Johann Heinrich Bernstorff.

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of Roosevelt's administration, which, at the time of my entering
office, was already drawing to its close. For instance, Mr. Roosevelt
showed me the draft of the speech which after his retirement he
delivered at the University of Berlin.

My dealings with President Taft were on the same footing; for he
also was in favor of an amicable and unconventional relationship.
On one occasion he invited me to join him in his private Pullman on
a journey to his home in Cincinnati, where we attended the musical
festival together. On another occasion, he suddenly appeared, without
formal notice, at the Embassy, while we were holding a ball in
honor of his daughter, and later on he accepted an invitation to
my daughter's wedding.

President Wilson, who by inclination and habit is a recluse and
a lonely worker, does not like company. He re-introduced the old
etiquette and confined himself only to visiting the houses of Cabinet
members, which had been the customary tradition. He also kept himself
aloof from the banquets, which are such a favorite feature of social
life in America, and severely limited the company at the White
House. Thus the New Year Reception was discontinued entirely. This
attitude on the part of the President was the outcome of his tastes
and inclinations. But I certainly do not believe that he simply
developed a theory out of his own peculiar tastes, as so often
happens in life. I am more inclined to believe that Mr. Wilson
regarded the old American tradition as more expedient, on the grounds
that it enabled the President to remain free from all intimacy,
and thus to safeguard the complete impartiality which his high
office demanded. The peculiar friendship which unites Mr. Wilson
with Mr. House is no objection to this theory, for the latter has
to some extent always been in the position of a minister without
portfolio. An adviser of this sort, who incurs no responsibility by
the advice he gives, is more readily accepted by American opinion
than by any other, because the President of the United States is
known to be alone and exclusively responsible, whereas his ministers
are only looked upon as his assistants.

Generally speaking, the political situation in the United States
before the Five-Years War was as follows: On the one hand, owing
to the influence of English ideas, which I have already mentioned,
it was to be expected that a feeling of sympathy with the Entente
would probably preponderate in the public mind; while on the other
hand, owing to the general indifference that prevailed with regard to
all that happened in Europe, and to the strong pacifist tendencies,
no interference in the war was to be expected from America, unless
unforeseen circumstances provoked it. At all events it was to be
feared that the inflammability of the Americans' feelings would
once again be under-estimated in Germany, as it had been already.
It has never been properly understood in our country, despite the
fact that the Manila and Venezuela affairs might have taught us a
lesson in this respect. The juxtaposition in the American people's
character of Pacifism and an impulsive lust of war should have been
known to us, if more sedulous attention had been paid in Germany to
American conditions and characteristics. The American judges affairs
in Europe, partly from the standpoint of his own private sentiment of
justice, and partly under the guidance of merely emotional values;
but not, as was generally supposed in Germany, simply from a cold
and business-like point of view. If this had been reckoned with in
Germany, the terrible effect upon public opinion in America of the
invasion of Belgium and of the sinking of the _Lusitania_ - particularly
in view of the influence of English propaganda - would have been
adequately valued from the start.

On May 17th, 1915, in a report addressed to the Imperial Chancellor,
I wrote as follows:

"It is not a bit of good glossing over things. Our best plan, therefore,
is frankly to acknowledge that our propaganda in this country has,
as the result of the _Lusitania_ incident, completely collapsed.
To everyone who is familiar with the American character this could
have been foreseen. I therefore beg leave to point out in time,
that another event like the present one would certainly mean war
with the United States. Side by side in the American character
there lie two apparently completely contradictory traits. The cool,
calculating man of business is not recognizable when he is deeply
moved and excited - that is to say, when he is actuated by what is
here called 'emotion.' At such moments he can be compared only
to an hysterical woman, to whom talking is of no avail. The only
hope is to gain time while the attack passes over. At present it is
impossible to foresee what will be the outcome of the _Lusitania_
incident. I can only hope that we shall survive it without war. Be
this as it may, however, we can only resume our propaganda when
the storm has subsided."

Here I should like to intrude a few of my own views regarding the
importance of public opinion in the United States.

In Europe, where people are constantly hearing about the truly
extraordinary and far-reaching authority of the American President - the
London _Times_ once said that, after the overthrow of the Russian
Czar, the President of the United States was the last remaining
autocrat - it is difficult to form a correct estimate of the power
of public opinion in the Union. In America, just as no mayor can
with impunity ignore the public opinion of his city, and no governor
the public opinion of his state, so the President of the Republic,
despite his far-reaching authority, cannot for long run counter to
the public opinion of his country. The fact has often been emphasized
by Mr. Wilson himself, among others, that the American President
must "keep his ear to the ground" - that is to say, must pay strict
attention to public opinion and act in harmony with it. For the
American statesman, whose highest ambition consists either in being
re-elected, or at least in seeing his party returned to power, any
other course would amount to political suicide; for any attempt
at swimming against the tide will certainly be avenged at the next

It must be remembered that public opinion in the United States
is seldom so homogeneous and unanimous a thing as, for example,
in England. Particularly in questions of foreign politics, public
opinion in the Union, stretching, as it does, over a whole continent,
reacts in widely varying ways in different localities, and to a very
different degree. Thus, in the States bordering on the Atlantic
coast, which are more closely in touch with the Old World, there is,
as a rule, a very definite public opinion on European questions,
while the West remains more or less indifferent. On the other hand,
in the Gulf States a very lively interest is taken by the public in
the Mexican problem, and the Pacific States are closely concerned
with the Japanese question, matters which arouse hardly more than
academic interest in other localities. This is also reflected in
the American Daily Press, which does not produce papers exerting
equal influence over the whole nation, but rather, in accordance
with the customary geographical division of the Union into seven
economic spheres of interest - namely, New York, New England, Middle
Atlantic States, Southern States, Middle West, Western and Pacific
States, comprises seven different daily presses, each of which
gives first place to quite a different problem from the rest. It is
true that the New York Press is certainly the most important mirror
of American public opinion on European questions. Nevertheless,
this importance should not lead to the erroneous assumption that
the American Press and the New York Press are synonymous terms.
The perusal of the latter does not suffice for the formation of
a reliable judgment of American public opinion, with regard to
certain questions which concern the whole nation; rather it is
necessary also to study the leading papers of New England, the
Middle Atlantic States, and particularly the West. The reports of
German and English correspondents on feeling in America, which, as
so often happens, are based purely on the New York Press, frequently
play one false, if one relies on them for an estimate of the public
opinion of the whole nation. The "Associated Press," therefore,
makes it a rule with all questions of national importance, not
only to reproduce extracts from the New York Press, but also to
publish précis of the opinions of at least fifty leading journals
from all parts of the Union.

The American daily papers are more important as a medium for influencing
public opinion than as a mirror for reflecting it. The United States is
the land of propaganda _par excellence!_ Every important enterprise,
of no matter what nature, has its Press agent; the greatest of all
is the propaganda lasting for months, which is carried on before
the biennial elections, and of the magnitude of which it is difficult
for the average European to gain any conception. It is therefore
not surprising that the political leaders of the country make very
wide use of the Press in important questions of foreign politics,
to influence public opinion in favor of the Government policy.
Not only the great news agencies, but also all leading newspapers
of the Union maintain their permanent special correspondents in
Washington, and these are received almost daily by the Secretary of
State, and as a rule once a week by the President. The information
that they receive at these interviews they communicate to their
papers in the greatest detail, without naming the high officials
from whom it has emanated, and in this way they naturally act as
megaphones through which the views of the Government are spread
throughout the whole country. In foreign questions it was often
striking how newspapers would hold back their comments until they
had received in this way a _mot d'ordre_ from Washington.

Of course this possibility for the Government to create opinion on
concrete questions only applies so long as a firm public opinion has
not already set in. As soon as the process of "crystallization," as
it is called, is complete, there is nothing left for the Government
but to follow the preponderating public opinion. Even a man like
Mr. Wilson, who possesses an unusually high degree of self-will,
has always followed public opinion, for the correct interpretation
of which - apart from his own proverbial instinct - he commands the
services of his secretary, Mr. Tumulty, and a large staff, as well
as the organization of the Democratic party, which spreads through
the length and breadth of the country. If, in a few exceptional
cases, the President has set himself in opposition to public opinion,
we might be sure that it would not be long before he again set his
course on theirs.



When I received the news of the murder of Archduke Francis Ferdinand,
I was dining with the Spanish Ambassador at the Metropolitan Club
in Washington. Signor Riano and I were not for a moment in doubt as
to the very serious, peace-menacing character of the incident, but
we found little interest in the matter among the Americans in the
club, who, as always, regarded European affairs with indifference.
As to the results of the murder, I received in Washington no
information, either officially or through the Press.

I therefore, on the 7th July, began my usual summer leave, which
had been granted a few weeks before. For the last time I crossed
the ocean on one of the proud German liners, and, indeed, on the
finest of our whole merchant fleet, the _Vaterland_. For the last
time I saw, on my arrival, the port of Hamburg and the lower Elbe
in all their glory. Germans who live at home can hardly imagine
with what love and what pride we foreign ambassadors and exiled
Germans regarded the German shipping-lines.

A few days after I had arrived in my home at Starnberg there began
strong public excitement and uneasiness over the political situation.
However, of late years so many crises had been successfully averted
at the eleventh hour, that this time, too, I hoped up to the last
minute that a change for the better would set in. It seemed as
though the responsibility for a war was too great to be borne by
anyone man - whoever he might be - who would have to make the final

On the wonderful, still summer evening of the 1st August, we heard
across the Starnberger Lake, in all the surrounding villages, the
muffled beat of drums announcing mobilization. The dark forebodings
with which the sound of the drums filled me have fixed that hour
indelibly in my memory.

The following day was devoted to preparations for the journey to
Berlin, where I had to receive instructions before returning with
all possible speed to Washington. The journey from Munich to Berlin,
which could only be made in military trains, occupied forty-eight

In the Wilhelmstrasse I had interviews with the authorities, the
substance of which was instructions to enlighten the Government
and people of the United States on the German standpoint. In doing
so I was to avoid any appearance of aggression towards England,
because an understanding with Great Britain had to be concluded
as soon as possible. The Berlin view on the question of guilt was
even then very much the same as has been set down in the memorandum
of the commission of four of the 27th May, 1919, at Versailles,
namely, that Russia was the originator of the war.

Further, I was informed at the Foreign Office, that in addition
to some other additions to the staff of the Washington Embassy,
the former Secretary of State of the Colonial Office, Dr. Dernburg,
and Privy Councillor Albert, of the Ministry of the Interior, were
to accompany me; the former as representative of the German Red
Cross, the latter as agent of the "Central Purchasing Company."
Dr. Dernburg's chief task, however, was to raise a loan in the
United States, the proceeds of which were to pay for Herr Albert's
purchases for the aforesaid company. For this purpose the Imperial
Treasury supplied us with Treasury notes, which could only be made
negotiable by my signature. This gave rise later to the legend that
Dr. Dernburg was armed with millions for propaganda purposes.

Our journey was wearisome but passed off without incident. In
forty-eight hours we reached Rotterdam, where we boarded the Dutch
steamer _Noordam_. As we went aboard we were all in high spirits,
for we had seen everywhere in Germany a wonderful, self-sacrificing
and noble enthusiasm. On the steamer, however, which incidentally was
badly overloaded, the picture changed. We suddenly found ourselves
surrounded by hostile feeling, and among our fellow-passengers
there were only a few friendly to the German cause. The bitter
daily struggle toward which we were travelling was to begin on the
ship. We plunged straight into it, and tried as far as possible
to influence our fellow passengers.

At Dover the ship was inspected by a British officer; the inspection,
however, passed off without any inconvenience to us, as in those
first days of the war the regulations of international law were
still to some extent respected. We had already made all preparations
to throw the Treasury notes overboard, in case we were searched.
As a curiosity I mention a comic interlude that occurred after we
had left Dover Harbor. A friendly German-American from a Western
State, who did not know who I was, but had recognized me as a German,
accosted me with the remark: "Take care that you don't expose yourself
to annoyance; the people on board think you are the German Ambassador
in Washington." The excellent man was overcome with amazement when
I admitted my identity. We had not had our names entered on the
passengers' list, but apart from this made no secret of our journey,
as it was already known in Rotterdam.

After an eleven days' voyage, we landed in New York on the 23rd
August. Our arrival was a relief, as during the journey we had
been overwhelmed exclusively with enemy wireless reports of French
victories. Every day we had received news of the annihilation of a
fresh German Army Corps. In comparison with this mental torture,
the cross-fire of questions from countless American Pressmen, not
altogether friendly towards Germany, was comparatively easy to

As is known, American public opinion at that time had been given a
one-sided view of the causes and course of the war, for England, who,
immediately after the declaration of war, had cut our Transatlantic
cable, held the whole of the Transatlantic news apparatus in her hands.
Apart from this, however, our enemies found from the beginning very
important Allies in a number of leading American newspapers, which,
in their daily issue of from three to six editions, did all they could
to spread anti-German feeling. In New York the bitterest attacks
on Germany were made by the _Herald_ and the _Evening Telegram_,
which were in close touch with France, as well as the _Tribune_ and
_Times_, which followed in England's wake; somewhat more moderate
were the _Sun_ and the _Globe_; the only neutrals were the _Evening
Post_ and the _American_. Outside New York the Press raged against
us, particularly in New England and the Middle-Atlantic States.
In the South and West we were also baited by the Press, but with
considerably less intensity. The only papers which could be called
neutral were those of the Hearst Press, which took up an outspoken
National-American standpoint, and, in addition, the _Chicago Tribune_,
the _Washington Post_, and a few minor newspapers. It was already
very significant that papers like the _Boston Transcript_, the
_Brooklyn Eagle_, the _Baltimore Sun_, and a few others opened
their letter-boxes to anti-German articles, which, it is true,
they condemned with fair regularity in their leading articles or
editorial notes. Against this campaign, fed systematically and
daily with British propaganda information - especially on the subject
of German atrocities in Belgium - the small number of papers in the
German language, which, moreover, were little heeded by public
opinion, and at the head of which stood the old _New Yorker
Staatszeitung_ and the courageous weekly _Fatherland_, founded
shortly after the outbreak of war by the young German-American,
G. S. Vierick, could make but little headway.

On my arrival in New York, and during the next few weeks, I made
an honest effort by daily interviews of the representatives of
the leading daily newspapers to explain the German standpoint to
the American public. I soon noticed, however, that these efforts
were not only practically fruitless but that they were even fraught
with certain dangers for me. The daily struggle with the Press was
threatening to undermine my official position and to compromise
my relations with the Washington Government so seriously that I
should not have been in a position to carry through with success
the diplomatic negotiations which were likely to be called for.
I therefore considered it as my duty to the German people to give
up, as far as I personally was concerned, all propaganda in favor
of the German cause. Certainly I have had a good deal further to
do with American journalists until the final rupture; but I
categorically refused to grant interviews or to receive newspaper
correspondents who were not prepared to treat my statements purely
as confidential, private information.

I should like to take this opportunity to remark that the American
journalist is far better than the reputation he enjoys in Europe.
In spite of the hostile atmosphere which surrounded me in America
I have never had to complain of an indiscretion. True, many minor
New York reporters whom I did not receive invented statements which
I had never made; but such experiences are common to all politicians
in America. Moreover, the results of these journalistic tricks were
almost always local and were easily contradicted. In Washington
such things never occurred. The journalists there were quite
extraordinarily capable and trustworthy men, who always behaved
like "gentlemen." My relations with them remained very friendly
to the last. In so far as I was not forced to keep silence for
political reasons I have always told them the real truth. Of course,
I was as little capable as the American journalists of foreseeing
that the policy I was representing was doomed to ultimate failure.

Just at the time when I gave up personal propaganda in order to
devote myself to my political and diplomatic activities in Washington,
the financial mission of Secretary of State Dr. Dernburg had failed.
President Wilson had stated clearly that it would be an unneutral
act for loans to be raised in the Union by the combatant States.
Our friends in high financial circles in New York regarded this
decision as favorable to Germany, for they foresaw - what actually
happened - that for every million received by us, our enemies would
raise a hundred millions. As a result of this decision of the President,
Privy Councillor Albert had to finance his purchases as far as
possible privately, while Dr. Dernburg, whose time was not fully
occupied by his duties as delegate of the Red Cross, which had
meanwhile been organized by Geheim Oberregierungrat Meyer Gerhardt
and Rittmeister Hecker, would have left America if there had remained
any possibility of doing so. There was not, however, as the English
inspected all neutral ships shortly after they left the American
ports and - in flagrant contravention of international law, which
only allows the arrest of persons who are already enrolled in the
fighting forces - summarily arrested and interned every German capable
of bearing arms. As Dr. Dernburg was thus an unwilling prisoner
in New York he began to write articles on the world-war for the
daily Press. He had a gift for explaining the causes of the war
in a quiet, interesting manner, and particularly for setting out
the German standpoint in a conciliatory form. His propaganda work
therefore met with extraordinary success. The editors of newspapers
and periodicals pressed him to contribute to their columns, and
the whole New York Press readily printed all the articles he sent
in to contradict the statements of the anti-Germans.

Out of this activity developed, in co-operation with the Foreign
Office, Dr. Dernburg's New York Press Bureau, a solution of the
propaganda question which was exceedingly welcome to me. As a private
person Dr. Dernburg could say and write much that could not be said
officially and therefore could not come from me. Consequently I
took it for granted that - in spite of certain suggestions to the
contrary - Dr. Dernburg would not be attached to the Embassy, which
would only hamper his work, and also that the Press Bureau would
retain its independent and unofficial character. I may take it as a
well-known fact that Washington is the political, and New York the
economic, capital of the United States, which has always resulted
in a certain geographical division of the corresponding diplomatic
duties. It naturally had its disadvantages that there should be,
apart from the Consulate-General, four other independent German
establishments in New York, namely, the offices of Dr. Dernburg,
Privy Councillor Albert, the military attaché Captain von Papen
and the naval attaché Commander Boy-Ed. In order to keep, to some
extent, in touch with these gentlemen, I occasionally travelled to
New York and interviewed them together in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel,
where I usually stayed and in which Dr. Dernburg lived; for their
offices, scattered as they were over the lower town, and which,
moreover, I never entered, were unsuitable for the purpose. Our
mutual personal relations were always of the best. On the other hand,
it was naturally difficult to make any headway with our official
business, since each received independent instructions from Berlin.
This was least the case with Dr. Dernburg, because his responsible
authority as far as propaganda was concerned was partly the Foreign
Office itself and partly the semi-official "Central Office for
Foreign Service." The other three gentlemen, however, were all
responsible to home departments other than mine. Captain von Papen
and Commander Boy-Ed frequently held back from me the instructions
they had received from Berlin in order not to embarrass the Embassy
by passing on military or naval information. Financially, too,
the four officials were completely independent and had their own

Online LibraryJohann Heinrich BernstorffMy three years in America → online text (page 3 of 31)