6th April,1917: America declares war on Germany

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On 6th April, 1917, the US Congress declared war on Germany in response to a request by President Woodrow Wilson. The main cause of war was Germany's unrestricted submarine warfare, which had sunk several American vessels. Also the British had published the Zimmerman Telegram, in which Germany promised aid to Mexico in the event of war between the latter country and America.

Much of the opposition to American involvement in the war came from German-and Irish-Americans. Some German-Americans retained a loyalty to their home country while the Irish-Americans opposed any policy which would give aid to Britain. Some Irish-Americans took part in German intelligence efforts to sabotage supply shipments to Britain.

By 1917 the war efforts of the Entente countries were faltering badly. In March 1917 the Russian Tsar was forced to abdicate. The morale of the French Army was very shaky following the horrendous losses of the previous year. The British Army also suffered enormous losses but Britain's main problem was lack of money and credit to buy war supplies.

The entry of America, with its huge manpower and enormous industrial capacity, swung the balance of power back to the Entente countries. So it can be argued 6th April, 1917, was one of the most important historical dates of the 20th Century.

[video=youtube;x_FAOk4uMp8]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_FAOk4uMp8[/video]

[video=youtube;jJWP-SqEaq4]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJWP-SqEaq4[/video]
 


Talk Back

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Once the USA declared war on Germany, Ireland's ally (1916 Proclamation) Germany was cut loose. Ireland needed American support for the 32 country Irish Republic more than German support.
 

owedtojoy

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On 6th April, 1917, the US Congress declared war on Germany in response to a request by President Woodrow Wilson. The main cause of war was Germany's unrestricted submarine warfare, which had sunk several American vessels. Also the British had published the Zimmerman Telegram, in which Germany promised aid to Mexico in the event of war between the latter country and America.

Much of the opposition to American involvement in the war came from German-and Irish-Americans. Some German-Americans retained a loyalty to their home country while the Irish-Americans opposed any policy which would give aid to Britain. Some Irish-Americans took part in German intelligence efforts to sabotage supply shipments to Britain.

By 1917 the war efforts of the Entente countries were faltering badly. In March 1917 the Russian Tsar was forced to abdicate. The morale of the French Army was very shaky following the horrendous losses of the previous year. The British Army also suffered enormous losses but Britain's main problem was lack of money and credit to buy war supplies.

The entry of America, with its huge manpower and enormous industrial capacity, swung the balance of power back to the Entente countries. So it can be argued 6th April, 1917, was one of the most important historical dates of the 20th Century.

[video=youtube;x_FAOk4uMp8]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_FAOk4uMp8[/video]

[video=youtube;jJWP-SqEaq4]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJWP-SqEaq4[/video]
The odd thing was that it was the Germans themselves who precipitated the war entry.

They had first turned American opinion against them by atrocities like the burning of Leuven in Belgium (1914), and the sinking of the Lusitania, and the use of poison gas.

By 1916, neither side was in good shape. Germany was starving, thinks to the British naval blockade, and was under a military dictatorship run by the two Generals Ludendorff and Hindenburg. It was the generals who demanded (and got) unrestricted submarine warfare, and the dismissal of the civilian Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg.

It was their desperation that led to the free passage of Lenin to Russia from Switzerland across Germany to Sweden, in the hope that he could destabilise Russia even further. The Liberals in power at that time were intent on continuing the war. As a strategem, it succeeded, but that was not of much comfort to the Germans as they confronted Bolshevik Russia later.

A clumsy attempt by Germany to distract the US by fomenting a Mexican-American war was uncovered by British Naval Intelligence and passed on to the Americans. The deciphering of the Zimmerman Telegram by the British is a triumph that ranks with the Enigma machine from World War II. Zimmerman was the German Foreign Minister and the telegram was sent to the German Ambassador in Mexico City.

So in 1917, the British and French lost an ally, but gained another. Only time would tell which event was going to be more significant.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zimmermann_Telegram

PS You could argue that the arrival of Lenin at the Finland Station on April 3rd 1917 was an event of equal significance to the US Declaration of War. Lenin turned a rudderless clique of Bolsheviks into a group intent on seizing power, and led directly to the "Revolution" (or maybe coup d'etat would be a better description) in October.

There are no photographs of Lenin at the Finland Station - this Stalin-era painting incorporates Lenin's successor, inaccurately. But it is symbolically true, as Lenin did bring Stalin in his wake.

 
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Dame_Enda

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The fact is as we now know, the Lusitania did contain armaments. It was a gross act of negligence for the Brits to put them in a passenger vessel.
 

Malcolm Redfellow

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The fact is as we now know, the Lusitania did contain armaments. It was a gross act of negligence for the Brits to put them in a passenger vessel.
We'd need to be careful about terminology there. Various versions of that claim have appeared over the years:
  • the the Lusitania was carrying Canadian troops (she wasn't — as US customs official testified on 4th June 1915);
  • that the ship was an armed merchant-man (she wasn't — film of the ship departing New York show no guns mounted, and Bob Ballard's survey of the wreck found none);
  • and, as here and the current meme, that she was carrying "armaments".
The last of that list is most difficult to refute, because it predicates to a clear definition of "armaments".

What is generally accepted is that Lusitania was carrying "contraband". Consider Diana Preston, page 284-285:
The German accusation that the Lusitania was carrying contraband was entirely correct. Her supplementary cargo manifest given out by the New York customs house after the sinking states that the Lusitania was carrying 4,200 cases of rifle bullets, 1,250 cases of unfused shrapnel shells, and 18 cases of percussion fuses. The rest of the cargo was, by the admission of both the British and U.S. administrations, “nearly all contraband” such as material for uniforms and leather belts. Nevertheless, the issue of contraband was, as the U.S. authorities later stated, irrelevant to the circumstances of the sinking. The presence of contraband would have justified a German vessel stopping and searching the Lusitania under the Cruiser Rules, impounding her cargo, and seizing the vessel as a prize or destroying her after making proper provision for the safety of the crew and passengers. It did not justify a “sink on sight” policy.

Two aspects of the Lusitania’s cargo have been queried. First was whether the declared munitions were as described in the manifest or whether the shrapnel shells were filled and the fuses contained explosives—both charges denied by the Bethlehem Steel Company at the Mayer hearing. A recent researcher has shown that the individual shell weight of eighteen pounds derived from the manifest and other shipping documents was that of an unfilled shell—a filled one would have weighed twenty-two pounds. Divers have retrieved examples of the fuses. They contain no explosives. Second was whether the Lusitania was carrying additional munitions to those on her manifest, either undeclared or listed as something else to disguise them. Numerous attempts have been made to confirm this theory, not least by German agents in the United States after the sinking. None have succeeded. One of the main items suspected of concealing clandestine munitions was a large consignment of furs but there is plenty of evidence that these were indeed furs. Many were washed up on the Irish coast after the sinking, dried, and resold.

One of the key findings of Bob Ballard’s exploration of the wreck was that there was no damage to the area of the ship around the cargo hold and that therefore whatever its contents, they had not exploded and contributed to the sinking as the British government had feared.
Of course the Lusitania was very significant in generating an anti-German, pro-Allies opinion in the US; but it is a very tenuous line, over 23 months, from 7th May 1915 to 6th April 1917, requiring umpteen other factors to be minimised.
 

owedtojoy

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We'd need to be careful about terminology there. Various versions of that claim have appeared over the years:
  • the the Lusitania was carrying Canadian troops (she wasn't — as US customs official testified on 4th June 1915);
  • that the ship was an armed merchant-man (she wasn't — film of the ship departing New York show no guns mounted, and Bob Ballard's survey of the wreck found none);
  • and, as here and the current meme, that she was carrying "armaments".
The last of that list is most difficult to refute, because it predicates to a clear definition of "armaments".

What is generally accepted is that Lusitania was carrying "contraband". Consider Diana Preston, page 284-285:

Of course the Lusitania was very significant in generating an anti-German, pro-Allies opinion in the US; but it is a very tenuous line, over 23 months, from 7th May 1915 to 6th April 1917, requiring umpteen other factors to be minimised.
A violent explosion did take place as the Lusitania sank. The main theory is that it was from the coal dust-air mix in the bunkers.
 

Trainwreck

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The US had virtually no impact on world war one.

Troops arrived too late and too under trained and inexperienced to make any major contribution.

Read documented accounts of the campaigns involving US troops over the last year of the war and in cases they placed under fire, it was of little value and only at the insistence of US officers.
 

Malcolm Redfellow

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A violent explosion did take place as the Lusitania sank. The main theory is that it was from the coal dust-air mix in the bunkers.
Define "violent" in this context.

There was a second and lesser "explosion", as survivors testified. We can be fairly sure what it definitely or probably wasn't (and here I am shamelessly glozing Preston, pages 285-287):
  • It wasn't the "contraband" in the hold: that is eliminated by Ballard's investigation.
  • The bunkers were only the hull's thickness from the cold seawater, and there would be seepage into the bilges. If we assume the bunker was damp (and it was standard practice to water the coal), then it is unlikely there was sufficient coal-dust aerosol to be explosive.
  • Another component of the cargo was aluminium powder, but that was securely contained, and equally unlikely to be able to generate an aluminium dust/air explosive.
  • There is the possibility of the influx of seawater blowing the hull. After all, the Lusitania was proceeding at 18 knots at the moment the torpedo impacted, about the forward end of boiler room one, and adjacent to the main bulkhead. It created a hole twenty feet long and ten feet high. At the very minimum the water was then coming in at a rate of 800 tons a minute — and the Lusitania survived seventeen minutes after the impact.
  • A boiler explosion would have been powerful: perhaps the equivalent of 500 albs of TNT. Yet there were survivors of both first and second engine rooms.
Which leaves Captain Turner's statement to the enquiry. At the Mayer enquiry, he stated his belief that the torpedo had severed a steam pipe, and it was a steam line explosion.
 

parentheses

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The US had virtually no impact on world war one.

Troops arrived too late and too under trained and inexperienced to make any major contribution.

Read documented accounts of the campaigns involving US troops over the last year of the war and in cases they placed under fire, it was of little value and only at the insistence of US officers.
I don't accept that
 

owedtojoy

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Define "violent" in this context.

There was a second and lesser "explosion", as survivors testified. We can be fairly sure what it definitely or probably wasn't (and here I am shamelessly glozing Preston, pages 285-287):
  • It wasn't the "contraband" in the hold: that is eliminated by Ballard's investigation.
  • The bunkers were only the hull's thickness from the cold seawater, and there would be seepage into the bilges. If we assume the bunker was damp (and it was standard practice to water the coal), then it is unlikely there was sufficient coal-dust aerosol to be explosive.
  • Another component of the cargo was aluminium powder, but that was securely contained, and equally unlikely to be able to generate an aluminium dust/air explosive.
  • There is the possibility of the influx of seawater blowing the hull. After all, the Lusitania was proceeding at 18 knots at the moment the torpedo impacted, about the forward end of boiler room one, and adjacent to the main bulkhead. It created a hole twenty feet long and ten feet high. At the very minimum the water was then coming in at a rate of 800 tons a minute — and the Lusitania survived seventeen minutes after the impact.
  • A boiler explosion would have been powerful: perhaps the equivalent of 500 albs of TNT. Yet there were survivors of both first and second engine rooms.
Which leaves Captain Turner's statement to the enquiry. At the Mayer enquiry, he stated his belief that the torpedo had severed a steam pipe, and it was a steam line explosion.
I suppose any sufficiently large explosion is violent.

This one was sufficiently large to be remembered by the survivors in the chaos.

My main point is that a possible explanation (that is was munitions) has been discredited, and there are plausible alternatives that account for it.
 

owedtojoy

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I don't accept that
I agree with you.

OTOH, the US had less effect than they liked to think.

In the end, America's industrial muscle counted for less than expected. If the war had gone on, it would have, but in the end it was not needed.

The massive army the US sent to France was far more decisive, and the impact on German morale of hordes of fresh troops was incalculable. The German drive to the Channel had already been stopped, and the Imperial Army was on the defensive. The knowledge that their home front was starving, Austria was collapsing, and fresh American troops were arriving in France every week was profoundly discouraging.

That being said, it is depressing to say that the Americans committed the same errors that all the armies had in 1914-1916 - throwing in massive offensives without proper artillery preparation, without tanks or with outmoded infantry tactics. The British and French had evolved the best assault tactics - a combined offensive of infantry and tanks behind an intense creeping barrage, with aerial support, that kept the defender's heads down for as long as possible.

General Pershing, backed by Wilson, refused to have the American Army mixed with the other Allied armies, and demanded the same independence they had. You can understand him for reasons of national pride, but it caused many needless deaths - America's 3rd highest total casualties in history, for a relatively short war on their part, compared to the Civil War or WWII.
 
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GDPR

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The odd thing was that it was the Germans themselves who precipitated the war entry.

They had first turned American opinion against them by atrocities like the burning of Leuven in Belgium (1914), and the sinking of the Lusitania, and the use of poison gas.

By 1916, neither side was in good shape. Germany was starving, thinks to the British naval blockade, and was under a military dictatorship run by the two Generals Ludendorff and Hindenburg. It was the generals who demanded (and got) unrestricted submarine warfare, and the dismissal of the civilian Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg.

It was their desperation that led to the free passage of Lenin to Russia from Switzerland across Germany to Sweden, in the hope that he could destabilise Russia even further. The Liberals in power at that time were intent on continuing the war. As a strategem, it succeeded, but that was not of much comfort to the Germans as they confronted Bolshevik Russia later.

A clumsy attempt by Germany to distract the US by fomenting a Mexican-American war was uncovered by British Naval Intelligence and passed on to the Americans. The deciphering of the Zimmerman Telegram by the British is a triumph that ranks with the Enigma machine from World War II. Zimmerman was the German Foreign Minister and the telegram was sent to the German Ambassador in Mexico City.

So in 1917, the British and French lost an ally, but gained another. Only time would tell which event was going to be more significant.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zimmermann_Telegram

PS You could argue that the arrival of Lenin at the Finland Station on April 3rd 1917 was an event of equal significance to the US Declaration of War. Lenin turned a rudderless clique of Bolsheviks into a group intent on seizing power, and led directly to the "Revolution" (or maybe coup d'etat would be a better description) in October.

There are no photographs of Lenin at the Finland Station - this Stalin-era painting incorporates Lenin's successor, inaccurately. But it is symbolically true, as Lenin did bring Stalin in his wake.

I think the arrival of the Americans was decisive in how the War actually ended and when, but without them there would still have been an Allied victory. The French and British would still have won, because they were developing armoured superiority and Britain was on the verge of solving its food crisis, so would not have been starved to a separate peace. Germany on the other hand was in a parlous state.

The difference is that Germany panicked when the US entered the War, and launched the Spring Offensive hoping to take Paris, and drive a wedge between the British and French, leading to Britains exit before the Americans arrived in large numbers. This failed and they lost many of their most capable NCOs etc. They also seemed to have decided on unconditional surrender because they thought the US would prevail on their Allies to allow them to keep the Army.

So the entry of the US caused the Germans to make certain decisions which hastened the end of the war, rather than the US itself dealing a knock out blow.
 

owedtojoy

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I think the arrival of the Americans was decisive in how the War actually ended and when, but without them there would still have been an Allied victory. The French and British would still have won, because they were developing armoured superiority and Britain was on the verge of solving its food crisis, so would not have been starved to a separate peace. Germany on the other hand was in a parlous state.

The difference is that Germany panicked when the US entered the War, and launched the Spring Offensive hoping to take Paris, and drive a wedge between the British and French, leading to Britains exit before the Americans arrived in large numbers. This failed and they lost many of their most capable NCOs etc. They also seemed to have decided on unconditional surrender because they thought the US would prevail on their Allies to allow them to keep the Army.

So the entry of the US caused the Germans to make certain decisions which hastened the end of the war, rather than the US itself dealing a knock out blow.
It was a bit of a race to the bottom, because the British were running out of credits to pay the US, and was dependent on more loans from American bankers.

That in itself put pressure on the US to act. The American public became profoundly disillusioned with their Allies after the war - the war was portrayed as poor Uncle Sam getting conned again by perfidious foreigners. The isolationism of the 1930s began there.

A running sore throughout the 1920s were the twin issues of German reparations, and Allied repayments. The solution was for the US to loan Germany the money to pay reparations to Britain and France, so they could pay back the same US banks for their war loans. It all came to a shuddering halt with the Depression, and set the scene for Hitler.

I do not think the US would have cut the British adrift - but you could say that by supplying money and armaments, the US were already in the war before 1917. Britain and France tottered, but so did the Germans and Austrians.
 

Catalpast

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We'd need to be careful about terminology there. Various versions of that claim have appeared over the years:
  • the the Lusitania was carrying Canadian troops (she wasn't — as US customs official testified on 4th June 1915);
  • that the ship was an armed merchant-man (she wasn't — film of the ship departing New York show no guns mounted, and Bob Ballard's survey of the wreck found none);
  • and, as here and the current meme, that she was carrying "armaments".
The last of that list is most difficult to refute, because it predicates to a clear definition of "armaments".

What is generally accepted is that Lusitania was carrying "contraband". Consider Diana Preston, page 284-285:

Of course the Lusitania was very significant in generating an anti-German, pro-Allies opinion in the US; but it is a very tenuous line, over 23 months, from 7th May 1915 to 6th April 1917, requiring umpteen other factors to be minimised.
True - but it killed any chance of anyone in America who wasn't German or Irish being pro German
 

GDPR

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It was a bit of a race to the bottom, because the British were running out of credits to pay the US, and was dependent on more loans from American bankers.

That in itself put pressure on the US to act. The American public became profoundly disillusioned with their Allies after the war - the war was portrayed as poor Uncle Sam getting conned again by perfidious foreigners. The isolationism of the 1930s began there.

A running sore throughout the 1920s were the twin issues of German reparations, and Allied repayments. The solution was for the US to loan Germany the money to pay reparations to Britain and France, so they could pay back the same US banks for their war loans. It all came to a shuddering halt with the Depression, and set the scene for Hitler.

I do not think the US would have cut the British adrift - but you could say that by supplying money and armaments, the US were already in the war before 1917. Britain and France tottered, but so did the Germans and Austrians.
Well there is a slew of different reasons for the existence of a War Party in the US, ranging from the usual suspects (bankers and armaments manufacturers) to poor old Woodrow Wilson and his "ethical foreign policy" to a number of expat organisations like the Czechs who piled the pressure on in the Mid West. (Side note - many Irish posters seem to think the only immigrant group with diplomatic clout were the Irish).

Still it was bloody hard to shift US opinion to getting behind an entry into a European war. I think the key factor was Germanys attempt to strangle British shipping by launching unrestricted marine warfare. It was a wee tad daft, because the British had instituted the convoy system with the former and existing colonies and the Aussies etc were fully supportive. The Merchant Marine was getting the stuff through and the British had just about managed to get their own agriculture in gear - huge and swift collectivisation.

However, the US people were not going to accept that American ships and passengers were in harms way. That was the one unspeakable. So it was German error, again.
 

O'Quisling

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The US had virtually no impact on world war one.

Troops arrived too late and too under trained and inexperienced to make any major contribution.

Read documented accounts of the campaigns involving US troops over the last year of the war and in cases they placed under fire, it was of little value and only at the insistence of US officers.
Not at all, mate. I disagree.

In that war, the US as a world power proved its mastery of force deployment beyond its own landmass. In WWI, the United States possessed the capability of placing millions of soldiers on the European continent.
 

Catalpast

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Ok posted this on my Blog - see what you think:

6 April 1917: The United States of America declared War on Imperial Germany. In a move long anticipated by both sides in the Great War the USA finally came in on the side of Allies and changed the outcome of the War and of modern world history.




The Declaration began:

WHEREAS, The Imperial German Government has committed repeated acts of war against the people of the United States of America; therefore, be it resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the state of war between the United States and the Imperial German Government, which has thus been thrust upon the United States, is hereby formally declared....



The seeds of America’s intervention went right back to the opening months of the War. The overwhelming opinion of the American people was on the side of the Allies. However amongst the considerable German and Irish populations the feeling was far different. The Germans were naturally sympathetic to the Fatherland and acted accordingly.




The Irish in the USA were not pro German but they were very much anti British – feelings heightened by recent events in Ireland where prior to the outbreak of War it looked like Civil War would break out at home over the ‘Home Rule Crisis’. The Irish in America were well organised especially in the cities and ‘ran’ many of them ie Tammany Hall in New York City. The Ancient Order of Hibernians had a huge but open membership while behind the scenes there was the clandestine Clan na Gael dedicated to overthrowing British Rule by force of arms. Clearly it was in the interests of Irish America to keep their adopted Country out of the War.




However the reports of German atrocities in Belgium and more importantly the opening of unrestricted U boat attacks on Neutral shipping in the waters around Britain and Ireland caused huge resentment in the USA. This climaxed when in May 1915 the Cunard liner Lusitania was sunk off the town of Kinsale Co Cork. Over a thousand men women and children were drowned incl. over 100 US citizens. Outrage on a massive scale followed. While the Germans called off their attacks on neutrals the damage was done and the general opinion on all sides was that it was a case not if but when the USA would enter the War against Germany.




The Easter 1916 Rising at home certainly put Ireland’s Cause briefly into the spotlight but it could not be sustained. Britain needed to trade with the USA to supply it with armaments and raw material to sustain the War. This in turn generated vast profits for American Corporations. Without this Trade then Britain would have to sue for terms from Germany and would have defaulted on its debts to the US. By early 1917 with Russia effectively stymied by the ‘February Revolution’ and France on her last legs militarily the German High Command took the risk of re activating their unrestricted U Boat campaign to bring Britain to her knees before America could intervene. However this backfired as it only angered America even more and pushed her over the edge. Events moved swiftly and on 6 April the USA declared War. It was a watershed in the History of Europe as for the first time ever the fate of a war between the European Powers was decided by decisions made on by another Power on another Continent.




For Ireland it meant that any pressure that could be exerted on Britain by the USA was severely weakened as President Woodrow Wilson put support for Britain at the top of his priorities. In his War Message to Congress, Wilson declared that the United States' objective was “to vindicate the principles of peace and justice in the life of the world.” He wished to see the European peoples be free from outside occupation i.e. an Independent Poland. But there was no mention of Ireland.




On the other hand the British had to be careful not to antagonise US Public opinion into thinking that she was the oppressor of the Irish people now that the Empire was so reliant on Uncle Sam to finish the War. So America’s entry was a mixed blessing for Ireland - on the one hand we could not rely on the US Government to do much for the cause of Irish Nationalism and on the other the British Cabinet had to be careful not to trigger another revolt while they were so heavily committed abroad and so reliant on America to turn the tide against Germany.
 

parentheses

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Remarks by Lloyd George in 1916

'In six months, the war will be lost...the Irish-American vote will go over to the German side. They will break our blockade and force an ignominious peace on us unless something is done even provisionally to satisfy America'.
 


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