German socialists assail U-Boat war

New York Times
August 21, 1916

In view of the revival of activity of German submarines and reports of the renewal of agitation in German for the unlimited use of the submarine, regardless of the attitude of the United States and other neutral countries, interest attaches to the arrival in New York via Switzerland of copies of an anti-submarine and anti-government leaflet that has been secretly circulated by thousands throughout the German Empire.

This pamphlet was put out by a minority group of the Social Democratic Party of Germany [SPD] that has consistently opposed the war from the very beginning, and which is labeled the “International Group.” In this group are Dr. Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, Dr. Ernst Meyer, editor of the Berliner Vorwärts; Clara Zetkin, editor of Die Gleichheit; Franz Mehring, and Berta Thalheimer. At present Dr. Liebknecht is under sentence of thirty months in prison, and Rosa Luxemburg and Dr. Meyer are both under arrest.

Antiwar German socialists.

The leaflet, which is entitled “Submarine Warfare, ‘International Law,’ and International Murder,” and which started circulating some time ago — when the German press and parliament were clamoring for vengeance upon the British for the alleged murder of the members of a German submarine crew (known as the Baialong case) — reads as follows:


Submarine warfare, “international law,” and international murder

The German government has incurred a sharp rebuff and has humbled itself before the United States. But the provocatory agitation continues, and it is necessary that we clearly understand what may still happen.

Submarine warfare was intended to force England to come whimpering and begging for mercy, and thus bring the war to an end with a glorious victory for German imperialism. Because the German people were hungry, the politicians “holding out” persuaded the nation that the people of England should be forced to be still hungrier.

German U-Boats, 1913-1918.

War started by imperialists

Crazy imperialist agitators in the government and the ruling classes had stupidly provoked the world war, in spite of the fact that this would lead the German masses to run the risk of being starved out. To the crime of international murder they added that of stupidity, for they knew — they must have known — that nowadays a war against France and Russia might last for years, and that if at the same time the neutrality of England were not assured all exports all exports to Germany would be cut off.

And when it really came to that, they began to shout bloody murder and assert that this constituted a violation of international law; that it was a crime against international law to expose a nation of 70,000,000 people to famine.

To this we may say: “In the first place the German government has forfeited every right of appeal to international law.” If [international law] is to be effective, then above all international treaties so solemnly entered upon must be binding. Such treaties guaranteed the neutrality of Belgium. Despite this, Germany attacked Belgium and thus gave British imperialism the excuse to incite the British people to war against Germany. In the second place, the blockade carried on by England, the cutting off of all exports to Germany, is not contrary to the law of nations. On the contrary, the halting of exports to an enemy in order to make the struggle harder, or quite impossible, is a method of warfare that has always been recognized.

The sinking and raising of U-Boat 110.

How submarines failed

In the spring of 1915 our braggarts were cracking jokes. England would not starve us out, but we should starve her out. That was to be done by the submarines. Such talk was foolishness then, and it remains so now. In order to cut off exports to England it would be necessary to watch all the coasts of all her islands, and to do that would require a hundred submarines for every dozen that Germany is able to build. And even then the outcome would be in doubt, for there are means of defense and protection against these boats, too.

The submarines turned loose certainly caused injury. For since English ship owners are just as big of scoundrels as German food extortioners, they raised freight rates, which caused a sharp increase in he cost of necessities. Nevertheless, this is of no use against English and neutral trading ships, and thus the English people were ever talking about cutting off exports to England.

But in the meantime international law was violated. The English government acts like a rascal when it imposes illegal conditions upon the neutrals, steals their tools, and in general interferes with their commerce and profit-making, but the German navy murders the defenseless. International laws says regarding naval warfare that

Warships are attacked like regiments or forts, but trading vessels, on the contrary, are not objects of attack, although they may be captured. Any merchant of an enemy country may be captured and made a good prize, but in the case of a neutral ship this may only be done if it carries contraband. This capture, followed by confiscation, is effected through the trading vessel being halted by a warship and brought into port; only in exceptional cases, when this procedure is impossible, may it be destroyed. Even in the latter case the crew of the warship must make every effort to save the passengers and sailors in the merchant ship. For they are non-combatants, defenseless persons whom it is plain murder to kill.

These principles are so clear, so logical, that they have been accepted ever since so-called civilized nations have made war on the sea. Furthermore, they have been laid down in all international treaties. There is no doubt in this case.

The sinking of the Lusitania.

The Lusitania horror

Now the German government says: “The crew of a U-boat is not in a position to comply with these principles of international law. Only in exceptional cases does a U-boat have a chance to take a ship to port. And neither has it the space to accommodate passengers when it sinks a ship. Besides, since a U-boat can be damaged by a single cannon shot (even a single rifle shot), it exposes itself to being destroyed if it calls upon an enemy ship to surrender.”

What is the consequence of this? Common sense says: “As this is the case, U-boats may very well be used against warships, but never against trading vessels: otherwise they commit murder, in violation of international law.”

The logic of the German government and its satellites, including the converted [i.e., pro-war] Social Democrats, is different: “Despite the fact that the U-boats are not able to carry on warfare according to the rules of international law, they must carry on, they must murder.”

And so it happened. In May 1915, a cry of horror rang through the civilized world. Without any warning, a German U-boat torpedoed and sank the great English passenger ship Lusitania. More than a thousand defenseless beings, among them many hundred women and children, met a grisly death beneath the waves.

There were American citizens among them, and so the government of the United States lodged a protest against the crime. The German government was forced to apologize and to promise indemnity, vowing to abandon its practice of regularly carrying on war in violation of international law.

They want to make war “more human” — to “civilize” it! No unnecessary pain should be caused to anyone, but only the soldiers should be put out of action: international law forbids the refusal of mercy and the killing of prisoners who have surrendered; both friend and foe should make every effort to bring swift aid to the wounded. Reality itself has given the lie to all these pretty precepts. No matter how horrible the means of destruction may be — be it dum-dum bullets or poisonous gas — it is not scorned. Amid this wholesale murder it is impossibly to properly care for the wounded. Leaders of armies issue orders to give no quarter. Cases of shooting unarmed prisoners are multiplying. The prisoners’ lot is terrible, and neither army commanders nor their governments can change this, even if they wanted to, because the masses of men in question run into the millions.

With cries of “revenge for the Baralong!”, in favor of “unrestricted submarine warfare,” attempts were made to lash the masses, who suffer terribly from the conflict, into fresh passion for the war. Now the government has called off the pack, because it shrinks from war with the United States (which would seal Germany’s fate). But don’t let us deceive ourselves. At the next opportunity the provocatory agitation will be renewed, because they need popular mania for the war in order to continue its prosecution.

Continue to where? To the final victory of Germany — or so they say.

But it has already become apparent to all intelligent persons that this war can no longer be decided by force of arms. Even if rivers of blood still flow, if the millions of dead and crippled who have fallen victim so far are doubled and tripled, despite all that no “decisive results” can be obtained. It will go on like at Verdun, where more than 100,000 men were driven to death and destruction in order to take a couple unimportant positions. If this madness continues, only by bleeding of nations white will there be an end to this slaughter.

The statement goes on to say that the war must be brought to an end by the will of the proletarian masses, and that now is the time to put an end to it. The pamphlet closes with the appeal:
“Rouse yourselves! Put an end to this murder by waging revolutionary class struggle, under the banner of international socialism.”

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