Government papers shed light on sinking of ‘Lusitania’

On May 1, 2014 the Financial Times reported that the British government’s Foreign Office had expressed secret misgivings regarding the actual cargo of the Lusitania back in 1982. Because a salvage company was proposing to visit the Lusitania’s underwater site, the British Ministry of Defence warned the divers that the wreck could contain dangerous explosives. Previously classified papers just released by the National Archives at Kew show that in 1982 officials feared that the wreck “could blow up on us” if divers approached it. In an unpublished memo found among these papers, an official of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, North American Department, acknowledged the presence of “a large amount of ammunition in the wreck.”  In another memo, also addressed to the Foreign Office, Jim Coombes warned that disclosure of explosives aboard the Lustania could produce “considerable political fallout,” and might endanger British/American relations.  Also worried about belated law suits, Foreign Office memos assured members of the cabinet that there was no chance that Britain would be held financially liable for the loss of American lives on board the Lusitania. Source: Press Association. 2014. “Government papers shed light on sinking of ‘Lusitania.’” Financial Times May 1, 2014
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Categories: Historical Context and Relevant Resources.

President Wilson’s War Message

  “The present German submarine warfare against commerce is a warfare against mankind… . One of the things that has served to convince us that the Prussian autocracy was not and could never be our friend is that from the very outset of the present war it has filled our unsuspecting communities and even our offices of government with spies and set criminal intrigues everywhere afoot against our national unity of counsel, our peace within and without, our industries and our commerce. Indeed it is now evident that its spies were here even before the war began; and it is unhappily not a matter of conjecture but a fact proved in our courts of justice that the intrigues which have more than once come perilously near to disturbing the peace and dislocating the industries of the country have been carried on at the instigation, with the support, and even under the personal direction of official agents of the Imperial Government accredited to the Government of the United States.” Source: President Wilson’s war message to Congress, Ap. 17, 1917
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Categories: Historical Context.

Story Line
Deadly Secret of the Lusitania

A German submarine sank the RMS Lusitania on May 7, 1915, causing the death of 1,200 civilian passengers. This horrifying crime began the chain of events that dragged the United States into the First World War. In this historical novel, set in New York City in 1915, an insurance investigator and his fiancée have undertaken to assist a stevedore’s widow unjustly deprived of her husband’s life insurance benefit. But the couple then find themselves unexpectedly in possession of the suppressed, secret truth about the Lusitania’s cargo and for this reason under threat from German and British spies, Irish republicans, a rogue socialist, New York’s waterfront criminals and the newly-created Bureau of Investigation. The gripping story unfolds in thrilling scenes that sustain the suspense and finally leads readers into a long-suppressed truth.
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Categories: Historical Context.

Why did the Lusitania sink
in only eighteen minutes?

  There were two explosions, the second much bigger than the first. The British claimed that two German torpedoes hit the Lusitania, but the Germans said that only one was fired. President Woodrow Wilson accepted the British story, but we now know that the German claim was correct. Only one torpedo hit the ship. So what caused the huge second explosion that sank the liner in eighteen minutes?
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Categories: Author Commentary and Historical Context.

German Minister to the
American Ambassador at Berlin
(May 28, 1915)

from: The German Minister for Foreign Affairs to: The American Ambassador at Berlin    May 28, 1915 “The German Government believes that it acts in just self-defense when it seeks to protect the lives of its soldiers by destroying ammunition destined for the enemy with the means of war at its command. The English steamship company must have been aware of the dangers to which passengers on board the Lusitania were exposed under the circumstances. In taking them on board in spite of this the company quite deliberately tried to use the lives of American citizens as protection for the ammunition carried, and violated the clear provisions of American laws which expressly prohibit, and provide punishment for, the carrying of passengers on ships which have explosives on board. The company thereby wantonly caused the death of so many passengers. According to the express report of the submarine commander concerned . . . the rapid sinking of the Lusitania was primarily due to the explosion of the cargo of ammunition caused by the torpedo. Otherwise, in all human probability, the passengers of the Lusitania would have been saved.” (source:www.gutenberg.org)
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Categories: Author Commentary and Historical Context.

William Jennings Bryan

  President Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of State, William Jennings Bryan resigned in protest of the President’s belligerent response to the German government following the sinking of the Lusitania. What did Bryan know? My Dear Mr. President: “It is with sincere regret that I have reached the conclusion that I should return to you the commission of Secretary of State . . . Obedient to your sense of duty and actuated by the highest motives, you have prepared for transmission to the German Government a note in which I cannot join without violating what I deem to be an obligation to my country, and the issue involved is of such moment that to remain a member of the Cabinet would be as unfair to you as it would be to the cause which is nearest my heart; namely, the prevention of war. I, therefore, respectfully tender my resignation, to take effect when the note is sent, unless you prefer an earlier hour. Alike desirous of reaching a peaceful solution of the problems, arising out of the use of submarines against merchantmen, we find ourselves differing irreconcilably as to the methods which should be employed. It falls to your lot to speak officially for the nation; I consider it to be none the less my duty to endeavor as a private citizen to promote the end which you have in view by means which you do not feel at liberty to use. In severing the intimate and pleasant relations which have existed between us during the past two years, permit me to acknowledge the profound satisfaction which it has given me to be associated with you in the important work which has come before the State Department, and to thank you for the courtesies extended. With the heartiest good wishes for your
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Categories: Historical Context and Relevant Resources.

“Knight, Death, and the Devil”

  Albrecht Dürer’s famous engraving of 1513 portrays a fully armed knight, accompanied by his faithful dog, riding through a narrow gorge flanked by a goat-headed devil and the figure of death riding a pale horse. The knight is on a mission of justice. Death holds an hourglass to remind the knight of the shortness and futility of life. The devil promises that the knight will be better rewarded working for the evil doers he now opposes rather than fighting them. The knight understands that his weapons are powerless against the devil and death, and that he must listen to their messages as he rides. Worse, their persuasive messages make excellent sense. Why should he risk annihilation on a mission of justice rather than enjoying the abundant pleasures that the devil offers? There is, after all, the demons remind him, only this short life, and whatever pleasure it can afford. Nothing else is of value. Nonetheless, apparently quite uninterested, the knight moves through the scene ignoring the chattering demons. He seems almost contemptuous of both their mockery and their persuasion, and, as such, is often understood as a symbol of courage. That interpretation is fair but superficial. After all, the knight’s courage requires him to ignore the demons’ realistic and persuasive messages, remaining steadfast in his devotion to the cause of justice. Retaining that devotion is the hardest part of the knight’s vocation! Tempted, the knight resists the temptation. The engraving is a metaphor of the moral life.
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Categories: Historical Context and Media.