An important New York and American anniversary is almost upon us, the sinking of the Lusitania. When a notice was posted in the New York Times in April 1915, that the British ship the Lusitania would soon sail from New York city for its home port of Liverpool, the German embassy also posted a notice reminding intending passengers that Germany and Britain were at war and the ship could sunk as a result. Undeterred the Lusitania set sail from Pier 54 in New York on May 1 1915. The Lusitania was sunk off the Irish coast on 7 May 1915 as a result of a torpedo from a German U-boat.
Overall 1,195 passengers and crew were lost and 764 saved. Of the U.S. citizens on board 128 out of 139 died. At the time this happened U.S.public opinion was strongly on the side of America remaining neutral in the war between Germany and Britain and President Woodrow Wilson was ensuring everything he said and did supported that neutralist stance. However such a big American loss of life swung public opinion firmly against Germany for the first time.
Nothing happened immediately in terms of war preparation in the nation though Wilson sent 3 letters successively setting out his country’s opposition to any violations of the rights of Americans to sail on or use neutral commercial vessels and demanding an apology and the payment of compensation. The Germans responded by limiting their submarine activity with regard to commercial vessels a little but in Jan 1917 announced authoritively that they would resume full unrestricted submarine activity against all ships. America declared war on Germany on 6 April 1917.
In between 1915 and 1917 there were a number of actions by the British, the Germans and within America which ultimately helped bring about the entry of the U.S.A into W.W.1 but it was the sinking of the Lusitania which signalled that it was going to be impossible to draw up neat and clean rules about rules of naval engagements that would leave the U.S. happily on the sidelines. Also public opinion which shifted because of the tragedy and anti German sentiment increased as further news of their wartime activities and catrophic loss of life on the war front became public.
The above bare bones account of what happened is well short of the complexity of personal/social, military, commercial and political factors which shaped the course and outcome of the war. But spceific events shape a nation’s actions as much as philosophical concerns and this was certainly true in reation to the fate of the Lusitania.