U.S. Rejects German Stance on U-boat Warfare

New York Tribune via Chronicling America
New York Tribune via Chronicling America

July 21, 1915: U.S. Rejects German Stance on U-boat Warfare 

The sinking of the Lusitania on May 7, 1915, triggered a diplomatic crisis that brought the U.S. to the edge of war, as President Woodrow Wilson demanded the end of Germany’s submarine campaign against neutral shipping while the Germans refused. Tensions mounted with the exchange of a series of “notes” throughout the summer of 1915 – always delivered in unfailingly polite Victorian language, even when the threat of war loomed in the background. 

After Britain declared the North Sea a war zone and implemented a blockade of Germany in November 1914, the Germans responded by proclaiming a counter-blockade of the British Isles by U-boats, a novel weapon never used on a large scale in war before. Because the British Admiralty had authorized British merchant vessels to fly neutral flags – a traditional ruse on the high seas in wartime – the Germans warned that neutral vessels would also be subject to sinking. The Germans also published warnings in U.S. newspapers warning Americans not to travel aboard British ships, including the Lusitania

None of this served to mollify American public opinion following the loss of the Lusitania, which resulted in the deaths of 118 U.S. citizens, including a number of children. But in the note delivered by the German ambassador, Johann Heinrich von Bernstorff of July 8, 1915, German Foreign Minister Gottlieb von Jagow refused to apologize, pay reparations, or halt U-boat attacks on neutral shipping, arguing that “Germany merely followed England’s example when she declared part of the high seas an area of war.” Furthermore “Germany’s adversaries, by completely paralyzing peaceable traffic between Germany and neutral countries, have aimed from the very beginning… at the destruction not so much of the armed forces as the life of the German nation” – justifying an equally brutal response. 

Jagow offered limited concessions, including a proposal for a handful of designated safe ships identified by special markings to carry U.S. citizens across the Atlantic (in fact in early June Berlin had secretly ordered U-boat commanders to no longer sink passenger without notice) but added that anyone traveling aboard other merchant ships would remain in peril, as “the Imperial Government is unable to admit that American citizens can protect an enemy ship through the mere fact of their presence on board.” This impractical suggestion indicated, as the U.S. ambassador to Berlin James Gerard put it, that the Germans were just playing for time, hoping to “to keep the matter ‘jollied along’ until the American people get excited about baseball or a new scandal and forget.” 

However Wilson rejected Jagow’s attempt to equate the British blockade with German submarine warfare, distinguishing between harm to American business caused by the blockade and the loss of American lives due to deliberate attacks. In fact his focus on German wrongdoings, coupled with his apparent reluctance to confront Britain for interfering with American commerce, had prompted the pacifist Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan to resign on June 9, 1915, protesting that the U.S. was not pursuing a truly neutral policy. Wilson’s new Secretary of State, Robert Lansing, was much more closely aligned with the president’s views, as reflected in the response to the German note of July 8, dispatched on July 21, 1915. 

Washington Times via Chronicling America

In the July 21 note Lansing came right to the point with the strongest statement yet: “The note of the Imperial German Government, dated July 8, 1915, has received the careful consideration of the Government of the United States, and it regrets to be obliged to say that it has found it very unsatisfactory, because it fails to meet the real differences between the two Governments…” He added that the United States was “keenly disappointed” at Germany’s determination to continue violating universal principles by threatening the lives of civilians on neutral vessels. 

Turning to Jagow’s argument that Germany’s U-boat campaign was justified by the British blockade, Lansing countered that Britain’s actions were irrelevant, as one crime couldn’t justify another: “Illegal and inhuman acts, however justifiable they may be thought to be against an enemy who is believed to have acted in contravention of law and humanity, are manifestly indefensible when they deprive neutrals of their acknowledged rights, particularly when they violate the right to life itself.” On that note Lansing also rejected the proposal for designated safe ships, because agreeing would mean accepting that other neutral vessels were legitimate targets.

Lansing then repeated the previous demands that Germany disavow the sinking of the Lusitania, apologize, pay reparations to the families of American victims, and above all desist from unrestricted U-boat warfare against neutral vessels. These demands were accompanied with a series of dire warnings: “If persisted in, it would in such circumstances constitute an unpardonable offense against the sovereignty of the neutral nation affected.” Therefore Germany should understand that, “The Government of the United States will continue to contend for that freedom, from whatever quarter violated, without compromise and at any cost.” Lansing concluded with the clearest allusion to war so far, writing that further sinkings of neutral ships that resulted in the deaths of U.S. citizens would be regarded as “deliberately unfriendly.” 

The sudden sharpening of the U.S. attitude caused consternation in Berlin, but German officials were also under domestic political pressure to keep up the U-boat campaign as retaliation for the British “hunger blockade” (which the British defended again in a note to Washington, D.C. delivered on July 24). It would take one more incident – the sinking of the British liner Arabic on August 19, 1915, resulting in the deaths of three Americans – to bring matters to a head. 

Russians Decide to Evacuate Poland 

By mid-July 1915 the continuing success of the Austro-German offensive on the Eastern Front left the Russian high command, Stavka, with a difficult choice: make a last-ditch attempt to hold on to Poland, at the risk of the total envelopment of four Russian armies, or abandon the Polish salient (and huge amounts of weapons and supplies stockpiled in fortresses there) and withdraw to a new defensive line hundreds of miles to the rear. On July 22 General Mikhail Alekseyev, commander of the Russian Northwestern Front, decided to cut his losses and ordered the evacuation of the western portion of the Polish front – a preamble to the total evacuation of the salient, initiating the next phase of the Great Retreat. 

Click to enlarge

As fighting continued all along the front, Russian troops withdrew from Lublin on July 30, followed by Warsaw on August 4 and the fortress town of Ivangorod on August 5; further north the German Niemen Army was advancing along the Baltic coast, capturing the town of Mitau on August 1, while the German Tenth Army prepared to advance east towards Vilna, now the capital of Lithuania. 

Considering that millions of Russian troops were mixed up with huge columns of Polish peasants fleeing the enemy, the Great Retreat had for the most part been remarkably orderly, but inevitably there were mistakes – some of them quite damaging. The decision of Grand Duke Nicholas, the Russian commander-in-chief, to hold the obsolete fortress of Novogeorgievsk led to the loss of 92,000 Russian troops, taken prisoner when the fortress fell to the Germans on August 20, 1915, along with thousands of artillery pieces and guns. The Germans also picked up hundreds of thousands of tons of oil stockpiled in Galicia (home to several oil fields) – a huge win for the oil-strapped Central Powers.

These big errors were accompanied by countless smaller oversights and plain negligence. A British military observer, Alfred Knox, recalled one officer’s outrage at receiving belated orders to retreat in the middle of the night: “He was in a towering rage, and cursed the Chief of Staff freely, saying that things were going on in the Guard Corps that were a disgrace to the Russian army.” Not long afterwards Knox observed the haphazard implementation of the scorched earth policy: 

As usual, there was everywhere evidence of misdirected or undirected effort. The gendarmes, without an officer to direct them, ran about setting fire to piles of dry straw, but leaving the crops untouched. Eight large barrels of copper parts from the machinery of a local factory had been collected with infinite trouble, but they were characteristically left behind owing to a doubt as to whose duty it was to remove them. 

See the previous installment or all entries.

The Very Real Events That Inspired Game of Thrones's Red Wedding

Peter Graham's After the Massacre of Glencoe
Peter Graham's After the Massacre of Glencoe
Peter Graham, Google Cultural Institute, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Ask any Game of Thrones fan to cite a few of the show's most shocking moments, and the so-called "Red Wedding" from season 3's "The Rains of Castamere" episode will likely be at the top of their list. The events that unfolded during the episode shocked fans because of their brutality, but what might be even more surprising to know is that the episode was based on very real events.

Author George R.R. Martin has said that the inspiration for the matrimonial bloodbath is based on two dark events in Scottish history: the Black Dinner of 1440 and 1692's Massacre of Glencoe. “No matter how much I make up, there’s stuff in history that’s just as bad, or worse,” Martin told Entertainment Weekly in 2013. And he’s absolutely right. See for yourself.

The Massacre of Glencoe

The West Highland Way in 2005, view from the summit of the Devil's Staircase looking south over the east end of Glen Coe, towards Buachaille Etive Mòr with Creise and Meall a' Bhuiridh beyond
Colin Souza, Edited by Dave Souza, CC BY-SA 2.5, Wikimedia Commons

In 1691, all Scottish clans were called upon to renounce the deposed King of Scotland, James VII, and swear allegiance to King William of Orange (of William and Mary fame). The chief of each clan had until January 1, 1692, to provide a signed document swearing an oath to William. The Highland Clan MacDonald had two things working against them here. First of all, the Secretary of State, John Dalrymple, was a Lowlander who loathed Clan MacDonald. Secondly, Clan MacDonald had already sworn an oath to James VII and had to wait on him to send word that they were free to break that oath.

Unfortunately, it was December 28 before a messenger arrived with this all-important letter from the former king. That gave Maclain, the chief of the MacDonald clan, just three days to get the newly-signed oath to the Secretary of State.

Maclain was detained for days when he went through Inveraray, the town of the rival Clan Campbell, but still managed to deliver the oath, albeit several days late. The Secretary of State’s legal team wasn't interested in late documents. They rejected the MacDonalds's sworn allegiance to William, and set plans in place to cut the clan down, “root and branch.”

In late January or early February, 120 men under the command of Captain Robert Campbell arrived at the MacDonalds's in Glencoe, claiming to need shelter because a nearby fort was full. The MacDonalds offered their hospitality, as was custom, and the soldiers stayed there for nearly two weeks before Captain Drummond arrived with instructions to “put all to the sword under seventy.”

After playing cards with their victims and wishing them goodnight, the soldiers waited until the MacDonalds were asleep ... then murdered as many men as they could manage. In all, 38 people—some still in their beds—were killed. At least 40 women and children escaped, but fleeing into a blizzard blowing outside as their houses burned down meant that they all died of exposure.

The massacre was considered especially awful because it was “Slaughter Under Trust.” To this day, the door at Clachaig Inn in Glen Coe has a sign on the door that says "No hawkers or Campbells."

The Black Dinner

In November of 1440, the newly-appointed 6th Earl of Douglas, who was just 16, and his little brother David, were invited to join the 10-year-old King of Scotland, James II, for dinner at Edinburgh Castle. But it wasn’t the young King who had invited the Douglas brothers. The invitation had been issued by Sir William Crichton, Chancellor of Scotland, who feared that the Black Douglas (there was another clan called the Red Douglas) were growing too powerful.

As legend has it, the children were all getting along marvelously, enjoying food, entertainment and talking until the end of the dinner, when the head of a black bull was dropped on the table, symbolizing the death of the Black Douglas. The two young Douglases were dragged outside, given a mock trial, found guilty of high treason, and beheaded. It’s said that the Earl pleaded for his brother to be killed first so that the younger boy wouldn’t have to witness his older brother’s beheading.

Sir Walter Scott wrote this of the horrific event:

"Edinburgh Castle, toune and towre,
God grant thou sink for sin!
And that e'en for the black dinner
Earl Douglas gat therein."

This article has been updated for 2019.

15 Game of Thrones Products Every Fan Needs

Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan, HBO

Though Game of Thrones might be coming to its official end, that doesn’t mean that your fandom can’t—or won’t—carry on. Whether you’re a years-long defender of House Stark or have been rooting for House Targaryen since the beginning, there’s a candle, collectible pin, coffee mug, card game, and pretty much anything else you can imagine with your name (and preferred sigil) on it.

1. A Song of Ice and Fire Book Series; $46

Bantam's 'A Song of Ice and Fire' book series

Bantam, Amazon

If you’ve never read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series upon which the series is based, plenty more Westerosi drama awaits. And just because you’ve seen every episode of the series 10 times doesn’t mean you know which way the books will turn. (The TV show diverged from their narrative a long time ago—and dozens of the characters who have been killed off on your television screen are still alive and well in the books.) Plus, as Martin has yet to complete the series, you may just catch up in time for the newest book.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Map Marker Wine Stopper Set; $50

Nobody solves a problem like Tyrion Lannister … and his thought process usually includes copious amounts of wine (Dornish if you’ve got it). Something tells us you’re going need some vino yourself to get through the giant, hour-long hole left in your Sunday nights once Game of Thrones officially ends. Make sure you don’t let a drop of it go to waste by keeping one of these six wine stoppers—each one carved to represent the sigil of the most noble houses in the Seven Kingdoms—handy.

Buy it: HBO Shop or BoxLunch

3. Winterfell Coffee Mug; $25

If coffee is more your speed—we get it: the night is dark and full of terrors—this simple-yet-elegant Winterfell mug is an easy way to communicate to your co-workers why you’re typically a little bleary-eyed on Monday mornings.

Buy it: HBO Shop

4. Hodor Door Stop; $12

A 3D-printed Hodor door stop, inspired by 'Game of Thrones'

3D Cauldron, Amazon

An important part of being a Game of Thrones fan is accepting that showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have no problem killing off your favorite characters, often in brutal ways. One of the series’ most memorable deaths was that of Hodor, Bran Stark’s personal mode of transport, who we loved despite the fact that the only word he ever uttered for six seasons was “Hodor”—and who we loved even more when, in the final moments of his life, we learned why that was the case. Pay tribute to the gentle giant, and his backstory, with this 3D-printed door stop.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Tarot Card Deck; $25

A 'Game of Thrones' tarot card deck, from Chronicle Books

Chronicle Books, Amazon

Channel your inner Maggy the Frog and see what the future holds for you and your loved ones (your enemies, too, if the mood strikes you) with Chronicle Books’s gorgeously packaged tarot card deck. The tarot tradition and Game of Thrones mythology blend seamlessly together in this box of goodies, which includes an instruction book and illustrated cards featuring your favorite characters and most beloved scenes from the show.

Buy it: Amazon or Chronicle Books

6. Fire and Blood Candle; $12

Mad Queen or not, show that you still stand behind the Mother of Dragons by filling your home with this House Targaryen-inspired votive candle. Best of all: Just wait to see the look on the faces of your guests when they ask “Mmmm … what’s that smell?” If you’d prefer not to answer with “fire and blood—doesn’t it smell delicious?,” there are other scents available: one called "Moon of My Life My Sun and Stars," another called "Be a Dragon," and one inspired by the Iron Throne itself (which must smell like victory).

Buy it: HBO Shop

7. Clue: Game of Thrones; $50

Margaery Tyrell with the battle axe in Cersei’s bedchambers. Rewrite the rules—and brutal deaths—of Game of Thrones with this special edition of the classic board game, which tasks you with figuring out who murdered whom, using what weapon, and where the incident took place. A double-sided playing board lets you choose whether you want to set the game in The Red Keep or Meereen.

Buy it: HBO Shop or BoxLunch

8. Game of Thrones Monopoly; $24

'Game of Thrones Monopoly' game board

Hasbro, Amazon

Who wants to be the Lord or Lady of Winterfell when you can become the preeminent real estate mogul of all the Seven Kingdoms? This special-edition Monopoly board puts a distinctly Westerosian twist on the classic game, with silver tokens to represent the sigils of each of the main houses and a card holder that plays the series’ haunting score whenever you press it.

Buy it: Amazon or Best Buy

9. House Stark Hoodie; $60

If you really wanted to dress like a Stark, you’d have a master blacksmith on hand to help customize your armor—or at least turn your IKEA rug into a luxurious cape. If you’re far less crafty, there’s always this full-zip hoodie featuring an embroidered direwolf on the front and an outlined illustration of the same on the back. The minimalist design is a way to show your fandom in a way that, to the untrained eye, might just look like you’re a fan of wolves. But the rest of us will know better. And approve.

Buy it: ThinkGeek

10. Deluxe Iron Throne Funko Pop! Set; $130

Funko's Iron Throne Pop! set of five

Funko, HBO Shop

Though it seems unlikely that a few of these characters will ever sit on the Iron Throne (either because they’re dead or have gone mad), a fan can always hope. And buying them as part of this five-piece set is an easy way to collect them all. If you don’t see your favorite character here, Amazon has got plenty more squat-headed figures to choose from, including Arya, Brienne of Tarth, Rhaegal (poor Rhaegal), and Ghost (poor Ghost). If you ever happen upon a headless Ned Stark Pop!, grab it; this hard-to-find figure can sell for more than $2000 on eBay.

Buy it: HBO Shop

11. Iron Throne Bookend; $60

After devoting more than eight years of your life to seeing Game of Thrones all the way through, maybe it’s you who deserves the Iron Throne. You can’t sit on this 7.5-inch replica, the base of which features sigils from all the noble houses, but you can show off your fancy George R.R. Martin book collection … or all that dragon fan fiction you’ve been working on.

Buy it: Best Buy or the HBO Shop

12. Game of Thrones Music Box; $13

'Game of Thrones' music box

Shenzhen Youtang Trade Co., Amazon

Channel your inner Arya by psyching yourself up with the iconic Game of Thrones theme song whenever you feel the need to hear it with this hand-cranked music box.

Buy it: Amazon

13. Iron Throne Tankard; $70

Show your guests who's boss at your next dinner party—or raucous feast—as you take your place at the head of the table and guzzle your mead (or giant's milk—we don't judge) from this Iron Throne-themed tankard, completed with sword handle.

Buy it: HBO Shop

14. Game of Thrones Socks; $8

It gets cold in the North. Keep your tootsies warm with this six-pack of stylish ankle-cut socks.

Buy it: Target

15. Living Language Dothraki; $16

A copy of the Living Language Dothraki language course

Living Language, Amazon

By now, you've surely learned at least a handful of common Dothraki words and phrases. But if you wan to become fluent in the (fictional) language, this language course is one way to do it. Now: Finne zhavvorsa anni?

Buy it: Amazon

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