By Count von Bernstorff, German Ambassador at Washington
Count von Bernstorff, the German Ambassador, made public on April 11, 1915, a memorandum addressed to the United States Government on April 4, complaining of its attitude toward the shipment of war munitions to the Allies and the non-shipment of foodstuffs to Germany. After picturing the foreign policy of the United States Government as one of futility, Count von Bernstorff’s memorandum says it must be “assumed that the United States Government has accepted England’s violations of international law.” Its full text appears below, followed by that of the American State Department’s reply.
The different British Orders in Council have altered the universally recognized rules of international law in such a one-sided manner that they arbitrarily suppress the trade of neutral countries with Germany. Already, prior to the last Order in Council, the shipment of conditional contraband, especially foodstuffs, to Germany was practically impossible. In fact, prior to the protest which the American Government made in London on Dec. 28, 1914, not a single shipment of such goods for Germany has been effected from the United States.
Also, after the lodging of the protest, and as far as is known to the German Embassy, only one such shipment has been attempted by an American skipper. Ship and cargo were immediately seized by the British, and are still detained at a British port. As a pretext for this unwarranted action the British Government referred to a decree of the German Federal Council concerning the wheat trade, although this decree only covered wheat and flour and no other foodstuffs, although imported foodstuffs were especially exempt from this decree, and although the German Government had given all necessary guarantees to the United States Government, and had even proposed a special organization in order to secure these foodstuffs for the exclusive consumption of the civilian population.
The seizure of an American ship under these circumstances was in contradiction with the recognized principles of international law. Nevertheless the United States Government has not yet obtained the release of the ship, nor has it after eight months of war succeeded in safeguarding the legitimate American trade with Germany. Such a delay, especially when the supply of foodstuffs is concerned, seems equivalent to complete failure. It is therefore to be assumed that the United States Government has accepted England’s violations of international law.
Furthermore has to be considered the attitude of the Government of the United States concerning the question of the exportation of war material. The Imperial Embassy hopes to agree with the Government of the United States in assuming that, with regard to the question of neutrality, there is not only the formal side to be considered, but also the spirit in which neutrality is enforced.