The crux of his note was contained in the passage: “The leaders of the several belligerents have stated those objects (i. e. of the war), in general terms. But stated in general terms, they seem the same on both sides. Never yet have the authoritative spokesmen on either side avowed the precise objects which would, if attained, satisfy them and their people that the war had been fought out. The world has been left to conjecture what definite results, what actual guarantees, what political or territorial changes or readjustments, what stage of military success even, would bring the war to an end.”
The President's views found an echo in the United States Senate, which passed a resolution approving it. The note also created a profound sensation in the nations at war. By the peoples of the Central Powers it was in the main approved, largely because of the favorable military situation in which at the moment they found themselves. By the Allies, however, much of whose territory was occupied by German forces, the note was received without enthusiasm and in some quarters with thinly veiled resentment. The Allies, however, seized the occasion to present to the world a detailed statement of the principal aims they had in view in the war they were waging. Those aims are narrated in full in another place (see World War). To this statement, the German Government made rejoinder on Jan. 11, in a note which scouted the demands of the Entente, declared that Germany had made a sincere attempt to open negotiations for peace and placed all blame for the war's continuance upon the shoulders of their enemies. The net result of the President's effort was nil.
A significant episode in connection with the speech was a statement issued by Secretary Lansing on Dec. 20, two days later. He stated that the note had been prompted by the fact that “we ourselves are drawing nearer the verge of war.” This official statement created great alarm, so great indeed that the Secretary felt impelled later in the same day to explain away the indiscreet utterance. His efforts were only effectual in part, however, and uneasiness persisted. It was felt that more was going on behind the veil of diplomatic exchanges than had hitherto been suspected.
Undeterred by the failure of his first effort, the President again, on Jan. 22, took upon himself the rôle of mediator. This time it was in the form of an address before the Senate. The avowed object of the speech was to specify the conditions under which the United States might conceivably join a league to enforce peace throughout the world, but the real reason for its delivery was to bring the conflict then in being to an end. The effect of the speech, which in the main was admirable in spirit and form, was measurably diminished by the phrase “peace without victory,” which aroused keen resentment among the Allied nations and met with marked disapproval on the part of a large body of influential opinion in America.
At this juncture came the announcement of Germany's determination to embark on ruthless submarine warfare—a most momentous announcement that spelled the doom of the German cause. It burst upon the neutral world with stunning effect. On Jan. 31, 1917, Von Bernstorff handed the text of the German note on submarine warfare to the American Secretary of State. At the same time an identical note was delivered to all the neutral governments. It stated that beginning on the following day, Feb. 1, all merchant ships bound to or from allied ports, found in a prohibited zone, would be sunk without warning. This revoked the promise that had been made to the United States in the “Sussex” case. The prohibited zone included the waters bordering France, England and Holland, and certain sections of the Mediterranean. The one exception allowed to the United States was that once a week she could despatch a ship to Falmouth, England, and have one sail from Falmouth to the United States, provided that the ship bore certain markings, followed a specified route and carried no contraband. The justification for the step was given in the statement that since the attempt to come to an understanding with the Entente Powers had been answered by them by the announcement of an intensified continuation of the war, the Imperial Government was compelled to continue the struggle for existence by the full employment of all weapons that lay in its power.
At the same hour that the note was handed to the neutral powers, the German Chancellor, Von Bethmann-Hollweg, in the Reichstag, amplified the substance of the note, explaining why he had previously opposed ruthless submarine war and the steps by which he in common with the German military authorities had come to determine upon its prosecution, and declared in conclusion that “in now deciding to employ the best and sharpest weapon, we are guided solely by a sober consideration of all the circumstances that come into