One day in Berlin, just before the recall of the former German military and naval attaches in Washington, I asked Zimmermann whether Germany sanctioned what these men had been doing. He replied that Germany approved everything they had done “because they had done nothing more than try to keep America out of the war; to prevent American goods reaching the Allies and to persuade Germans and those of German descent not to work in ammunition factories.” The same week I overheard in a Berlin cafe two reserve naval officers discuss plans for destroying Allied ships sailing from American ports. One of these men was an escaped officer of an interned liner at Newport News. He had escaped to Germany by way of Italy. That afternoon when I saw Ambassador Gerard I told him of the conversation of these two men, and also what Zimmermann had said. The Ambassador had just received instructions from Washington about Boy-Ed and von Papen.
Gerard was furious.
“Go tell Zimmermann,” he said, “for God’s sake to leave America alone. If he keeps this up he’ll drag us into the war. The United States won’t stand this sort of thing indefinitely.”
That evening I went back to the Foreign Office and saw Zimmermann for a few minutes. I asked him why it was that Germany, which was at peace with the United States, was doing everything within her power to make war.
“Why, Germany is not doing anything to make you go to war,” he replied. “Your President seems to want war. Germany is not responsible for what the German-Americans are doing. They are your citizens, not ours. Germany must not be held responsible for what those people do.”
Had it not been for the fact that the American Government was fully advised about Zimmermann’s intrigues in the United States this remark might be accepted on its face. The United States knew that Germany was having direct negotiations with German-Americans in the United States. Men came to Germany with letters of introduction from leading German-Americans here, with the expressed purpose of trying to get Germany to stop its propaganda here. What they did do was to assure Germany that the German-Americans would never permit the United States to be drawn into the war. Because of their high recommendations from Germans here some of them had audiences with the Kaiser.
Germany had been supporting financially some Americans, as the State Department has proof of checks which have been given to American citizens for propaganda and spy work.
I know personally of one instance where General Director Heinicken, of the North German-Lloyd, gave an American in Berlin $1,000 for his reports on American conditions. The name cannot be mentioned because there are no records to prove the transaction, although the man receiving this money came to me and asked me to transmit $250 to his mother through the United Press office. I refused.