While the conferences were going on, Dr. Heckscher and Under Secretary Zimmermann, who at that time were anxious to avoid a break with the United States, sounded Ambassador Gerard as to whether he would be willing to go to Great Headquarters to confer with the Kaiser. The Foreign Office at the same time suggested the matter to the General Staff and within a few hours Mr. Gerard was invited to go to Charleville. Before the ambassador arrived the Kaiser called all of his ministers together for a joint session and asked them to make a brief summary of their arguments. This was not a peace meeting. Not only opponents of submarine warfare but its advocates mobilised all their forces in a final attempt to win the Kaiser’s approval. His Majesty, at this time, was inclined towards peace with America and was very much impressed by the arguments which the Chancellor and Dr. Helfferich presented. But, at this meeting, while Helfferich was talking and pointing to the moral effect which the ruthless torpedoing of ships was having upon neutral countries, von Falkenhayn interrupted with the succinct statement:
“Neutrals? Damn the neutrals! Win the war! Our task is to win. If we win we will have the neutrals with us; if we lose we lose.”
“Falkenhayn, when you are versed in foreign affairs I’ll ask you to speak,” interrupted the Kaiser. “Proceed, Dr. Helfferich.”
Gentleman that he is, von Falkenhayn accepted the Imperial rebuke, but not long afterward his resignation was submitted.
As a result of these conferences and the arguments advanced by Ambassador Gerard, Secretary von Jagow on May 4th handed the Ambassador the German note in reply to President Wilson’s Sussex ultimatum. In this communication Germany said:
“Fully conscious of its strength, the German Government has twice in the course of the past few months expressed itself before all the world as prepared to conclude a peace safeguarding the vital interests of Germany. In doing so, it gave expression to the fact that it was not its fault if peace was further withheld from the peoples of Europe. With a correspondingly greater claim of justification, the German Government may proclaim its unwillingness before mankind and history to undertake the responsibility, after twenty-one months of war, to allow the controversy that has arisen over the submarine question to take a turn which might seriously affect the maintenance of peace between these two nations.
“The German Government guided by this idea notifies the Government of the United States that instructions have been issued to German naval commanders that the precepts of the general international fundamental principles be observed as regards stopping, searching and destruction of merchant vessels within the war zone and that such vessels shall not be sunk without warning and without saving human life unless the ship attempts to escape or offers resistance.”