On the afternoon of May 7, 1915, the British ocean liner Lusitania is torpedoed without warning by a German submarine off the south coast of Ireland. Within 20 minutes, the vessel sank into the Celtic Sea. Of 1,959 passengers and crew, 1,198 people were drowned, including 128 Americans. The attack aroused considerable indignation in the United States, but Germany defended the action, noting that it had issued warnings of its intent to attack all ships, neutral or otherwise, that entered the war zone around Britain.
When World War I erupted in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson pledged neutrality for the United States, a position that the vast majority of Americans favored. Britain, however, was one of America’s closest trading partners, and tension soon arose between the United States and Germany over the latter’s attempted quarantine of the British isles. Several U.S. ships traveling to Britain were damaged or sunk by German mines, and in February 1915 Germany announced unrestricted submarine warfare in the waters around Britain.
In early May 1915, several New York newspapers published a warning by the German embassy in Washington that Americans traveling on British or Allied ships in war zones did so at their own risk. The announcement was placed on the same page as an advertisement of the imminent sailing of the Lusitania liner from New York back to Liverpool. The sinkings of merchant ships off the south coast of Ireland prompted the British Admiralty to warn the Lusitania to avoid the area or take simple evasive action, such as zigzagging to confuse U-boats plotting the vessel’s course. The captain of the Lusitania ignored these recommendations, and at 2:12 p.m. on May 7 the 32,000-ton ship was hit by an exploding torpedo on its starboard side. The torpedo blast was followed by a larger explosion, probably of the ship’s boilers, and the ship sunk in 20 minutes.
It was revealed that the Lusitania was carrying about 173 tons of war munitions for Britain, which the Germans cited as further justification for the attack. The United States eventually sent three notes to Berlin protesting the action, and Germany apologized and pledged to end unrestricted submarine warfare. In November, however, a U-boat sunk an Italian liner without warning, killing 272 people, including 27 Americans. Public opinion in the United States began to turn irrevocably against Germany.
On January 31, 1917, Germany, determined to win its war of attrition against the Allies, announced that it would resume unrestricted warfare in war-zone waters. Three days later, the United States broke diplomatic relations with Germany, and just hours after that the American liner Housatonic was sunk by a German U-boat. On February 22, Congress passed a $250 million arms appropriations bill intended to make the United States ready for war. In late March, Germany sunk four more U.S. merchant ships, and on April 2 President Wilson appeared before Congress and called for a declaration of war against Germany. On April 4, the Senate voted to declare war against Germany, and two days later the House of Representatives endorsed the declaration. With that, America entered World War I.
1901Gary Cooper Born
On this day in 1901, Gary Cooper, who will become famous for his performances in such movies as High Noon and The Pride of the Yankees, is born in Helena, Montana.
Cooper grew up on the ranch owned by his wealthy father, a Montana Supreme Court Justice. He was educated largely in England through high school, and the diverse experiences of his upbringing later informed his screen persona, at once rugged frontier hero and blue-blooded gentleman. In 1924, after dropping out of college, Cooper headed to Hollywood, where he got his start in movies as a cowboy extra in a Western film. He landed his first starring role two years later, in the silent film The Winning of Barbara Worth. His first successful “talkie,” The Virginian (1929), elevated Cooper to A-list status, and he went on to appear in a number of films in the 1930s, including Morocco (1930), A Farewell to Arms (1932), Design for Living (1933), The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935), Desire (1936), The Plainsman (1937), Beau Geste (1939) and The Westerner (1940).
Cooper and his notably understated, laconic acting style won special notice as the unlikely everyman hero in two films directed by Frank Capra: Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), for which he received an Academy Award nomination, and Meet John Doe (1941). Also in 1941, Cooper won the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of the real-life World War I hero Alvin York in Sergeant York. He turned in another acclaimed performance as the baseball legend Lou Gehrig in Pride of the Yankees (1942). Cooper’s other notable 1940s films included Ball of Fire (1941), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943) and The Fountainhead (1949).
In 1947, Cooper appeared as a “friendly” witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee, testifying as to the existence of a Communist influence in Hollywood. According to Cooper, he had “turned down quite a few scripts because I thought they were tinged with communistic ideas.” Despite his indirect participation in the hated blacklisting practice that followed, Cooper retained his status as one of Hollywood’s most revered leading men. He won his second Best Actor Oscar as an aging lawman in the classic High Noon (1952). Among his last films were Friendly Persuasion (1956) and Love in the Afternoon (1957).
In all, Cooper made more than 100 films over the course of his career. Married to the socialite Veronica Balfe (who had a short-lived acting career as Sandra Shaw) since 1933, Cooper was also known for his many romances with co-stars, including Clara Bow, Marlene Dietrich, Grace Kelly and Patricia Neal. Late in his life, Cooper suffered from recurring illnesses, including lung cancer. Though he kept the information secret, the public got a hint in April 1961, when Jimmy Stewart made an emotional speech while accepting a lifetime achievement Academy Award for his ailing friend. Cooper died a month later, days after his 60th birthday.