Sailing And Sinking The RMS Lusitania: A Century Of Lying
America Into War
By Doug Bandow
May 07, 2015 "Information
Clearing House" - "Forbes"
- The British luxury passenger liner RMS Lusitania was torpedoed a century ago.
The sinking was deemed an atrocity of war and encouraged American intervention
in World War I. But the ship was carrying munitions through a war zone and left
unprotected by the Royal Navy. The “Great War” was a thoroughly modern conflict,
enshrouded in government lies.
Indeed, the British were propaganda pros, creating an entire
“information” operation based in the U.S. dedicated to misleading America into
the conflict. London began with a brilliant campaign built on the faked “Belgian
atrocities” allegedly committed by the German Army. Years after the Lusitania
went to the ocean’s bottom the British government still obstructed efforts to
learn the truth about the ship.
We see similar activities today. Washington attributed phantom
horrors to countries which had committed more than their share of documented
crimes, Iraq and Serbia. Americans were lied into invading Iraq when the Bush
administration relied on falsehoods from Iraqi exiles, most spectacularly Saddam
Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction. Much was made of Muammar
Khadafy’s nonexistent plan to slaughter Libyan civilians after he threatened his
armed opponents. Most recent has been supposed Iranian “support” for
Yemen’s Houthis, a local group fighting over domestic grievances for decades.
World War I was a mindless imperial slugfest triggered by an
act of state terrorism by Serbian authorities—the murder of the heir apparent to
the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Contending alliances acted as transmission belts of
war. The Serbs wanted to destroy the so-called “dual monarchy,” which in turn
believed it had to impose “regime change” in Belgrade. The Russians backed
Serbia to ensure their predominance in the Balkans, but Imperial Germany was
unwilling to allow the destruction of Austro-Hungary, its main ally. The
revanchist French supported Czarist tyranny as the only means to recover Alsace
and Lorraine, territories lost to Germany after the Franco-Prussian War 43 years
before. Great Britain entered the conflict citing Berlin’s violation of Belgian
neutrality but mostly to maintain the continental balance of power and neuter
German maritime power. Every state was willing to risk war for interests that
look dubious, even foolish in the light of history. Nearly 20 million died in
the resulting military avalanche.
America’s Woodrow Wilson initially declared neutrality, though
he in fact leaned sharply toward the motley “Entente.” The German-led Central
Powers (Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire) were no prize.
However, the British grouping included a terrorist state (Serbia, whose ruling
dynasty was built on murder), an anti-Semitic despotism (Russian Empire, which
held numerous peoples in bondage), a ruthless imperial power (Belgium, which
brutalized unfortunate residents of the Belgian Congo), a militaristic colonial
republic (France, which once had plunged the entire continent into war and was
responsible for starting the Franco-Prussian War), and Britain. The latter was
the best of the lot, but it ruled much of the globe without the consent of those
“governed” and cared little for those crushed beneath its global ambitions. This
clash of empires was no “war for democracy” and “war against war,” as often
Never a great land power, London relied on its navy to
dominate. The outnumbered German navy ventured out only once—winning a tactical
victory at Jutland, but achieving nothing strategically. The maritime war
centered around commerce, an especially effective tactic given British and
German dependence on international trade.
London ignored the traditional rules of war when imposing a
starvation blockade on Germany and neutrals supplying the Germans. Belligerents
traditionally stationed ships near the three-mile territorial limit, but the
Royal Navy conducted a “distant” blockade, declaring entire seas and oceans to
be war zones. Moreover, Britain treated food and other civilian goods as
unconditional contraband of war. Previously such goods were “conditional
contraband” only subject to seizure if meant for military use.
London’s tactics hurt American farmers but were far more
devastating to civilians in Austria-Hungary and German, as intended. Explained
Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, Britain’s policy was to “starve
the whole population—men, women, and children, old and young, wounded and
sound—into submission.” By the end of the war malnutrition and starvation
stalked the Central Powers. London maintained the blockade even after Berlin had
signed the armistice and surrendered its heavy weapons, to ensure compliance
with the “peace” treaty being drafted by the victors. A study by the Carnegie
Endowment for International Peace figured that the blockade probably killed
around 600,000 civilians during the conflict and perhaps 100,000 afterwards.
German sources claimed even more casualties.
Since Berlin lacked the warships necessary to break Britain’s
naval cordon sanitaire, Germany could retaliate only with surface raiders, which
were vulnerable to London’s globe-spanning navy, and submarines. However, while
U-boats had the advantage of stealth, they were unable to play by the normal
rules of war and stop and search suspect vessels. The British Admiralty armed
some passenger liners and cargo ships, used such vessels as auxiliary cruisers,
and ordered captains to fire on or ram any submarines that surfaced. Britain
also misused neutral flags to shelter its ships.
Thus, to be effective the U-boats were forced to torpedo
allied and some neutral vessels, sending guilty and innocent alike to the
ocean’s bottom. Throughout the conflict Germany sank around 5000 ships. However,
Churchill encouraged the voyages, noting that “if some of it gets into trouble,
better still.” Indeed, the week before the Lusitania’s sinking he informed the
President of the Board of Trade that it was “most important to attract neutral
shipping to our shores, in the hope especially of embroiling the United States
Wilson complained about the British blockade, but never
threatened the bilateral relationship. Indeed, America’s anglophile ambassador
to the Court of St. James, Walter Hines Page, acted more as representative of
His Majesty’s Government than of his home country.
Washington took a very different attitude toward the U-boat
campaign. The Imperial German government sponsored newspaper ads warning
Americans against traveling on British liners; the standard notice ran directly
under Cunard’s ad for the Lusitania, listing its May 1 departure. But that
didn’t stop the foolhardy from booking passage. Despite reports of nearby subs
and destroyers based nearby, the Royal Navy sent no escort for the Lusitania as
the ship neared the British Isles. Off Ireland’s coast the vessel went down
after a single torpedo hit; the coup de grace apparently was a secondary
explosion of Lusitania’s cargo of munitions, including 4.2 million rounds of
rifle cartridges (declared) and perhaps much more (undeclared). Among the 1,198
dead were 128 Americans, who had knowingly put their lives in danger.
In this May 1,
1915 file photo, the British cargo and passenger ship Lusitania as it sets
out for England on its last voyage from New York City. (AP Photo, File)
There was a political firestorm in the U.S., but the flames
subsided short of Churchill’s desired declaration of war. Still, the president
demanded “strict accountability” for the German U-boat campaign. His position
was frankly absurd: Americans should be able to safely travel on armed vessels
of a belligerent power carrying munitions through a war zone. If one American
set foot on a boat full of munitions, the Germans should allow it to sale to
Britain unmolested, so the bullets and shells could be used to kill German
soldiers. Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan argued that British conduct
was similar to “putting women and children in front of an army” and soon
resigned in frustration at Wilson’s bias. The president eventually issued a de
facto ultimatum which caused Berlin to suspend attacks on liners and limit
attacks on neutral vessels.
As the war dragged on, however, with stalemate on the
trench-ridden Western front and the British blockade imposing an ever-greater
burden, Berlin tired of placating Washington. With his navy promising dramatic
results, in January 1917 the Kaiser approved resumption of submarine warfare.
That decision gave Wilson the pretext for war he had long desired, since touched
by megalomania he desired to reorder the entire globe.
German submariners sank a lot of ships, but Britain and
America developed increasingly effective counter-measures. And the effort could
not redress Germany’s continental military disadvantages, especially after
Berlin’s allies began falling. An armistice was reached on November 11, 1918,
with the Versailles “Peace” Treaty to follow in June 1919. The egotistical,
vainglorious Wilson was outmaneuvered by cynical European leaders and ended up
committing the U.S. to defend the territorial and financial plunder accumulated
by the victors.
Unfortunately, the treaty turned out to be but a generational
truce during which the participants prepared for another round of war. The U.S.
Senate refused to ratify the Versailles Treaty. London grew embarrassed by the
pact’s manifold injustices. More powerful states swallowed what Germans called
Saisonstaaten, or “states for a season”—created out of the wrecked
Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires. The French grew timid, unwilling to insist
on enforcing the treaty, allowing concessions to Adolf Hitler that were refused
earlier democratic governments. Most Germans desired to overturn the “Diktat,”
as they called the treaty. Across the continent the Great Depression mauled the
middle class and radicalized burgeoning numbers of poor. The result was World
War II, with far greater murder, horror, tragedy, and loss.
No one emerges from World War I with much honor, especially
Wilson. He posed as a liberal defender while circumscribing civil liberties at
every turn. He sacrificed American lives not to achieve a grand triumph of
morality and democracy, but to allow one set of imperial powers to vanquish
another in the latest, and greatest, example of moronic European blood-letting.
A time of relative peace, increased prosperity, and growing liberty known as Le
Belle Epoch morphed into the one of the worst periods of human history, a half
century marked by two huge spasms of mass death and destruction.
It was tragic enough that Europeans brought such horror upon
themselves. Wilson unforgivably dragged Americans into other people’s war. The
Lusitania played a role in that decision, though much happened in between the
sinking and Washington’s decision to enter the conflict. But many Americans
succumbed to Britain’s deceitful propaganda campaign, highlighted by the
Lusitania and aided and abetted by their own leaders.
Today America’s unofficial war lobby routinely clamors for
Washington to bomb, invade, and occupy other lands. The motives and arguments
are as suspect as those used by the British during World War I. On the
centennial of the Lusitania’s demise Americans should remember the importance of
just saying no. In 1914 any of Europe’s great powers could have stopped the
suicidal march toward war. The U.S. could have refused to join the other
governments as they rushed, lemming-like, into the abyss. Now as then Americans
need a president and Congress that believe war to be a last resort for use only
when necessary to protect this nation, its people, liberties, and future.