It did not take long for Germany’s new policy to bring it into conflict with the United States. On March 28, 1915, thirty-eight days after Germany began its submarine campaign, a U-boat sank the British steamer Falaba killing 104 people—including one American. However, the incident, which Wilson privately called an “unquestionable violation of the just rules of international law with regard to unarmed vessels at sea” proved to be only a taste of what was to come.
The real tragedy came shortly after the Imperial German Embassy published a formal notice in the New York Times on May 1, 1915, warning travelers that “in accordance with formal notice ...
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...chant vessels, killing fifteen Americans. For all intents and purposes, Germany was at war with the United States. Wilson, albeit reluctantly, concluded that war could not be avoided. Germany had repeatedly violated the United States rights as a neutral on the high seas. A failure to respond after his previous threats would have undermined his position abroad and opened him to political attack at home.
On April 2, 1917, Wilson appeared before Congress to ask for a declaration of war against Germany. During his thirty-six minute speech, Wilson condemned Germany’s “cruel and unmanly” violation of American rights and branded its “wanton and wholesale destruction of the lives of non-combatants” as “warfare against mankind.” The United States could not “choose the path of submission,” he observed, but instead it must accept the state of war that had “been thrust upon it.”
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