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Liable to Destruction by Steve Payne

Author says: what if Woodrow Wilson's pro-British sympathies caused the US to become unnecessarily involved in the Great War? Please note that the opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of the author(s).


In 1915, February 4th: with Great Britain characteristically violating recognised treaty agreements upon the high seas and generally acting with impunity in direct contravention of international law, the Kaiser's Government retaliated by declaring the English Channel to be a war zone.

Because First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill (pictured) had issued instructions to the Royal Navy to mine the North Sea and also impose a "right of search" upon merchant ships carrying cargo to German Ports. Not only was Churchill seeking to starve the Central Powers into submission, he was also intent upon embroiling the United States in a war with Germany.

"This might have had interesting results. The thought of WJ Bryan as SecNav gives me the cold shudders, though" ~ readers comment. Recognising this danger, his counterpart the US Secretary of the Navy William Jennings Bryan issued an alert that British vessels were "liable to destruction", cautioning American civilians sailing into the war zone that they were travelling "on ships of Great Britain and her allies do so at their own risk". The warning was prescient because less than six weeks later, German submarine captain Georg-GŁnther Freiherr von Forstner of the Kaiserliche Marine fired a torpedo from the SM-U28 which sunk a West African steamship, the RMS Falaba.

Intense media scrutiny and public pressure mounted, demanding an American response after the sinking of the Falaba, which was widely and inaccurately reported as nothing short of a massacre of innocent civilians without warning. In fact, one hundred and four people were killed, including one American passenger - Leon Chester Thrasher, a 31-year-old mining engineer from Massachusetts.

Despite the cynical British attempts to maximise the impact of their propoganda, an investigation by the US Government soon determined that the German captain had given the Falaba three warnings, and only opened fire when a British warship appeared on the horizon. The Chief Magistrate John Bassett Moore would later note in his diary that "what most decisively risked the involvement of the United States in the recent war would have been the assertion of a right to protect belligerent ships on which Americans saw fit to travel and the treatment of armed belligerent merchantmen as peaceful vessels. Both assumptions were contrary to reason, and no other neutral advanced them".

Author says original content has been repurposed to celebrate the author's genius © The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History by Thomas E. Woods (2004).

John Bassett Moore was a distinguished professor of international law at Columbia University who later served on the International Court of Justice. He and other legal scholars argued that President Woodrow Wilson persistently refused to see the relation between the British irregularities and the German submarine warfare as the crux of American involvement. In this post we again imagine a reduced role for the Head of State, a quasi-legal interpreter of the US Constitution.

To view guest historian's comments on this post please visit the Today in Alternate History web site.

Steve Payne, Editor of Today in Alternate History, a Daily Updating Blog of Important Events In History That Never Occurred Today. Follow us on Facebook, Myspace and Twitter.

Imagine what would be, if history had occurred a bit differently. Who says it didn't, somewhere? These fictional news items explore that possibility. Possibilities such as America becoming a Marxist superpower, aliens influencing human history in the 18th century and Teddy Roosevelt winning his 3rd term as president abound in this interesting fictional blog.


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