… the British Royal Navy’s blockade of the German coast and the failure of the German navy to break the blockade in the Battle of Jutland (1915) in the North Sea complicated the neutral rights of Americans. Germany turned to the submarine to attack British merchant shipping and to fight back against the superior British surface fleet. But the sinking of the luxury liner Lusitania in May 1915 off the Irish coast (where it had been tracked by a German submarine) and the deaths of over 1,000 civilians and crew (including 128 Americans), complicated neutral rights. The Germans claimed the ship was carrying arms and had placed warnings against travel on British vessels in New York.
- Much of the history of warfare is of untold brutality and indiscriminate killing, raping, and thieving by the victors. In Europe of the early modern period, however, war became “civilized.” World War I saw a return to the viciousness of war, and deaths of civilians, such as those aboard the Lusitania, were a shock at the time.
- Do you think we are better off when war is waged in a “civilized” way? Or does the shock of war’s brutality cause us to rethink how we solve conflicts?
- Today, terrorists seek to shock by targeting “innocent” people, often in gruesome ways. What is the difference between atrocities in war, and acts of terror outside of formal wars?
- Knowing, as we do now, that the Lusitania did indeed have munitions aboard, does this change the “rightness” of the American decision to enter on the side of the British? Should we, instead, have entered on the side of the Germans, since the British has used civilians as human shields?
This reading is an excerpt from Certell’s Common Sense American History eBook. Certell offers curriculum materials and eBooks free of charge for students and teachers. Click Here to download the Common Sense American History materials.
Hopps, Harry R. Destroy This Mad Brute propaganda poster. Digital Image. OUPblog. 1917. https://blog.oup.com/2016/12/propaganda-america-wwi/