Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Secretary of State Robert Lansing to Chargé d’Affaires ad interim, Switzerland, Friedrich Oederlin, in Charge of German Interests in the United States

REPLY of DEPARTMENT of STATE to COMMUNICATION from the GERMAN GOVERNMENT RELATING to PROPOSED ARMISTICE.

Washington, D.C. October 14, 1918.

     Secretary of State this afternoon made public the following note to the Charge d’Affaires of Switzerland Ad Interim in charge of German interests in the United States: “Department of State, October 14, 1918. Sir: In reply to the communication of the German Government dated the 12th instant which you handed me today, I have the honor to request you to transmit the following answer:1 ‘The unqualified acceptance by the present German Government and by the large majority of the German Reichstaff of the xxxx terms laid down by the President of the United Sates the 8th of January, 1918, and in his subsequent addresses justifies the President in making a frank and direct statement of his decision with regard to the communications of the German Government of the 8th and 12th October, 1918. It must be clearly understood that the process of evacuation and the conditions of an Armistice are matters which must be left to the judgment and advice of the military advisers of the Government of the United States and the Allied Governments and the President feels it his duty to say that no arrangement can be accepted by the Government of the United States which does not provide absolutely satisfactory safeguards and guarantees of the maintenance of the present military supremacy of the Armies of the United States and of the Allies in the field. He feels confident that he can safely assume that this will also be the judgment and decision of the Allied Governments. The President feels that it is also his duty to add that neither the Government of the United States nor, he is quite sure, the Governments with which the Government of the United States is associated as a belligerent will consent to consider an Armistice so long as the armed forces of Germany continue the illegal and inhumane practices which they will persist in.

     At the very time that the German Government approaches the Government of the United States with proposals of peace its submarines are engaged in sinking passenger ships at sea,|2| and not the ships along but the very boats in which their passengers and crews seek to make their way to safety; and in their present enforced withdrawal from Flanders and France the German Armies are pursuing a course of wanton destruction which has always been regarded as in direct violation of the rules and practices of civilized warfare. Cities and villages, <if> not destroyed, are being stripped of all they contain not only but often of their very inhabitants. The nations associated against Germany cannot be expected to agree to a cessation of arms while acts of inhumanity, spoliation and desolation are being continued which they justly look upon with horror and with burning hears. It is necessary also in order that there may be no possibility of misunderstanding that the President should very solemnly call the attention of the Government of Germany to the language and plain intent of one of the terms of peace which the German Government has now accepted.

     It is contained in the address of the President delivered at Mount Vernon on the Fourth of July last. It is as follows: ‘The destruction of every arbitrary power anywhere that can separately, secretly and of its single choice disturb the peace of the world; of, if it cannot be presently destroyed, at least its reduction to virtual impotency.’ The power which has hitherto controlled the German nation is of the sort here described. It is within the choice of the German nation to alter it. The President’s words just quoted naturally constitute a condition precedent to peace, if peace is to come by the action of the German people themselves. The President feels bound to say that the whole process of peace will, in his judgment, depend upon the definiteness and the satisfactory character of the guarantees which can be given in this fundamental manner. It is indispensable that the governments associated against Germany should know beyond a peradventure with whom they are dealing. The President will make a separate reply to the Royal and Imperial Government of Austria Hungary.’ Accept, Sir, the renewed assurances of my high consideration. (Signed) Robert Lansing.”

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B.

Footnote 1: In his diary entry for this date, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels wrote that he had just returned from a trip to Raleigh, NC, when he was summoned to the White House. There, he found Lansing, President Woodrow Wilson, and Wilson’s friend and advisor Col. Edward M. House discussing a reply to the German note. “Agreed that until German submarines quit sinking passenger ships & killing non-combatants we would have no armistice & no peace with Germany until explicit acceptance of WWs Fourth of July address—no autocratic government in Germany—was accepted & put into practice. I urged [Wilson] to express these views as already accepted, if G was honest, but not to close the door to peace.” DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers.

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