it) is typical of, I suppose, five hundred that have appeared here within a month. This represents the feeling and opinion of the average man. They say we wrote brave notes and made courageous demands, to none of which a satisfactory reply has come, but only more outrages and no guarantee for the future. Yet we will not even show our displeasure by sending Bernstorff home. We've simply "gone out," like a snuffed candle, in the regard and respect of the vast volume of British opinion. (The last Punch had six ridiculing allusions to our "fall.")
It's the loneliest time I've had in England. There's a tendency to avoid me.
They can't understand here the continued declaration in the United States that the British Government is trying to take our trade—to use its blockade and navy with the direct purpose of giving British trade profit out of American detentions. Of course, the Government had no such purpose and has done no such thing—with any such purpose. It isn't thinking about trade but only about war.
The English think they see in this the effect on our Government and on American opinion of the German propaganda. I have had this trade-accusation investigated half a dozen times—the accusation that this Government is using its military power for its own trade advantage to our detriment: it simply isn't true. They stop our cargoes, not for their advantage, but wholly to keep things from the enemy. Study our own trade reports.
In a word, our importers are playing (so the English think) directly into the hands of the Germans. So matters go on from bad to worse.
Bryce is very sad. He confessed to me yesterday the utter hopelessness of the two people's ever understanding one another.
The military situation is very blue—very blue. The general feeling is that the long war will begin next March and end—nobody dares predict.
P.S. There's not a moral shadow of a doubt (1) that the commander of the submarine that sunk the Arabic is dead—although he makes reports to his government! nor (2) that the Hesperian was torpedoed. The State Department has a piece of the torpedo.
The letters which Page sent directly to the President were just as frank. "Incidents occur nearly every day," he wrote to President Wilson in the autumn of 1915, "which reveal the feeling that the Germans have taken us in. Last week one of our naval men, Lieutenant McBride, who has just been ordered home, asked the Admiralty if he might see the piece of metal found on the deck of the Hesperian. Contrary to their habit, the British officer refused. 'Take my word for it,' he said. 'She was torpedoed. Why do you wish to investigate? Your country will do nothing—will accept any excuse, any insult and—do nothing.' When McBride told me this, I went at once to the Foreign Office and made a formal request that this metal should be shown to our naval attache, who (since Symington is with the British fleet and McBride has been ordered home) is Lieutenant Towers. Towers was sent for and everything that the Admiralty knows was shown to him and I am sending that piece of metal by this mail. But to such a pass has the usual courtesy of a British naval officer come. There are many such instances of changed conduct. They are not hard to endure nor to answer and are of no consequence in themselves but only for what they denote. They're a part of war's bitterness. But my mind runs ahead and I wonder how Englishmen will look at this subject five years hence, and it runs afield and I wonder how the Germans will regard it. A sort of pro-German American newspaper correspondent came along the other day from the German headquarters; and he told me that one of the German generals remarked to him: 'War with America? Ach no! Not war. If trouble should come, we'd send over a platoon of our policemen to whip your little army.' (He didn't say just how he'd send 'em.)"
To the President
American Embassy, London, Oct. 5, 1915.
DEAR MR. PRESIDENT:
I have two letters that I have lately written to you but which I have not sent because they utterly lack good cheer. After reading them over, I have not liked to send them. Yet I should fail of my duty if I did not tell you bad news as well as good.
The high esteem in which our Government was held when the first Lusitania note to Germany was sent seems all changed to indifference or pity—not hatred or hostility, but a sort of hopeless and sad pity. That ship was sunk just five months ago; the German Government (or its Ambassador) is yet holding conversations about the principle involved, making "concessions" and promises for the future, and so far we have done nothing to hold the Germans to accountability. In the meantime their submarine fleet has been so reduced that probably the future will take care of itself and we shall be used as a sort of excuse for their failure. This is what the English think and say; and they explain our failure to act by concluding that the peace-at-any-price sentiment dominates the Government and paralyzes it. They have now, I think, given up hope that we will ever take any action. So deeply rooted (and, I fear, permanent) is this feeling that every occurrence is made to fit into and to strengthen this supposition. When Dumba was dismissed, they said: "Dumba, merely the abject tool of German intrigue. Why not Bernstorff?" When the Anglo-French loan was oversubscribed, they said: "The people's sympathy is most welcome, but their Government is paralyzed." Their respect has gone—at least for the time being.
It is not that they expect us to go to war: many, in fact, do not wish us to. They expected that we would be as good as our word and hold the Germans to accountability. Now I fear they think little of our word. I shudder to think what our relations might be if Sir Edward Grey were to yield to another as Foreign Minister, as, of course, he must yield at some time.
The press has less to say than it had a few weeks ago. Punch, for instance, which ridiculed and pitied us in six cartoons and articles in each of two succeeding numbers, entirely forgets us this week. But they've all said their say. I am, in a sense, isolated—lonely in a way that I have never before been. I am not exactly avoided, I hope, but I surely am not sought. They have a polite feeling that they do not wish to offend me and that to make sure of this the safest course is to let me alone. There is no mistaking the great change in the attitude of men I know, both in official and private life.
It comes down and comes back to this—that for five months after the sinking of the Lusitania the Germans are yet playing with us, that we have not sent Bernstorff home, and hence that we will submit to any rebuff or any indignity. It is under these conditions—under this judgment of us—that we now work—the English respect for our Government indefinitely lessened and instead of the old-time respect a sad pity. I cannot write more.
Heartily yours, WALTER H. PAGE.
"I have authoritatively heard," Page writes to President Wilson in early September, "of a private conversation between a leading member of the Cabinet and a group of important officials all friendly to us in which all sorrowfully expressed the opinion that the United States will submit to any indignity and that no effect is now to be hoped for from its protests against unlawful submarine attacks or against anything else. The inactivity of our Government, or its delay, which they assume is the same as inactivity, is attributed to domestic politics or to the lack of national, consciousness or unity.
"No explanation has appeared in the British press of our Government's inactivity or of any regret or promise of reparation by Germany for the sinking of the Lusitania, the Falaba, the Gulflight, the Nebraskan, the Arabic, or the Hesperian, nor any explanation of a week's silence about the Dumba letter; and the conclusion is drawn that, in the absence of action by us, all these acts have been practically condoned.
"I venture to suggest that such explanations be made public as will remove, if possible, the practically unanimous conclusion here that our Government will permit these and similar future acts to be explained away. I am surprised almost every hour by some new evidence of the loss of respect for our Government, which, since the sinking of the Arabic, has become so great as to warrant calling it a complete revulsion of English feeling toward the United States. There is no general wish for us to enter the war, but there is genuine sorrow that we are thought to submit to any indignity, especially after having taken a firm stand. I conceive I should be lacking in duty if I did not report this rapid and unfortunate change in public feeling, which seems likely to become permanent unless facts are quickly made public which may change it."
* * * * *
There are many expressions of such feelings in Page's letters of this time. They brought only the most perfunctory acknowledgment from the White House. On January 3, 1916, Page sent the President a mass of clippings from the British press, all criticizing the Wilson Administration in unrestrained terms. In his comment on these, he writes the President:
"Public opinion, both official and unofficial, is expressed by these newspaper comments, with far greater restraint than it is expressed in private conversation. Ridicule of the Administration runs through the programmes of the theatres; it inspires hundreds of cartoons; it is a staple of conversation at private dinners and in the clubs. The most serious class of Englishmen, including the best friends of the United States, feel that the Administration's reliance on notes has reduced our Government to a third-or fourth-rate power. There is even talk of spheres of German influence in the United States as in China. No government could fall lower in English opinion than we shall fall if more notes are sent to Austria or to Germany. The only way to keep any shred of English respect is the immediate dismissal without more parleying of every German and Austrian official at Washington. Nobody here believes that such an act would provoke war.
"I can do no real service by mincing matters. My previous telegrams and letters have been purposely restrained as this one is. We have now come to the parting of the ways. If English respect be worth preserving at all, it can be preserved only by immediate action. Any other course than immediate severing of diplomatic relations with both Germany and Austria will deepen the English opinion into a conviction that the Administration was insincere when it sent the Lusitania notes and that its notes and protests need not be taken seriously on any subject. And English opinion is allied opinion. The Italian Ambassador said to me, 'What has happened? The United States of to-day is not the United States I knew fifteen years ago, when I lived in Washington.' French officers and members of the Government who come here express themselves even more strongly than do the British. The British newspapers to-day publish translations of ridicule of the United States from German papers."
To the President
London, January 5, 1916.
DEAR MR. PRESIDENT:
I wish—an impossible thing of course—that some sort of guidance could be given to the American correspondents of the English newspapers. Almost every day they telegraph about the visits of the Austrian Charge or the German Ambassador to the State Department to assure Mr. Lansing that their governments will of course make a satisfactory explanation of the latest torpedo-act in the Mediterranean or to "take one further step in reaching a satisfactory understanding about the Lusitania." They usually go on to say also that more notes are in preparation to Germany or to Austria. The impression made upon the European mind is that the German and Austrian officials in Washington are leading the Administration on to endless discussion, endless notes, endless hesitation. Nobody in Europe regards their pledges or promises as worth anything at all: the Arabic follows the Lusitania, the Hesperian follows the Arabic, the Persia follows the Ancona. "Still conferences and notes continue," these people say, "proving that the American Government, which took so proper and high a stand in the Lusitania notes, is paralyzed—in a word is hoodwinked and 'worked' by the Germans." And so long as these diplomatic representatives are permitted to remain in the United States, "to explain," "to parley" and to declare that the destruction of American lives and property is disavowed by their governments, atrocities on sea and land will of course continue; and they feel that our Government, by keeping these German and Austrian representatives in Washington, condones and encourages them and their governments.
This is a temperate and even restrained statement of the English feeling and (as far as I can make out) of the whole European feeling.
It has been said here that every important journal published in neutral or allied European countries, daily, weekly, or monthly, which deals with public affairs, has expressed a loss of respect for the United States Government and that most of them make continuous severe criticisms (with surprise and regret) of our failure by action to live up to the level of our Lusitania notes. I had (judiciously) two American journalists, resident here—men of judgment and character—to inquire how true this declaration is. After talking with neutral and allied journalists here and with men whose business it is to read the journals of the Continent, they reported that this declaration is substantially true—that the whole European press (outside Germany and its allies) uses the same tone toward our Government that the English press uses—to-day, disappointment verging on contempt; and many of them explain our keeping diplomatic intercourse with Germany by saying that we are afraid of the German vote, or of civil war, or that the peace-at-any-price people really rule the United States and have paralyzed our power to act—even to cut off diplomatic relations with governments that have insulted and defied us.
Another (similar) declaration is that practically all men of public influence in England and in the European allied and neutral countries have publicly or privately expressed themselves to the same effect. The report that I have about this is less definite than about the newspapers, for, of course, no one can say just what proportion of men of public influence have so expressed themselves; but the number who have so expressed themselves is overwhelming.
In this Kingdom, where I can myself form some opinion more or less accurate, and where I can check or verify my opinion by various methods—I am afraid, as I have frequently already reported, that the generation now living will never wholly regain the respect for our Government that it had a year ago. I will give you three little indications of this feeling; it would be easy to write down hundreds of them:
(One) The governing class: Mr. X [a cabinet member] told Mrs. Page a few nights ago that for sentimental reasons only he would be gratified to see the United States in the war along with the Allies, but that merely sentimental reasons were not a sufficient reason for war—by no means; that he felt most grateful for the sympathetic attitude of the large mass of the American people, that he had no right to expect anything from our Government, whose neutral position was entirely proper. Then he added; "But what I can't for the life of me understand is your Government's failure to express its disapproval of the German utter disregard of its Lusitania notes. After eight months, it has done nothing but write more notes. My love for America, I must confess, is offended at this inaction and—puzzled. I can't understand it. You will pardon me, I am sure."
(Two) "Middle Class" opinion: A common nickname for Americans in the financial and newspaper districts of London is "Too-prouds."
(Three) The man in the street: At one of the moving picture shows in a large theatre a little while ago they filled in an interval by throwing on the screen the picture of the monarch, or head of state, and of the flag of each of the principal nations. When the American picture appeared, there was such hissing and groaning as caused the managers hastily to move that picture off the screen.
Some time ago I wrote House of some such incidents and expressions as these; and he wrote me that they were only part and parcel of the continuous British criticism of their own Government—in other words, a part of the passing hysteria of war. This remark shows how House was living in an atmosphere of illusion.
As the matter stands to-day our Government has sunk lower, as regards British and European opinion, than it has ever been in our time, not as a part of the hysteria of war but as a result of this process of reasoning, whether it be right or wrong:
We said that we should hold the Germans to strict accountability on account of the Lusitania. We have not settled that yet and we still allow the German Ambassador to discuss it after the Hesperian and other such acts showed that his Arabic pledge was worthless.
The Lusitania grows larger and larger in European memory and imagination. It looks as if it would become the great type of war atrocities and barbarities. I have seen pictures of the drowned women and children used even on Christmas cards. And there is documentary proof in our hands that the warning, which was really an advance announcement, of that disaster was paid for by the German Ambassador and charged to his Government. It is the Lusitania that has caused European opinion to regard our foreign policy as weak. It is not the wish for us to go to war. No such general wish exists.
I do not know, Mr. President, who else, if anybody, puts these facts before you with this complete frankness. But I can do no less and do my duty.
No Englishman—except two who were quite intimate friends—has spoken to me about our Government for months, but I detect all the time a tone of pity and grief in their studied courtesy and in their avoidance of the subject. And they talk with every other American in this Kingdom. It is often made unpleasant for Americans in the clubs and in the pursuit of their regular business and occupations; and it is always our inaction about the Lusitania. Our controversy with the British Government causes little feeling and that is a sort of echo of the Lusitania. They feel that we have not lived up to our promises and professions.
That is the whole story.
Believe me always heartily, WALTER H. PAGE.
* * * * *
This dismissal of Dumba and of the Attaches has had little more effect on opinion here than the dismissal of the Turkish Ambassador. Sending these was regarded as merely kicking the dogs of the man who had stolen our sheep.
One of the reasons why Page felt so intensely about American policy at this time was his conviction that the severance of diplomatic relations, in the latter part of 1915, or the early part of 1916, in itself would have brought the European War to an end. This was a conviction from which he never departed. Count Bernstorff was industriously creating the impression in the United States that his dismissal would immediately cause war between Germany and the United States, and there is little doubt that the Administration accepted this point of view. But Page believed that this was nothing but Prussian bluff. The severance of diplomatic relations at that time, in Page's opinion, would have convinced the Germans of the hopelessness of their cause. In spite of the British blockade, Germany was drawing enormous quantities of food supplies from the United States, and without these supplies she could not maintain indefinitely her resistance. The severance of diplomatic relations would naturally have been accompanied by an embargo suspending trade between the United States and the Fatherland. Moreover, the consideration that was mainly leading Germany to hope for success was the belief that she could embroil the United States and Great Britain over the blockade. A break with Germany would of course mean an end to that manoeuvre. Page regarded all Mr. Wilson's attempts to make peace in 1914 and early 1915—before the Lusitania—as mistakes, for reasons that have already been set forth. Now, however, he believed that the President had a real opportunity to end the war and the unparalleled suffering which it was causing. The mere dismissal of Bernstorff, in the Ambassador's opinion, would accomplish this result.
In a communication sent to the President on February 15, 1916, he made this plain.
To the President
February 15, 7 P.M.
The Cabinet has directed the Censor to suppress, as far as he can with prudence, comment which is unfavourable to the United States. He has taken this action because the public feeling against the Administration is constantly increasing. Because the Lusitania controversy has been going on so long, and because the Germans are using it in their renewed U-boat campaign, the opinion of this country has reached a point where only prompt action can bring a turn in the tide. Therefore my loyalty to you would not be complete if I should refrain from sending, in the most respectful terms, the solemn conviction which I hold about our opportunity and our duty.
If you immediately refuse to have further parley or to yield one jot or tittle of your original Lusitania notes, and if you at once break diplomatic relations with the German Empire, and then declare the most vigorous embargo of the Central Powers, you will quickly end the war. There will be an immediate collapse in German credit. If there are any Allies who are wavering, such action will hold them in line. Certain European neutrals—Sweden, Rumania, Greece, and others—will put up a firm resistance to Germanic influences and certain of them will take part with Great Britain and France. There will be an end at once to the German propaganda, which is now world-wide. The moral weight of our country will be a determining influence and bring an early peace. The credit you will receive for such a decision will make you immortal and even the people of Germany will be forever grateful.
It is my conviction that we would not be called upon to fire a gun or to lose one human life.
Above all, such an action will settle the whole question of permanent peace. The absolute and grateful loyalty of the whole British Empire, of the British Fleet, and of all the Allied countries will be ours. The great English-speaking nations will be able to control the details of the peace and this without any formal alliance. There will be an incalculable saving of human life and of treasure. Such an act will make it possible for Germany to give in honourably and with good grace because the whole world will be against her. Her bankrupt and blockaded people will bring such pressure to bear that the decision will be hastened.
The sympathies of the American people will be brought in line with the Administration.
If we settle the Lusitania question by compromising in any way your original demands, or if we permit it to drag on longer, America can have no part in bringing the war to an end. The current of allied opinion will run so strongly against the Administration that no censorship and no friendly interference by an allied government can stem the distrust of our Government which is now so strong in Europe.
We shall gain by any further delay only a dangerous, thankless, and opulent isolation. The Lusitania is the turning point in our history. The time to act is now.
[Footnote 1: The Ambassador's granddaughter.]
[Footnote 2: "A Cycle of Adams Letters, 1861-1865," edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford. Vol. I, p. 84.]
[Footnote 3: "The Life and Letters of John Hay," by William Roscoe Thayer. Vol. II, p. 166.]
[Footnote 4: On September 6th, certain documents seriously compromising Dr. Constantin Dumba, Austro-Hungarian Ambassador to the United States, were published in the British press. They disclosed that Dr. Dumba was fomenting strikes in the United States and conducting other intrigues. The American Government gave Dr. Dumba his passports on September 17th.]
[Footnote 5: August 26th, Count Bernstorff gave a pledge to the United States Government, that, in future, German submarines would not attack liners without warning. This promise was almost immediately violated.]
[Footnote 6: Sir Lionel Sackville-West was British Minister to the United States from 1881 to 1888. In the latter year a letter was published which he had written to an American citizen of British origin, the gist of which was that the reelection of President Cleveland would be of advantage to British interests. For this gross interference in American domestic affairs, President Cleveland immediately handed Sir Lionel his passports. The incident ended his diplomatic career.]
[Footnote 7: In this passage the Ambassador touches on one of the bitterest controversies of the war. In order completely to understand the issues involved and to obtain Lord Haldane's view, the reader should consult the very valuable book recently published by Lord Haldane: "Before the War." Chapter II tells the story of Lord Haldane's visit to the Kaiser, and succeeding chapters give the reasons why the creation of a huge British army in preparation for the war was not a simple matter.]