TO THOSE who regarded strict neutrality as an effective means of keeping the United States out of war I addressed an article in FOREIGN AFFAIRS for April 1934, entitled "Troubles of a Neutral." In it I tried to point out that maintenance of neutrality was no simple or easy matter; and that it must be supplemented by further legislation, and by the concession of alleged rights hitherto claimed by us, if we expected to avoid the frictions and controversies with belligerents which, judging from our experience in the World War, would inevitably occur in a future war. I pointed out twelve distinct subjects of legislation, which, based on my official experience from 1914 to 1917, I deemed necessary for the more effective preservation of our neutral status as a nation; and I stated that "it is better that our citizens should run the risk of commercial loss than that the country should be involved in a war to protect their alleged commercial rights. . . . Our Government may very properly say, in effect, to its citizens during the war: you engage in such trade at your own risk." Since 1934, the widespread and enhanced interest in the subject has resulted in the recent Joint Resolution of August 31, 1935, in which five of the subjects to which I called attention in my article have been more or less adequately dealt with.

On October 5, 1935, the President of the United States, acting under this Joint Resolution, after proclaiming the existence of a state of war between Ethiopia and Italy, established an embargo on arms, ammunition, and implements of war, and notified American citizens that they travelled on any vessel of a belligerent nation at their own risk. In addition, he issued a notable statement, announcing a new policy for the better safeguarding of our neutrality, in which he said: "In these specific circumstances, I desire it to be understood that any of our people who voluntarily engage in transactions of any character with either of the belligerents do so at their own risk." The President took this step, not under any statutory authorization or direction, but in pursuance of one of his Executive functions -- namely, that of deciding whether, through the State Department, he will or will not present claims of American citizens against foreign nations. His policy is based on a firm principle, to wit, that the right of the nation to keep out of war is greater than the right of a citizen to engage in trade which might implicate the nation in war. It recognizes that new conditions of warfare have made necessary a new attitude towards actions of our citizens. The end sought is to keep the nation rather than the individual out of trouble.

Criticism of this policy has taken several forms. First, exporters and others have claimed that it would destroy trade with a belligerent. But the President's statement does not ban or abolish trade in contraband or otherwise; it simply informs traders that if they wish to seek profits out of a war, they may do so, but that in doing so they need not expect their Government to support them and to involve itself in dangerous international controversy in defense of their trade profits. As Professor James Brown Scott has recently well phrased it: "The President has recognized that insistence upon the so-called neutral right to make profit from other peoples' wars, results in other peoples' wars becoming our wars." Moreover, it is nonsense to contend that traders will not take the risk. In any war in which great nations are parties, the profits will always be so large that Americans will indulge in risky speculation. In the World War, many instances were known of a single voyage to Scandinavian countries in which the entire costs of ship and cargo were repaid out of profits.

Another criticism is that the policy abandons the old American doctrine of "Freedom of the Seas." This is a result of the looseness with which historical phrases and political shibboleths are used in the press, on the platform, and in the halls of Congress. Of course, "Freedom of the Seas," never at any time in our history meant that Americans had the right to ship contraband, or that contraband so shipped to or for a belligerent nation should be safe from capture and confiscation. In recent years, the American doctrine has been at least twice officially phrased and declared -- once by President McKinley in his Message of December 5, 1898, and once by Congress by the Joint Resolution of April 28, 1904. In each case, it was stated to be "the principle of the exemption of all private property at sea, not contraband of war, from capture or destruction by belligerent powers." Secretary of State Root in his instructions to the United States delegates to the Hague Peace Conference, May 31, 1907, stated that "this resolution is an expression of the view taken by the United States during its entire history," and he instructed the delegates to advocate the following proposition: "The private property of all citizens or subjects of the signatory powers, with the exception of contraband of war, shall be exempt from capture or seizure on the high seas, or elsewhere by the armed vessels or by the military forces of any of the said signatory powers. . . ." And Secretary Root continued by pointing out that it was important that agreement should be reached as to what constituted contraband; for if the existing tendency to enlarge contraband lists continued, such action together with the application of the doctrine of continuous voyage would result in depriving any rule regarding property on the high seas of its effect to a large extent.

It will thus be seen that the United States never claimed that contraband goods should be exempt from capture on the high seas. It has always recognized that its doctrine of "Freedom of the Seas" had no reference to contraband. It has always sought to restrict extension of contraband lists by belligerent powers, but its efforts during the World War were completely unsuccessful. Today, the lists of articles considered contraband by the nations engaged in that war remain just where they were at the end of that conflict. Hence, when practically everything is now contraband, "Freedom of the Seas" as an American principle has no application whatever; and the President's policy constitutes no abandonment of it.

A third criticism of the President's policy represents it as a surrender of the rights of American citizens. This raises the whole question whether a citizen has a right for the sake of trade to endanger his own country. Has a citizen, by supplying necessaries to a belligerent, the right to prolong a war, the early termination of which is for the interests of his own country and of the world? Certainly he has no legal right to engage in trade in contraband; and he has no moral right to expect the nation to dispute the belligerent definition of contraband if such dispute would tend to engage the nation in a war. Secretary Root in 1907 prophetically pointed out that: "Resistance to this tendency towards the expansion of the list of contraband ought not to be left to the neutrals affected by it at the very moment when war exists, because that is the process by which neutrals become themselves involved in war." In other words, an American citizen has the right to risk his own life and property but not the right to risk the lives and property of his fellow-Americans by involving them in international conflict. Just as this country has at last come to recognize that American blood must not be shed simply to protect investments made and risks incurred by our citizens in foreign countries for the sake of enhanced profits, so it now announces that those citizens who seek to make profit out of a war or out of a belligerent engaged in war must do so on their own responsibility.

Fourth, it is charged that the President's policy makes no discrimination between transactions with an aggressor belligerent and transactions with an innocent party in the war, and that thus it may favor an aggressor and penalize its opponent. Curiously, this criticism has come in many instances from newspapers and politicians who have vigorously opposed the entrance of the United States into the League of Nations. Having refused to allow this country to become a member of the League, they now complain that the President's policy may interfere with the League's action against an aggressor. Under the recent neutrality law, the President is obliged to declare the embargo against both belligerents, and he clearly would not be warranted in any Executive action which, in presenting claims of our citizens, would discriminate between belligerents. If action is desired against an aggressor nation alone, it can be satisfactorily taken only after entrance by the United States into the League and after the United States shall thus have had an opportunity of participating in the decision fixing the status of an aggressor and determining on the actions to be collectively taken by members of the League against an aggressor. A policy which the United States might adopt as a member of a collective body of nations, and in the formulation of which it had had a part from the outset, is not necessarily the policy which it would be advisable for it to adopt when acting independently of other nations and subject to animosity or attack from a belligerent directed at it in lonesome isolation. On the other hand, the President's policy will not interfere with the enforcement of sanctions by the League of Nations against an aggressor; for the risk which an American must assume includes all possibilities of seizure of his goods growing out of engaging in transactions of any character with a belligerent. It would, therefore, seem clearly to include the risk of seizure and confiscation not only by the opposing belligerent but also by any nation enforcing a sanction imposed by the League. Americans trading with a belligerent at their own risk can hardly expect the President to present claims for seizure by a party engaged in a war or by a party engaged under a treaty in trying to stop the war.

Unquestionably, some perplexing problems may be presented in the enforcement of the President's policy in the case of indirect American trade with a belligerent, i.e., in the case of shipment of goods to a neutral country for transhipment to the belligerent. The phrase "transactions of any character" doubtless includes indirect as well as direct trade. Difficulties, however, will occur in determining whether particular shipments to a neutral country are or are not designed for transportation and delivery to the belligerent; and as Professor Jessup has recently said: "It should be realized that this throws upon the neutral government of the United States the difficult task of discovering the cases of continuous voyage and ultimate destination." Complications with League nations enforcing sanctions are particularly likely to arise in this respect. But it should be especially noted that it will not be the task of the United States alone to find a practical solution of the problem presented by this indirect trade. For when an embargo is declared as a sanction by League members, they also will meet with difficulty in enforcing it against goods shipped to a non-member country for transhipment to the belligerent; since proof as to intention to reship will not be easy to obtain or to establish. The same difficulty of proof will confront the United States in enforcing its own embargo on arms and munitions, if shipment of such articles shall be made, not to the belligerent country directly, but via a neutral country. In fact, each country, whether League member or the United States, in the application of its embargo will be obliged to make, on the facts available to it, the same decisions as to ultimate destination of shipments, which Great Britain and France were continually making throughout the World War as to neutral shipments; and the decisions so made will again be sources of irritation to, and controversy with, shippers affected. And it is highly probable that some method must be devised which will restrict trade to neutral countries to the prewar quota of imports, in order to avoid disputes as to ultimate destination.

Another criticism directed at the embargo section of the neutrality law is that in case of a war between a major and a minor power, or between two powers only one of which is geographically situated so as to be able to receive imports readily, an embargo works in favor of the one power and against the other. But it would work similarly unequally in case no embargo at all was declared. In fact, as is well known, the situation of Germany and Austria in the World War was such that the unrestricted shipment of arms by American citizens actually worked only in favor of the Allies. Had an embargo been declared in 1914, while the Central Powers would not have benefitted by the reception of arms, nevertheless, the opposing belligerents would also not have benefitted. Therefore, an embargo on arms under the present neutrality law at least avoids the extension of actual aid to either the stronger or the weaker belligerent. To that extent certainly the stronger belligerent suffers greater loss than it would, were there no embargo at all.

In spite of all these criticisms and unsolved questions, the President's policy sets the nation on a new path. It does not pretend to solve the whole question of contraband and belligerent trade. But it will at least aid this country in avoiding some dangerous complications into which insistence on the old alleged neutral rights of trade drove us in the World War. It does not guarantee or insure us against involvement in war; but it is one decided step in the contrary direction.

There still remains, however, the necessity for further neutrality legislation by Congress on the subjects of restriction of loans and credits; control of a belligerent's action in this country in calling out and collecting its reservists; control of radio on foreign ships in our ports; and loss of citizenship for Americans enlisting in a foreign army. There are also other amendments to the present neutrality law which appear to be of major importance and which I desire to discuss in detail.

President Roosevelt's policy of trade at the risk of the trader, is, of course, merely an Executive policy, personal to the present incumbent; it has not the effect of a statute, enforceable until repealed. Legislation will be required, therefore, to put it into permanent effect. The policy, as stated above, would seem fairly to secure the United States against complications with belligerents arising out of trade by Americans. But to supplement this policy, an extension of the scope of the embargo contained in the recent neutrality law is desirable, both for the sake of providing a diplomatic instrument in the hands of the Executive, and for the sake of attempting to shorten a war by absolutely cutting off trade in articles fully as vital to the waging of war as are the "arms, ammunition or implements of war" included in the present very limited embargo. The term "arms and ammunition" has a well-settled technical meaning; and neither it nor "implements of war" comprises raw materials. The pedigree of the term, "implements of war," is found in several treaties signed by the United States -- the Jay Treaty of 1794 with Great Britain, the Treaty of 1871 with Italy, and the Geneva Arms Traffic Convention of June 17, 1925 (ratified in 1934). In each of these treaties it is certain that the term was not to include raw materials.[i] Moreover, in the Senate debates on August 21 and 24, 1935, Senator Pittman, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, in charge of the bill, stated specifically that the measure did not apply to supplies or to foodstuffs and that this was the opinion of the Committee, and that the Senate in ratifying the Arms Traffic Convention had before it the definition of the term. Accordingly, it is desirable that the word "munitions" should be substituted, or at least added. This term (as used in the Joint Resolution of March 14, 1912, relative to Mexico) has been construed in opinions by Attorney General Wickersham in 1912 (adopted also by Attorneys General McReynolds and Gregory in 1913 and 1915); and as so interpreted it was held to include "parts used for the repair and manufacture of such arms and raw material employed in the manufacture of such ammunition." The President should also be authorized to add to the embargo list certain specific articles peculiarly necessary for war, such as have been designated recently by the League of Nations as "key materials" -- rubber, tin, nickel, cromium, tungsten, vanadium, aluminum, scrap iron.[ii] In addition, the President ought to be given a discretionary power to embargo other key war materials like oil, steel, copper, potash, nitrates and chemicals. (It would probably be unwise to attempt to embargo foodstuffs and cotton, owing to domestic conditions here.) The President should also be granted power to cut down shipments to belligerents, and to neutral countries suspected of transhipping to belligerents, to the average amounts of pre-war export to those countries. This might be difficult of administration, but the United States practically adopted such a policy after it became a party to the World War.

Not all of these powers would necessarily be exercised by a President; but he should have an authority broad and elastic enough to deal as they arise with situations which cannot be clearly anticipated in detail by any Congress. For instance, under some conditions the President should not be forced to put certain articles on the embargo list unless similar action were taken by other exporting nations; under other conditions, an embargo may be highly desirable, regardless of the action of other nations; and in still other cases, the imposition of any embargo might conflict with existing treaty obligations of the United States. Moreover, choice as to articles to be embargoed might be largely affected by the difficulty of enforcement and by the location of the particular nations engaged in the war. The extent to which an embargo would destroy American trade would also enter into consideration, although loss of trade to some extent, even to a considerable extent, is inevitable if we desire to keep out of trouble. It is the price we must pay for our neutrality -- a price immeasurably less than the cost of a war.

While the actual exercise of Presidential authority to impose an embargo has a tendency to keep us out of dangerous international controversy only to the extent that it keeps the embargoed shipments from possible seizure by a belligerent, nevertheless an embargo policy is desirable for two other important effects which it may have. In the first place, the mere possession of the authority to embargo would be, in itself, a valuable aid in keeping out of war. For it would always constitute a forcible diplomatic weapon for the purpose of obtaining from belligerents fairer treatment for neutral lives and property, in the direction of reduction of contraband lists, agreements for requisition instead of confiscation of contraband, or similar modification of harsh war measures. To obtain such agreements would be the most satisfactory way to deal with the problems of trade and contraband and would result in the least destruction of our commerce. It ought to be possible at the outset of a war to negotiate agreements, which should at least provide that the United States would relinquish any intention of challenging the right claimed by a belligerent to restrict the flow of neutral commerce through neutral ports, and that in return the belligerent would relinquish the right claimed to confiscate cargoes and would instead requisition them and make compensation to shippers for the goods and to shipowners for costs of detention.

In the second place, there is an important phase of an embargo policy which should be especially kept in mind in any discussion as to the articles which an embargo list should embrace. It is this. The possibility of preserving the United States from being involved in a war depends not alone on the maintenance of neutrality and on concessions of alleged rights of trade, but also on the length of the war. It is to our vital interest as a nation that a war should be cut short as early as possible. Prolongation of a war enhances the chance of controversies between belligerents and neutrals. It was this benefit of a restrictive policy that particularly appealed to some of our political leaders at the outset of the World War. Thus, Secretary of State Bryan wrote to President Wilson, as early as August 10, 1914, that "our refusal to loan to any belligerent would naturally tend to hasten a conclusion of the war;" and Senator Stone, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, wrote to Secretary Bryan, January 8, 1915, that sales of munitions should be condemned because "such sales prolong the war." It is highly probable that, had the United States pursued this policy in 1914 and 1915, the World War would have terminated earlier. Therefore, when we now discuss the addition of "key war materials" or other articles to the embargo list, we should do it from this standpoint, and not (as many advocates of the League of Nations seem to think) from a mere desire to aid the League in enforcing sanctions, desirable as that aid might be in some circumstances. Strong reasons for prohibiting our citizens from trading in "key war materials" are, first, the added protection it may give us against being drawn into the war; and second, the effective manner in which it will promote the shortening of the war and the lessening of abnormal and disastrous social and economic conditions which a prolonged war produces for belligerents and neutrals alike.

Unquestionably, the present form of the embargo section of the neutrality law should be changed so as to give to the President full discretion as to whether, and when, and on what articles, he will declare an embargo. To this extent, it should be permissive; but it should be mandatory, if and when proclaimed, as against both belligerents at the time of its proclamation. Further, the President should have power to proclaim an embargo not only "upon the outbreak or during the progress of war," but also upon the occurrence of acts of war or of force or hostile invasion; for, as in the case of Manchuria, there may be acts which are not technically acknowledged to constitute a war in its legal sense. And the President ought to be authorized to proclaim an embargo in case of a threat to use force or of hostile action likely to lead to war; he should not be required to wait until the actual outbreak of war, but should have the power to utilize the preventive effects of an embargo.

In considering an embargo policy to be embodied in permanent legislation, Congress must not center all its attention on the rather unusual conditions of the present war. The legislation must be sufficiently flexible and inclusive to meet other conditions. While objection may possibly be raised that an Executive might, in adding to or excepting from the embargo list, so act as to discriminate between the belligerents, to the disadvantage of the United States, this is not an objection which should be given great weight; for no Executive, responsive to the demand of this country to keep out of war, is likely to utilize an embargo for the contrary purpose. As a substitute for embargoes, some persons have advocated a "cash and carry" policy, under which belligerents would take title to goods here and transport them in their own ships. Such a policy would probably be insupportable, since it would be destructive not only of our trade but also of our merchant marine (unless our Government should be prepared to pay our shipowners a subsidy for the loss of their carry trade); and under present international financial conditions it would probably be impracticable of operation; moreover, this policy does not profess to deal in any way with sales by us to neutrals, and such sales are the very ones most likely to involve us in difficulties.

One other major problem which confronted the United States from 1914 to 1917 should now be settled by legislation -- that of the armed merchantman.

The coexistence of three doctrines of international law entirely incompatible with each other under modern conditions of warfare produced serious complications for all neutrals. The first of these doctrines involved the right of a merchant ship, belligerent or neutral, not to be attacked without warning -- a well-settled rule of law, but established under old conditions of sea-fighting and before the advent of torpedoes and submarines. The second doctrine involved the duty of a neutral nation to use due diligence to prevent the equipping and departure from its ports of any belligerent vessel which it had reasonable ground to believe was intended to cruise or carry on war against a power with which the neutral was at peace. This rule of law, long agreed to, was definitely formulated in the Treaty of Washington of 1871; but it also was established with no prophetic conception of submarine or airplane warfare or of the type of vessel or equipment which might be used against such new instruments of war.

The third doctrine involved the right of a merchantman of a belligerent to carry armament for defensive purposes, without taking on the character of a war vessel. This was a rule finally definitely established in the early part of the nineteenth century, but which in recent years had been considered obsolete. The arming of merchant vessels at the time of the War of the Revolution and the War of 1812 was chiefly resorted to as a defense against privateers, wooden war frigates or cruisers of substantially the same type of craft as the merchant marine, and sometimes against pirates and slave traders. The advent of conditions in maritime warfare under which merchant vessels would have no successful chance to defend themselves against heavily-armed and armored cruisers, and the abolition of privateering by the Declaration of Paris of 1856, caused the practice to be lost sight of. But after the Russo-Japanese War of 1904, when nations began to grant subventions to shipbuilders on condition that merchant vessels be constructed so as to be capable of conversion into auxiliary cruisers in case of war, and in view of the adoption by some nations (Germany and others) of the theory of the legal right to convert merchantmen into war vessels on the high seas or in neutral ports, a renewed arming of merchantmen began; and with it came a consequent revival of the old international law applicable to them. The initial movement was made by Winston Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty in a speech in the House of Commons, March 26, 1913. He announced that because of Germany's support of the right to convert, Great Britain would take measures to arm her merchantmen. On June 11, 1913, he announced that they were not to be equipped for attack but were to be serviceable only "to defend themselves against the attack of other vessels of their own standing." On March 17, 1914, he stated that by the end of 1914-15, seventy ships would have been armed with 4.7 inch guns "solely for defensive purposes . . . not allowed to fight with any ships of war. . . . They are, however, thoroughly capable of self-defense against an enemy's armed merchantmen." It is a singular thing that apparently this new policy of the British Navy was not adopted to meet the submarine problem at all. Nothing is more curious than the ignoring of that problem in the years before the World War -- and this in spite of the fact that as early as 1906 Germany took up construction of submarines, and that in 1908 the application of the Diesel engine to submarines made this type of ship a potentiality in any navy.

It was the relation of the submarine, however, to the question of the armed merchantmen, and to the other two doctrines of international law, above mentioned, which plunged the United States into serious complication and controversy at the very opening of the war. For the United States as a neutral was obliged to decide whether an English, French, or Italian merchantman, which happened to be in its ports and to leave carrying an armament, was armed for offensive or defensive purposes; and this decision had to be made in the face of the fact that Germany claimed that any merchant ship of her enemies carrying armament of any kind was, so far as a submarine was concerned, armed for offense.

The gradual implication of this country occurred as follows. On August 4 and 9, 1914, the British Embassy in Washington notified the State Department that, since Germany upheld the policy of converting merchant vessels into armed ships on the high seas, Great Britain would hold the United States responsible for any damages caused by German merchantmen "having been equipped at, or departing from United States ports." At the same time, it claimed the right of British armed merchant ships to enter United States ports and to sail therefrom armed with guns purely for defensive purposes, since Great Britain did not follow the German doctrine and practise of conversion. Secretary Bryan replied, August 19, denying that the German practise was contrary to international law, and refusing to accept the British contention that the United States was "bound to assume the attitude of an insurer" against damages caused by a German merchant ship leaving our ports. On August 25, 1914, Sir Cecil Spring-Rice, the British Ambassador, wrote that British merchant ships were armed solely for the purpose of defense, and he gave assurance that they "will never fire unless first fired upon, and that they will never under any circumstances attack any vessel." A few days later, two British ships, the Adriatic armed with four guns, and the Merrion armed with six guns, entered our ports. As a precaution, our Government demanded that they land the guns before sailing out. The British Embassy, while maintaining that we had no right to make this order, authorized the landing of the guns of the Merrion, the other ship having already sailed.

On September 19, 1914, the State Department issued a circular setting forth our attitude as to the status of armed merchant vessels and the physical basis for determination of offensive or defensive armament. This circular elicited from the German Government, on October 15, 1914, a protest against our allowing the admission or departure of any armed merchant ships whatever and stating that "the distinction between the defensive and offensive is irrelevant. The destination of a ship for use of any kind in war is conclusive, and restrictions as to the extent of armament affords no guarantee that ships armed for defensive purposes only will not be used for offensive purposes under certain circumstances." On November 7 the State Department replied, denying the accuracy of the German view of the law, but stating that it had expressed to Great Britain a "disapprobation of a practice which compelled it to pass upon a vessel's intended use" and that as a consequence no British armed merchant ship had visited us since September 10.

In spite of our "disapprobation" of the practise, the Cunard liners Orduna and Transylvania entered our ports in March 1915, each with two 4.7 inch guns mounted aft. They were allowed to depart "on condition that the armament be used for defensive purposes only." In May, the British steamship Asian, arriving at New Orleans with four unmounted guns, caused further correspondence with Spring-Rice, and request was made that the guns be removed. In September, 1915, the Waimana arrived at Norfolk, having mounted a 4.7 inch gun. Refusal of the British Government to order this gun to be taken off resulted in a note from Secretary Lansing to Spring-Rice, that the Waimana would not be cleared "until your Government has given formal assurance that her armament will be used only for defensive purposes, or unless the armament is landed." The Department had learned, wrote Lansing, that "British merchant vessels which carry arms have used them for offensive purposes in attacks upon submarines," and that it seemed clear "that British merchantmen have not always used their armament for defensive purposes only, and that they may, upon occasions, use any guns which they have mounted in unprovoked attack." This note presented the situation in which the new use of submarines in the war had involved the old international law as to defensively armed merchantmen. As early as February 1915, Germany had claimed that its submarines could not comply with international law doctrines as to attack without warning because of the conduct of British ships in ramming or attacking a submarine on sight; it contended that submarines were obliged to attack in this manner and submerged, because of the danger of being fired upon and attacked if they emerged on the surface. Great Britain, on the other hand, had complained that her merchant ships must be armed because of the conduct of German submarines in attacking without notice. Which policy was cause and which was effect presented a question incapable of solution. It was the old problem of the priority of the chicken or the egg. The one thing which was certain was that the two doctrines of international law as to the right of merchant ships to be armed and the right of such ships to be immune from unwarned attack could not exist coincidently. The inevitable clash between these two doctrines of law was seen most clearly by neutral nations, to whom they presented grave danger of involvement in the war.

It was on this account that Secretary Lansing, fully conscious that international law could not be changed during a war by either belligerent or by the United States as a neutral, suggested to the Allied powers his famous modus vivendi in a note dated January 18, 1916. What he proposed was that as a temporary compromise the one side should relinquish its right to arm its merchant vessels, and the other in return should relinquish its right to attack without warning. He set forth the situation, with succinct clarity, as follows:

This right seems to have been predicated on the superior defensive strength of ships of war, and the limitation of armament to have been dependent on the fact that it could not be used effectively in offense against enemy naval vessels, while it could defend the merchantman against the generally inferior armament of piratical ships and privateers. The use of the submarine, however, has changed these relations. Comparison of the defensive strength of a cruiser and a submarine shows that the latter, relying for protection on its power to submerge, is almost defenseless in point of construction. Even a merchant ship carrying a small caliber gun would be able to use it effectively for offense against a submarine. . . . Consequently, the placing of guns on merchantmen at the present day of submarine warfare can be explained only on the ground of a purpose to render merchantmen superior in force to submarines and to prevent warning and visit and search by them. Any armament, therefore, on a merchant vessel would seem to have the character of an offensive armament. . . . If a submarine is required to stop and search a merchant vessel on the high seas and, in case it is found that she is of enemy character and that conditions necessitate her destruction, to remove to a place of safety all persons on board, it would not seem just or reasonable that the submarine should be compelled, while complying with these requirements, to expose itself to almost certain destruction by the guns on board the merchant vessel.

The result of this effort by a neutral statesman was that which always befalls the innocent bystander. The Allied Powers declined, in decidedly tart language, to accede to the humane suggestion by the Secretary. And accordingly on February 16, 1916, Lansing withdrew his suggestion and stated that the United States would "cease its efforts to have the modus vivendi accepted and will rely upon the present established rule of international law that merchant ships are entitled to armament for defensive purposes only; and that nevertheless the Government feels free to change its regulations in regard to the evidence as to armament on merchant vessels arriving in American ports which would indicate that it was defensive only." Accordingly on March 25, 1916, the State Department issued a new Memorandum as to the presumptions relative to the status of merchantmen -- a document which, by the way, has been strongly criticised by Professor Charles Cheney Hyde in his book on International Law. Meanwhile, on July 10, 1915, December 30, 1915 and February 11, 1916, our Government had received from the German Government, memoranda presenting clear evidence, from official confidential instructions issued in 1915 by the British Admiralty and found in captured British ships, to the effect that armed merchantmen were not to await attack or definite hostile act such as firing of gun or torpedo from submarines but were to open fire if it appeared that the submarine was in pursuit. Another secret order instructed masters that "if a submarine comes up suddenly close ahead of you with obvious hostile intention, steer straight for her at your utmost speed, altering course as necessary to keep her ahead;" and evidence was presented in other notes by Germany of attempts by British merchantmen (sometimes under a neutral flag) to ram submarines, thus supporting the German contention that it was impossible for submarines to comply with the old law of the sea as to attack without warning, by reason of the danger of being fired upon or rammed.[iii]

While the evidence appeared to support the German claims as to the facts in the case of British ships, they did not support the German legal contentions as to neutral ships; for if war conditions had so changed as to make it impossible to use submarines in compliance with international law, then their use must be discontinued or changed so as to conform to the law, in case neutrals were affected. The United States could not admit the right of Germany alone to change international law during the progress of the war.

The whole situation, however, clearly proved that the old doctrine of armed merchantmen was unsuited to modern conditions. It put a grievous burden on neutrals in making a decision as to whether a vessel's armament in its ports was offensive or defensive -- a decision which, if later appearing to be incorrect, might subject the neutral to heavy damages. And -- what was more important -- the existence of the doctrine and its acceptance by neutrals directly encouraged the German system of submarine attack without warning.

It is to be noted that the Netherlands throughout the war maintained the right to exclude from its ports armed merchant vessels. This is the policy which clearly the United States should now adopt. The neutrality law should be amended by providing that the President shall have authority to refuse entrance, or to order clearance, of all merchant vessels of a belligerent containing armament or preparations for armament, or else to treat them as vessels of war.

With the above amendments, the neutrality law ought to constitute a vastly improved defense to the maintenance of our position as a neutral nation. Nevertheless, the fact must be continually reiterated to those who rely on such legislation, even of the most perfect and rigid type, that it is no absolute guarantee against our being dragged into war; for conditions may arise not covered by the present or suggested statutes or by the President's declaration of October 5. Take the case of an American citizen travelling or serving as a member of the crew on an American or neutral ship not engaged in any transaction whatever with a belligerent, who loses his life as the result of a belligerent attack by submarine or airplane -- it would be difficult, and certainly almost impossible if repetitions of such an incident occurred, to prevent this country from regarding such attacks and loss of life as a casus belli. Indeed, a question may well arise whether an American serving as a member of the crew of a vessel trading with a belligerent is, himself, voluntarily "engaging in a transaction of any kind" with a belligerent.

And so we are brought once more to the inevitable conclusion that the only sure way to keep out of war is to help in preventing the occurrence of a war. Moreover, the problem before the United States is not quite so simple as it appeared to some two years ago. The question is now, not merely whether we shall join or whether we shall continue to keep out of the League of Nations. It is not merely whether we shall refuse to aid the League in its attempt to avert a war. Now we are confronted with the question whether we will actually oppose and injure the League's efforts, by refusing to the President power to help shorten a war. That is a very grave question, which, in the consideration of amendments to the neutrality law, each of us ought to ponder with deep concern. There are very many Americans who, while possibly not yet prepared to advocate our entry into the League, are nevertheless not desirous to see the United States actually obstruct any efforts of the League to maintain peace. Though we may not yet be ready to join in collective action to prevent a war, should we not now be ready at least to frame legislation so as to enable the President, without implicating this country, to aid in preventing the continuance or the spread of a war?

Is it not possible that Americans who opposed the League as an ineffective body to promote peace, may, without inconsistency, be willing to assist the League in an actual, effective move to curb a war, if such assistance can be rendered by the adoption of an American policy which, while not discriminating between belligerents, will tend to reduce the supply of sinews of war to both, and hence to shorten a war? World conditions have greatly changed since 1920, indeed since 1934. Events are often stronger than words. Events may convince where arguments have failed to persuade.

[i] The Jay Treaty of 1794, in defining "contraband," stated that "under the said denomination shall be comprised all arms and implements serving for the purposes of war by land or sea, such as cannon, muskets . . . and generally all other implements of war," and then followed the phrase, "as also timber for shipbuilding, tar or rozin, copper in sheets, sails, hemp, and cordade. . . ." -- thus showing that the latter raw materials were classed as additional to "implements of war." In the Arms Traffic Convention of June 17, 1925, the term "arms, ammunition, and implements of war" was specifically defined as comprising a limited and definite number of articles, but not including in the definition raw materials. In the Treaty with Italy of February 26, 1871, the phrase is used in defining contraband as follows: "(2) Infantry Belts, implements of war and defensive weapons, clothes cut or made up in military form and for a military use."

[ii] Most of the "key materials," specified above (except scrap iron) are not produced in the United States or are produced in quantities insufficient for our own consumption; they are articles which we import rather than export; and since the United States imports them from countries which are members of the League, there would be, at the present time, little likelihood of imports for the purpose of transhipment to the belligerents. Consequently, in the present war, a failure by the United States to embargo them would not interfere with enforcement by the League of its own embargoes. But in future wars there might easily be instances when efforts would be made to import from non-sanctioning nations, members of the League, for transhipment to belligerents, and hence the power to embargo even this type of "key material" should be granted to the President.

[iii] Professor Thomas A. Bailey, in a masterly article on "The Sinking of the Lusitania" in the American Historical Review (October 1935) XLI, 54-73, states: "The question of ramming, as well as that of armament, has an important bearing on the Lusitania case."

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  • CHARLES WARREN, Assistant Attorney-General of the United States, 1914-1918; author of "The Supreme Court in United States History," "The Making of the Constitution," and other works
  • More By Charles Warren