Third—It is the custom of the German Government as soon as the sinking of a neutral ship in the above-mentioned zone of naval warfare is ascribed to German war vessels to institute an immediate investigation into the cause. If grounds appear thereby to be given for association of such a hypothesis the German Navy places itself in communication with the interested neutral Government so that the latter may also institute an investigation. If the German Government is thereby convinced that the ship has been destroyed by Germany’s war vessels, it will not delay in carrying out the provisions of Paragraph 2 above. In case the German Government, contrary to the viewpoint of the neutral Government is not convinced by the result of the investigation, the German Government has already on several occasions declared itself ready to allow the question to be decided by an international investigation commission, according to Chapter 3 of The Hague Convention of Oct. 18, 1907, for the peaceful solution of international disputes.
This circular is understood to have been rather reassuring to high officials of the United States Government, although it does not cover the attitude of the German Government toward the treatment to be accorded to Americans and other neutral noncombatants, men, women, and children, on board vessels flying the flag of England, France, or Russia. The absence of any allusion to the principle involved in the Lusitania case is believed here to mean that the statement was prepared and was ready for promulgation before the destruction of the Lusitania on Friday. Several days usually have been required for messages to come to Washington from Ambassador Gerard, by roundabout cable relay route, and it is believed that this dispatch is no exception in this respect.
The sinking of the Lusitania as a man-of-war was justified by Dr. Bernhard Dernburg, late German Colonial Secretary and recognized as quasi-official spokesman of the German Imperial Government in the United States, in a statement issued in Cleveland, Ohio, on May 8, 1915. The statement reads:
Great Britain declared the North Sea a war zone in the Winter. No protest was made by the United States or any neutral. Great Britain held up all neutral ships carrying non-contraband goods, detaining them, buying or confiscating their cargoes.
Great Britain constantly changed the contraband lists, so no foodstuffs of any kind have actually reached Germany since the war began. International law says foodstuffs destined for the civil population must pass. It does not recognize any right to starve out a whole people.
As a consequence, and in retaliation, Germany declared the waters around England a war zone, and started a submarine warfare. It became known in February that British ships were flying the American flag as a protection.