German Sabotage and America's Entry Into World War I

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Since neoconservative journalists, at least to my knowledge, have not been lately slamming the “German connection,” I rejoiced at a feature article in yesterday’s New York Post (March 20) going after the “series of German outrages” that helped push us into World War One. A commentary by Thomas A. Reppetto, on German saboteurs during World War, focuses on an explosion at an ammunition factory on Black Tom Island on July 30, 1916, which is now Liberty State Park in New Jersey. In this incident and other similar ones that erupted in the area between New York and Baltimore, German agents prevented by violent means the delivery of arms “to the Allied powers.”

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Reppetto suggests that the federal government dealt effectively with such explosions, by declaring war on Germany and then taking counter-espionage into its own hands. At first this could not be done because we were mollycoddling Germans residents in the US while indulging such uncooperative figures as the authoritarian mayor of Jersey City Frank Hague. Reppetto does not hide the moral here, which is drawing a direct line between the sneaky, anti-democratic Germans in World War One and the present terrorist danger. “New Jersey officials need to recall the lessons of Black Tom.” “Islamic militants have operated out of Jersey City,” just as once other bad folks did.

Allow me to set the record straight. The greatest outrage in Reppetto’s account came from the Wilson administration, which turned the US into perhaps the chief supplier of arms to the Allied side. Wilson’s decision in 1915 to allow American arms manufacturers to sell to both sides was a belligerent act directed against the Central Powers. Only one side was in a position to acquire American arms, because Germany at the time, as everyone knew, was being blockaded. The English blockade, which was aimed at starving the Germans, arguably in violation of international law, also kept arms from reaching Germany and its ally Austria-Hungary.

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