Germany, therefore, was the first to challenge American neutrality. Germany was the first to threaten American lives. Germany, which was the first to show contempt for Wilson, forced the President, as well as the people, to alter policies and adapt American neutrality to a new and grave danger.
“Pirates sink another neutral ship”
On February 4th, 1915, the Reichsanzeiger, the official newspaper of Germany, published an announcement declaring that from the 18th of February “all the waters surrounding Great Britain and Ireland as well as the entire English channel are hereby declared to be a war area. All ships of the enemy mercantile marine found in these waters will be destroyed and it will not always be possible to avoid danger to the crews and passengers thereon.
“Neutral shipping is also in danger in the war area, as owing to the secret order issued by the British Admiralty January 31st, 1915, regarding the misuse of neutral flags, and the chances of naval warfare, it can happen that attacks directed against enemy ships may damage neutral vessels.
“The shipping route around the north of The Shetlands in the east of the North Sea and over a distance of thirty miles along the coast of The Netherlands will not be dangerous.”
Although the announcement was signed by Admiral von Pohl, Chief of the Admiralty Staff, the real author of the blockade was Grand Admiral von Tirpitz. In explanation of the announcement the Teutonic-Allied, neutral and hostile powers were sent a memorandum which contained the following paragraph:
“The German Government announces its intention in good time so that hostile as well as neutral ships can take necessary precautions accordingly. Germany expects that the neutral powers will show the same consideration for Germany’s vital interests as for those of England, and will aid in keeping their citizens and property from this area. This is the more to be expected, as it must be to the interests of the neutral powers to see this destructive war end as soon as possible.”
On February 12th the American Ambassador, James W. Gerard, handed Secretary of State von Jagow a note in which the United States said:
“This Government views these possibilities with such grave concern that it feels it to be its privilege, and indeed its duty in the circumstances, to request the Imperial German Government to consider before action is taken the critical situation in respect of the relations between this country and Germany which might arise were the German naval officers, in carrying out the policy foreshadowed in the Admiralty’s proclamation, to destroy any merchant vessel of the United States or cause the death of American citizens.