chapter  10
36 Pages

Woodrow Wilson'S Independent Mediation

Bernstorff believed that Wilson, owing his re-election mainly to Americans’ aversion to the European war, “will have the wish to live in peace with us,” and he urged his government to refrain from any escalation of U-boat warfare until Wilson’s mediation, which he was confident would come very soon, was given every chance of success.2 He thus might have been tempted to slant his reporting with disproportionate treatment of the most positive signs of Americans’ keen interest in a mediated settlement of the war. But the ambassador’s survey of U.S. public opinion fairly summarized the prevailing mood in the country. He did not identify the peace societies, but the Woman’s Peace Party had just held its annual meeting in the nation’s capital at which some speakers urged U.S. mediation. Moreover, not just ardent peace advocates, but even more conservative voices spoke out in favor of peace talks. Thus the New York Times published an extensive series of articles written by Nicholas Murray Butler, under the pseudonym “Cosmos,” expounding on the most hopeful prospects for a negotiated

settlement, and George Kirchwey, President of the American Peace Society, also publicly endorsed U.S. mediation. In his report, Bernstorff may have been thinking mainly of the American Neutral Conference Committee, which was already receiving consistent press coverage. The ANCC peace activities would intensify in late 1916-early 1917.3

When Bernstorff sent off his opinion analysis, Wilson had already decided to make his own mediation move. Any explanation of the American president’s subsequent peace initiatives must begin with his two overriding foreign policy aims: keeping out of the war if possible and trying to serve as mediator to end it. In his own analysis of the changing realities of America’s relationship vis-à-vis the European belligerents, the two seemed to be more inexorably linked in these months. He perceived that his relations with the two warring sides had developed to the point where for the first time since the first months of the war he might be able to pose successfully as a truly impartial arbiter. Following the German Government’s Sussex pledge in May 1916, promising to suspend submarine attacks on merchant shipping, German-American relations had improved. Simultaneously, various British actions, especially its increasing violations of America’s neutral rights-blacklisting of U.S. companies trading with the enemy, increasing censorship of the mails, for example-had resulted in a marked deterioration of Anglo-American relations. These changing international developments prompted Wilson to consider other mediation alternatives.