30 Mar. 2015
The RMS Lusitania was the world’s largest and faster ocean liner in 1915. It plied a route between New York City and Liverpool. May 7, 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of this ship in the Irish sea. Struck by a torpedo from a German submarine, the passenger liner sank in 18 minutes, causing 1200 civilian casualties. The world rightly condemned this attack. Americans too were shocked, but they wanted to stay out of Europe’s war, and elected Woodrow Wilson in 1916 because “he has kept us out of war.”
Nonetheless, reversing earlier reluctance, the United States entered the war against Germany in April, 1917. By all historical accounts, the sinking of the Lusitania initiated the process that propelled the United States into the First World War. These accounts are sort-of correct, but they are also sort-of incorrect, and the incorrect side is what needs airing today.
The British claimed that two German torpedoes had struck the Lusitania, and President Wilson agreed with them. The Germans claimed that only one torpedo had struck the ship, and the second and larger explosion was internal to the ship. The Germans claimed that the Lusitania was secretly and illegally carrying war materiel, using the civilian passengers as human shields against submarine attackers. The submarine’s torpedo ignited the secret cargo of explosives on board the ship, causing the ship to sink so rapidly with such great loss of life. The Titanic took two hours and a half to sink, and the Lusitania, a ship of the same size, sank in 18 minutes.
We know now that only one torpedo was fired. We also know that the British knew it as well at the time and lied. The second torpedo was a lie. Something on board the Lusitania exploded in the aftermath of the German torpedo, and that second explosion sank the ship. It’s quite likely, although not definitively proven, that secret munitions aboard the Lusitania did explode. It’s certain that the Lusitania was carrying secret military explosives in defiance of American law.
Knowing all this today, we can confirm that the Lusitania was a war crime alright, but it was a British/German co-crime, not just a German crime. The second torpedo propaganda lie concealed that fact from Americans in 1915. That mattered because if Americans had regarded the crime of the Lusitania as a joint British/German war crime, they would have been more reluctant to enter the war on the side of Great Britain to avenge the crime. As a joint British/German war crime, the Lusitania’s terrible fate implied the wisdom of remaining neutral in the Great War then convulsing Europe.
So it was not the Lusitania that propelled the United States into the Great War. It was lies about the Lusitania and distortion of the truth.