I told Dr. Dumba this story, which interested him, and he made no comments.
As I was at the White House nearly every day I had an opportunity to learn what the President would say to callers and friends, although I was seldom privileged to use the information. Even now I do not recall a single statement which ever gave me the impression that the President sided with one group of belligerents.
The President’s sincerity and firm desire for neutrality was emphasised in his appeal to “My Countrymen.”
“The people of the United States,” he said, “are drawn from many nations, and chiefly from the nations now at war. It is natural and inevitable that there should be the utmost variety of sympathy and desire among them with regard to the issues and circumstances of the conflict. Some will wish one nation, others another, to succeed in the momentous struggle. It will be easy to excite passion and difficult to allay it. Those responsible for exciting it will assume a heavy responsibility, responsibility for no less a thing than that the people of the United States, whose love of their country and whose loyalty to the government should unite them as Americans all, bound in honour and affection to think first of her and her interests, may be divided in camps of hostile opinion, hot against each other, involved in the war itself in impulse and opinion, if not in action.
“My thought is of America. I am speaking, I feel sure, the earnest wish and purpose of every thoughtful American that this great country of ours, which is of course the first in our thoughts and in our hearts, should show herself in this time of peculiar trial a nation fit beyond others to exhibit the fine poise of undisturbed judgment, the dignity of self-control, the efficiency of dispassionate action; a nation that neither sits in judgment upon others nor is disturbed in her own counsels and which keeps herself fit and free to do what is honest and disinterested and truly serviceable for the peace of the world.”
Many Americans believed even early in the war that the United States should have protested against the invasion of Belgium. Others thought the government should prohibit the shipments of war supplies to the belligerents. America was divided by the great issues in Europe, but the great majority of Americans believed with the President, that the best service Uncle Sam could render would be to help bring about peace.
Until February, 1915, when the von Tirpitz submarine blockade of England was proclaimed, only American interests, not American lives, had been drawn into the war. But when the German Admiralty announced that neutral as well as belligerent ships in British waters would be sunk without warning, there was a new and unexpected obstacle to neutrality. The high seas were as much American as British. The oceans were no nation’s property and they could not justly be used as battlegrounds for ruthless warfare by either belligerent.