A Justifiable Act of War, or an Immoral Attack on Civilians

In Febuary 1915, Germany declared the waters of the British Isles to be a war zone. Any ships, enemy or neutral, were at risk of being attacked, either intentionally or by mistake. On May 7, 1915, the Lusitania, a British passenger liner traveling off the coast of Ireland headed for Great Britain, was sunk by a torpedo fired by a German submarine. The attack killed 1,198 people, including 128 American passengers. The question is, was this attack on a liner carrying civilian passengers a justifiable act of war by the Germans, or was it an immoral, malicious attack on a neutral country’s morale. In my judgment, I perceive the German attack to be valid and justifiable, considering many different facts and arguments that I will present. I will prove this thesis by using primary sources such as history books and internet articles. The history and text books offer straight forward facts about the event, and the internet articles offer arguments and debates on separate views of the attack.B. Summary of EvidenceThe quandaries being discussed in this dissertation are the moral and ethical issues concerning the sinking of the Lusitania. These dilemmas are still debated to this day. No one knows exactly what the German’s were thinking when they attacked it; did they know it was a passenger liner and simply want to teach the world a lesson, or did they believe that the liner was an enemy cargo ship? This issue is debatable.The first article that answers my why question is one written by Harry V. Jaffa. He states that since the Lusitania was armed and carrying munitions to Great Britain, the Germans had every right to attack and sink it. “The Lusitania was, in fact, an armed cruiser, loaded with munitions. The Germans had every justification under internation law for sinking her.” (Jaffa, 5) He recounts rumors that there were guns and other explosives stored in the great liner. These rumors have never been proved, and there are multiple arguments against them. Witness accounts aver that there were no mounted weapons on the ship.The second piece of evidence that I used, which supported my thesis, was an editorial taken from a newspaper, The Fatherland, published in New York in 1915. The editorial, written by C.L. Droste, argues that it was the fault and responsibility of Great Britain for carrying passengers aboard a ship loaded with munitions and labeled for war. “Responsibility for the fatalities of the incident should rest with Great Britain…for carrying civilian passengers on a ship of war.” (C.L. Droste, C4) The Fatherland claims that the American’s were fully warned of any possible attacks in the waters surrounding Great Britain, and therefore every single passenger we’re taking a risk on their own accord.Another article I used, written by Henry Watterson, offered me a counterclaim to my thesis. It showed me the views held by the people who deemed the Germans immoral and decadent. Watterson believed that the sinking of the Lusitania was an atrocity, and considered the attack an act of pure malevolence aimed at showing their supremacy. He requested that the U.S. declare war against our evident foes. “Must we sit down like dogs and see our laws defied?” (Watterson, 3) He questions the President’s authority when he declared that the U.S. government would hold the German government to strict accountability if the German’s war zone avowal resulted in the loss of one single American.C. Evaluation of SourcesThe first source that was a crucial part in my analysis was an editorial written by C.L. Droste. The editorial is located in a newspaper published in 1915 in New York, called the Fatherland. This editorial was written to provide a contradicting thesis to the outrage of the Americans, a look into the German’s point of view, in a noble attempt to calm the masses. With all of the articles circling the media at that time that blamed Germany for the killing of the non-combatant passengers on the Lusitania, this editorial justified the sinking and stood out. “Much as we regret the staggering loss of life in the disaster that startled the world, the facts in the case absolutely justify the action of the Germans.” This publication is an in-depth analysis of the sinking of the Lusitania written by Americans that believed the sinking was acceptable. It is a valuable source because it was not a biased account of the incident; it was written by Americans that did not follow the nationwide trend of condemnation. “Many American newspapers strongly condemn the German sinking of the Lusitania, a British passenger ship on which Americans were sailing. However, we, in this department of ours, reject the popular condemnation.” (Droste, C4) However, this publication was written from an American point of view none the less, and uses some generalizations in their arguments. The facts are all from the information that the American government released, therefore may not be completely accurate. “The Germans are not a nation of poker players. Germany does not bluff.” (Droste, C5)The second source that played a big part in my research was an article written by Henry Watterson. It provided me with a counterclaim to my thesis, condemning the Germans and accusing them of performing an atrocity of civilians from a neutral country. “With up most decorum, I condemn Germany for attacking the ocean liner and killing hundreds of non-combatants, including women and children. Must we sit down and let those fiends run over us like fanatic dogs?” (Watterson, 14) It is a valuable source in my essay because it was written just days after the incident, and completely condemns Germany, resting absolute responsibility on the German nation.”Are we at the mercy of the insane Wilhelm II of Germany, not only through his emissaries sending his odious system of government and debasing theories of casteism affecting superiority to our doors and proclaiming them, but bringing his war of conquest and murder across the line of our transit and travel over the high seas, which are ours to sail as we list, without let or hindrance from man or monarch, from him or from any one on land or water?” (Watterson, 15)Unfortunately, this article is extremely biased, written by an editor of an anti-German magazine that had been predicting a malicious attack by the Germans or her allies, aimed at the Americans. This author despises the German nation. “That which the Courier Journal has feared-which it has been for weeks forecasting as likely to happen-has come to pass.” (Watterson, 10)D. AnalysisAs previously stated, my thesis and answer to the question is that the sinking of the Lusitania was indeed a justifiable act of war, not simply an attack aimed solely at the massacre of hundreds of non-combatants. I can prove this thesis using facts and evidence from multiple sources that I have gathered.First of all, in November 1914 Great Britain established a war zone in the waters surrounding the British Isles and the waters north of Germany. The British navy patrolled those waters, thus creating a blockade between Germany and the supply lines from the Atlantic ocean which prevented the importation of supplies and food to Germany by sea. This act of war provoked the Germans to decide on submarine warfare as a measure of retaliation. (C.L. Droste, C5) Many writers in that time period would agree that the Germans were not a nation that bluffed. And the attack on the Lusitania proved it.Six days before the incident, the German government placed an advertisement in several major U.S. newspapers warning of the wartime risks of travel on British ships. (Schleihauf, 26) Lusitania was, in fact, a British passenger liner, and also one of the fastest ships in the world at that point in time. The ship, and all passengers aboard, were previously warned of a feasible attack five to six days in advance. The advertisement in the newspapers stated that any vessels carrying the flag of Great Britain or any of her allies are liable to destruction in the waters surrounding the British Isles, and that all travelers on board those vessels travel at their own risk. (Jaffa, 6) Therefore, legally and morally there was no basis for any protest on the part of the United States. British ships were ordered to take war measures when encountering the enemy, therefore every British ship should have been considered a warship. (Jaffa, 7)A predominant basis of support claiming the justification of the sinking is the fact that only one torpedo hit the great liner, yet there were two explosions. The explosion of the torpedo against the hull of the starboard side of the ship ignited a second source of explosives, causing the ship to sink much faster. (Audoin-Rouzeau, 92) If there were no contraband munitions on board, no weapons or explosives of any kind headed for Britain, what could have made that violent, secondary blast? The most reasonable assumption is that there were indeed contraband munitions stored onboard that ship, whether acknowledged by the passengers or not. Therefore, Germany acted only on compliance of the agreement of war, preventing the importation of contraband munitions into a war zone.Finally, it is common sense to simply avoid travel, by sea or land, through a war zone, and especially on such a colossal ship. No vessel is completely safe or immune to the attacks of a powerful nation such as Germany. (Heyman, 114) Why place women and children and other non-combatants in such danger, especially on a ship carrying munitions to England. The responsibility not only lies in the U.S. government, but also on the Cunard Line, the British cruise line that operated the Lusitania. The Cunard Line knew of the impending dangers of the waters surrounding Britain, yet for the sake of profit, they chose to ignore the warnings and, instead, place their passengers in great danger. The Cunard Line also failed to inform their passengers that the Lusitania was short eighty to ninety crew members, had a defective turbine, and had narrowly escaped a submarine attack on its previous voyage. (Heyman, 115) How many of the passengers would have remained on the boat if the Cunard Line had not suppressed the truth? How many victims of the attack would have been spared?E. ConclusionIn conclusion, restating my thesis, the sinking of the Lusitania was a justifiable and valid act of war. The passengers of the ship were previously warned by the German government to travel across seas at their own risk. It was the responsibility and fault of the U.S. government for transporting contraband munitions along with non-combatant civilians through the waters of a declared war zone. Fault also lies with the passengers who chose to board a ship carrying the British flag, through German infected waters, after numerous precautions and warnings. A break for the Germans that would make the attack permissible is if munitions were proved to have been stored on that ship. And proof is what we have. One torpedo. Two explosions. What caused the second explosion, making the great ship to sink so fast? What other explanation but contraband munitions? Therefore, there is proof that contraband munitions were stored on the Lusitania, rending the Germans legally and morally excused.

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