How much influence did the Zimmerman Telegram have? [duplicate]

How much influence did the Zimmerman Telegram have? [duplicate]


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The Zimmerman telegram provoked USA to join WW1 against Germany. If the telegram hadn't been sent, would USA have entered war against Germany?

The reason I ask is because it seems very strange.

Working from the assumption that Germany would have won the war if the US hadn't gotten involved, it's kind of strange that Germany provoked US to fight them.


I think conventional wisdom holds that the U.S. entered World War I specifically because German submarines had sunk seven of its merchant ships. In his address to Congress on April 2, 1917 President Wilson referred to those incidents, but not to the Zimmermann telegram.

American ships have been sunk, American lives taken, in ways which it has stirred us very deeply to learn of…

With a profound sense of the solemn and even tragical character of the step I am taking and of the grave responsibilities which it involves, but in unhesitating obedience to what I deem my constitutional duty, I advise that the Congress declare the recent course of the Imperial German Government to be in fact nothing less than war against the government and people of the United States.

Publication of the telegram in the U.S. helped to sway public opinion against Germany, though. Foreign Secretary Zimmermann had misjudged this effect (he evidently thought its surfacing would rather help the German cause).

All in all, I think the Zimmermann telegram is more of an epiphenomenon (from the President's perspective, a helpful device towards executing a set strategy) than a necessary cause for the U.S. entering World War I. So yes, I think the U.S. would have entered the war event without the telegram's existence.


The USA's entrance into WWI was primarily over the issue of unrestricted submarine warfare by the Germans. This was done purposely by the Germans, with full knowledge that it would result in a US declaration of war.

In the common practice of the day (aka: prize rules) it would have been perfectly reasonable for a beligerant to stop and board ships it suspected of supplying the enemy during a time of war. It would further have been fine for them to confiscate or (sink if not a passenger ship) any found to actually be carrying such supplies. However, they were supposed to make some kind of humane accomodation for crew and passengers.

However, Germany's fleet really couldn't match that of Great Britain and her allies on the surface. So they took to embargoing the allies using submarines (u-boats). A submarine obviously can't take on large amounts of passengers, didn't generally have room for a marine detachment required for a proper boarding action, and were quite vulnerable if they surfaced for any length of time. In short, the standard prize rules just didn't work for them.

The Germans mostly dealt with this by ignoring the prize rules. However, this was looked on by many others (including most in the USA) with horror, much like if somebody today publicly renounced the Geneva Conventions. This inevitably led to incidents, including some where American civilians were killed.

The Germans were quite aware of the American attitude on this, and for a while promised not to use the tactic purely to keep the Americans from joining the war. What changed things was the collapse of the Russians. The German high command began to think that combining an effective blocade of England via unrestricted submarine warfare with the large transfer of troops to the Western front which they were now capable of, they could win the war before the USA would have time to mobilize and join the fight in any effective numbers. The USA had a tiny army anyway, so it was possible that it might be a very long time indeed (if ever) before they could participate effectively.

Sadly for Germany, the English discovered ways to counter the increased u-boat activity (eg: the convoy system), and their new preponderance on the front was not enough in the era of trench warfare to break the stalemate. So even without the Americans, nothing effectively had changed.

Meanwhile the Americans drafted nearly 3 million men. Once they started coming over in force with fresh (effectively double-strength) units, at a rate of about 10,000 men a day, it was all over.


Like Hall and Page, Balfour had become convinced that the US would eventually be forced into the war by German intransigence. Hall’s intelligence of German intrigues in Mexico and Cuba, about which he had briefed Hardinge earlier that day, persuaded him that the time had come to take the bull by the horns. His niece and biographer, Blanche (Baffy) Dugdale, described his reaction:

‘Ever since the middle of January … a piece of information had been in the possession of the British Government, which would move, if anything could, the populations behind the Atlantic seaboard States, who still read of the European War with as much attachment as if it be raging in the moon. This was the famous telegram from Zimmermann … The method by which this information had reached the British Intelligence Service had made it impossible for some time to communicate it to the United States Government. Therefore for over a month Balfour read in his despatches from Washington of the slow awakening of the American will to war, but could do nothing to hasten the process. Till – at last – information about the Mexican plot reached London through channels which enabled the Intelligence Service to cover up the traces of how it had first been got.’

Dugdale had been close to her uncle and her comment confirms de Grey’s account that Hall had revealed the contents of the initial telegram intercepted by Room 40 to Balfour without delay, rather than waiting several days as some commentators, including Diana Preston, have alleged. She was the first and for many years the only author to imply that Room 40 had been intercepting American diplomatic traffic.

Later that day, Balfour told Hardinge: ‘I think that Captain Hall may be left to clinch this problem as he knows the ropes better than anyone.’ He was giving Hall a free hand – a testament to the degree to which the Director of Naval Intelligence had gained the confidence of one of Britain’s most experienced and distinguished statesmen. Armed with this support, Hall decided that Balfour should ask Page to visit him at the Foreign Office where he would formally give him the telegram. On the afternoon of February 23, Page called on Balfour, who presented him with the coded and uncoded versions of the telegram. Dugdale described the historic occasion: ‘Delight was unbounded in Whitehall and the Foreign Secretary himself was unusually excited. As dramatic a moment as I remember in all my life, he once said … By the ceremony of this act the British Government gave its pledge that the communication was authentic.’

Bell noted: ‘Mr. Page came back from his interview with Balfour with a translation in his hand and blood in his eye.’ The Ambassador, Loughlin, Bell and his personal secretary, Eugene Shoecraft, sat up all night engaged in the difficult task of drafting a telegram for Wilson. They had to reconcile Hall’s security requirements with the language which could persuade the President that he was dealing with a ruthless government in Berlin which would shrink from nothing that could advance their objective of subverting the United States and rendering it impotent.

At 8 am London time on the morning of Saturday February 24, Page advised the State Department that in three hours time he would be sending a cable of great importance to the President and the Secretary of State.

By the time he had finally drafted the cable to his and his staff’s satisfaction and it had been encoded, a further five hours had passed. The final message read:

‘London, February 24, 1917- 1 p.m.
5747 … For the President and the Secretary of State.

Balfour has handed me the text of a cipher telegram from Zimmermann, German Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, to the German Minister to Mexico, which was sent via Washington and was relayed by Bernstorff on January 19. You can probably obtain a copy of the text relayed by Bernstorff from the cable office in Washington. The first group is the number of the telegram, 130, and the second is one of 13042, indicating the number of the code used. The last group but two is 97 556, which is Zimmermann’s signature.

I shall send you by mail a copy of the cipher text and of the decode into German and meanwhile I give you the English translation as follows: [Page inserted here the English text of the telegram.]

The receipt of this information has so greatly exercised the British Government that they have lost no time in communicating it to me to transmit to you, in order that our government may be able without delay to make such disposition as may be necessary in view of the threatened invasion of our territory.

Early in the war, the British Government obtained a copy of the German cipher code used in the above message and have made it their business to obtain copies of Bernstorff’s cipher telegrams to Mexico, among others, which are sent back to London and deciphered here. This accounts for their being able to decipher this telegram from the German Government to their representative in Mexico, and also for the delay from January 19 until now in their receiving this information. This has hitherto been a jealously guarded secret and is only divulged to you now by the British Government in view of the extraordinary circumstances and their friendly feeling toward the United States. They earnestly request that you will keep the source of your information and the British Government’s method of obtaining it profoundly secret, but they put no prohibition on the publication of Zimmermann’s telegram itself.

The copies of this and other telegrams were not obtained in Washington but were bought in Mexico.

I have thanked Balfour for the service his Government has rendered us and suggest that a private official message of thanks from our Government to him would be beneficial.

I am informed that this information has not yet been given to the Japanese Government, but I think it not unlikely that when it reaches them they may make a public statement on it in order to clear up their position regarding the United States and prove their good faith to their Allies.

Throughout that day the senior staff of the State Department eagerly awaited the arrival of Page’s cable. Lansing had taken the weekend off, leaving his Under-Secretary, Frank Polk, in charge. Polk read the document with growing amazement and anger. Realising that he could not wait for Lansing’s return, he called the White House. Within minutes, the President received him in the Oval Office. Wilson was badly shaken and Polk eventually persuaded him to take no immediate action until Lansing could brief him once he had returned on the following Tuesday, February 27. Polk went back to the State Department to research the facts Lansing would require to communicate to the President.’

As the drama unfolded in Washington, Bernstorff was enduring a miserable journey back to Germany. The ejected Ambassador, his wife and his staff, 200-strong, found passage on the Danish liner, Frederik VIII, which sailed from New York on February 15. The British had granted Bernstorff safe passage on the condition that the liner should call at Halifax, Nova Scotia for a detailed search. This diversion had been instigated by the Admiralty at Hall’s request. Having studied his intercepted messages over a period of two-and-a-half years, he had developed a high regard for Bernstorff’s powers of persuasion and worried that, even at this late hour, he might be able to argue Berlin out of a confrontation with the US. In reality Bernstorff had no influence with the military rulers of Germany and their ultranationalist allies. Taking no chances, the Navy held Frederik VIII in Halifax for no less than 12 days, only authorising the liner’s departure after the telegram had safely been in the hands of the State Department for 72 hours. The Canadian customs agents were thorough: every passenger, every cabin and every piece of luggage was searched. To their fury, Bernstorff and his party were not allowed to go ashore.

Extracted from ‘Blinker’ Hall Spymaster by David Ramsay


The U.S. and the German U-boat campaign

The sinkings of the Lusitania (May 7, 1915) and the Sussex (March 24, 1916) by German U-boats had brought the United States to the brink of war with Germany. American neutrality was preserved only by the adoption of the so-called Sussex pledge (May 4, 1916), which obliged German submarine captains to precede the torpedoing of merchant or passenger ships with a warning and to provide for the safety of passengers and crew of sunken ships in the wake of such attacks. In time this policy came to be seen as impracticable by the German military, and the views of commanders such as Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff prevailed over those of the chancellor, Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, who had previously blocked the adoption of extreme measures in the German naval campaign.

On January 9, 1917, Bethmann, Ludendorff, and Hindenburg met at Pless Castle in Silesia (now Pszczyna, Poland) to discuss the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare against all merchant shipping, neutral as well as belligerent. Bethmann was tasked with allaying the concerns of U.S. Pres. Woodrow Wilson in an attempt to preserve American neutrality for as long as possible. However, all three men at the Pless conference agreed that American participation in the war had to be regarded as a strong likelihood, regardless of the chancellor’s efforts. Bethmann had informed the European neutrals—Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Denmark—of Germany’s peace terms and had received a positive response. He took the same proposal to Wilson and appealed to him to persevere in his peace efforts. However, this message, delivered to the State Department on January 31, was accompanied by a notice of the all-out submarine warfare campaign that was scheduled to begin the next day.

Wilson was reluctant to break diplomatic relations with Germany, but, yielding to public clamour and senatorial advice, he severed those ties on February 3, 1917. While announcing the break in a speech to Congress, he voiced the fervent hope that the Germans would not, by sinking American ships, compel the United States to adopt belligerent measures.

German submarines avoided attacking U.S. ships throughout February 1917, and American sentiment remained strongly pacifistic. However, Wilson’s cabinet, a large portion of the press, and numerous public leaders demanded that the U.S. government arm its merchant ships for self-defense. Agreeing that armed neutrality was the only safe policy in the circumstances, Wilson, on February 26, asked Congress for the power to arm merchantmen and take all other steps necessary to protect American commerce.


Contents

The message came in the form of a coded telegram dispatched by Arthur Zimmermann, a Staatssekretär (a top-level civil servant) in the Foreign Office of the German Empire on January 17, 1917. The message was sent to the German ambassador to Mexico, Heinrich von Eckardt. [4] Zimmermann sent the telegram in anticipation of the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare by Germany on February 1, which the German government presumed would almost certainly lead to war with the United States. The telegram instructed Eckardt that if the United States appeared certain to enter the war, he was to approach the Mexican government with a proposal for military alliance with funding from Germany. The decoded telegram was follows:

We intend to begin on the first of February unrestricted submarine warfare. We shall endeavor in spite of this to keep the United States of America neutral. In the event of this not succeeding, we make Mexico a proposal of alliance on the following basis: make war together, make peace together, generous financial support and an understanding on our part that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The settlement in detail is left to you. You will inform the President of the above most secretly as soon as the outbreak of war with the United States of America is certain, and add the suggestion that he should, on his own initiative, invite Japan to immediate adherence and at the same time mediate between Japan and ourselves. Please call the President's attention to the fact that the ruthless employment of our submarines now offers the prospect of compelling England in a few months to make peace.
Signed, ZIMMERMANN

Previous German efforts to promote war Edit

Germany had long sought to incite a war between Mexico and the United States, which would have tied down American forces and slowed the export of American arms to the Allies. [5] The Germans had aided in arming Mexico, as shown by the 1914 Ypiranga Incident. [6] German Naval Intelligence officer Franz von Rintelen had attempted to incite a war between Mexico and the United States in 1915, giving Victoriano Huerta $12 million for that purpose. [7] The German saboteur Lothar Witzke, responsible for the March 1917 munitions explosion at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in the San Francisco Bay Area, [8] and possibly responsible for the July 1916 Black Tom explosion in New Jersey, was based in Mexico City. The failure of United States troops to capture Pancho Villa in 1916 and the movement of President Carranza in favor of Germany emboldened the Germans to send the Zimmermann note. [9]

The German provocations were partially successful. President Woodrow Wilson ordered the military invasion of Veracruz in 1914 in the context of the Ypiranga Incident and against the advice of the British government. [10] War was prevented thanks to the Niagara Falls peace conference organized by the ABC nations, but the occupation was a decisive factor in Mexican neutrality in World War I. [11] Mexico refused to participate in the embargo against Germany and granted full guarantees to the German companies for keeping their operations open, specifically in Mexico City. [12] These guarantees lasted for 25 years coincidentally, it was on May 22, 1942 that Mexico declared war on the Axis Powers after the loss of two Mexican-flagged tankers that month to Kriegsmarine U-boats.

German motivations Edit

The Zimmermann Telegram was part of an effort carried out by the Germans to postpone the transportation of supplies and other war materials from the United States to the Allies, which were at war against Germany. [13] The main purpose of the telegram was to make the Mexican government declare war on the United States in hopes of tying down American forces and slowing the export of American arms. [14] The German High Command believed that it could defeat the British and French on the Western Front and strangle Britain with unrestricted submarine warfare before American forces could be trained and shipped to Europe in sufficient numbers to aid the Allies. The Germans were encouraged by their successes on the Eastern Front to believe that they could divert large numbers of troops to the Western Front in support of their goals. The Mexicans were willing to consider the alliance but declined the deal after Americans had been informed of the telegram.

Mexican President Venustiano Carranza assigned a military commission to assess the feasibility of the Mexican takeover of their former territories contemplated by Germany. [15] The generals concluded that it would not be possible or even desirable to attempt such an enterprise for the following reasons:

  • Mexico was in the midst of a civil war, and Carranza's position was far from secure. A declaration of war by his regime would have provided an opportunity for the opposing factions to align with the United States and Allies in exchange for diplomatic recognition.
  • The United States was far stronger militarily than Mexico was. Even if Mexico's military forces had been completely united and loyal to a single regime, no serious scenario existed under which it could have invaded and won a war against the United States.
  • The German government's promises of "generous financial support" were very unreliable. It had already informed Carranza in June 1916 that it could not provide the necessary gold needed to stock a completely-independent Mexican national bank. [16] Even if Mexico received financial support, it would still need to purchase arms, ammunition, and other needed war supplies from the ABC nations (Argentina, Brazil, and Chile), which would strain relations with them, as explained below.
  • Even if by some chance Mexico had the military means to win a conflict against the United States and to reclaim the territories in question, it would have had severe difficulty conquering and pacifying a large English-speaking population which had long self-government and was better supplied with arms than were most other civilian populations.
  • Other foreign relations were at stake. The ABC nations had organized the Niagara Falls peace conference in 1914 to avoid a full-scale war between the United States and Mexico over the United States occupation of Veracruz. Mexico entering a war against the United States would strain relations with those nations.

The Carranza government was recognized de jure by the United States on August 31, 1917 as a direct consequence of the Zimmermann Telegram to ensure Mexican neutrality during World War I. [17] [18] After the military invasion of Veracruz in 1914, Mexico did not participate in any military excursion with the United States in World War I. [11] That ensured that Mexican neutrality was the best outcome that the United States could hope for even if it allowed German companies to keep their operations in Mexico open. [12]

Zimmermann's office sent the telegram to the German embassy in the United States for retransmission to Eckardt in Mexico. It has traditionally been claimed that the telegram was sent over three routes and was transmitted by radio and also sent over two trans-atlantic telegraph cables operated by neutral governments (the United States and Sweden) for the use of their diplomatic services. However, it has been established that two methods were used. The Germans delivered the message to the United States embassy in Berlin, and it then passed by diplomatic cable first to Copenhagen and then to London for onward transmission over transatlantic cable to Washington. [19]

Direct telegraph transmission of the telegram was impossible because the British had cut the German international cables at the outbreak of war. However, Germany could communicate wirelessly through the Telefunken plant, operating under Atlantic Communication Company in West Sayville, New York, where the telegram was relayed to the Mexican Consulate. Ironically, the station was under the control of the US Navy, which operated it for Atlantic Communication Company, the American subsidiary of the German entity.

Also, the United States allowed limited use of its diplomatic cables with Germany to communicate with its ambassador in Washington. The facility was supposed to be used for cables connected with Wilson's peace proposals. [19]

The Swedish cable ran from Sweden, and the American cable from the American embassy in Denmark. However, neither cable ran directly to the United States. Both cables passed through a relay station at Porthcurno, near Land's End, the westernmost tip of England, where the signals were boosted for the long transoceanic jump. All traffic through the Porthcurno relay was copied to British intelligence, particularly to the codebreakers and analysts in Room 40 at the Admiralty. [20]

After the Germans' telegraph cables had been cut, the German Foreign Office appealed to the United States for use of their cable for diplomatic messages. President Wilson agreed in the belief both that such co-operation would sustain continued good relations with Germany and that more efficient German-American diplomacy could assist Wilson's goal of a negotiated end to the war. The Germans handed in messages to the American embassy in Berlin, which were relayed to the embassy in Denmark and then to the United States by American telegraph operators. The United States placed conditions on German usage, most notably that all messages had to be in cleartext (uncoded). However, Wilson later reversed the order and relaxed the wireless rules to allow coded messages to be sent. [21] The Germans assumed that the cable was secure and so used it extensively. [20]

However, that put German diplomats in a precarious situation since they relied on the United States to transmit Zimmermann's note to its final destination, but the message's unencrypted contents would be deeply alarming to the Americans. The Germans persuaded US Ambassador James W. Gerard to accept it in coded form, and it was transmitted on January 16, 1917. [20]

In Room 40, Nigel de Grey had partially decoded the telegram by the next day. [19] By 1917, the diplomatic code 13040 had been in use for many years. Since there had been ample time for Room 40 to reconstruct the code cryptanalytically, it was readable to a fair degree. Room 40 had obtained German cryptographic documents, including the diplomatic code 3512 (captured during the Mesopotamian campaign), which was a later updated code that was similar to but not really related to code 13040, and naval code SKM (Signalbuch der Kaiserlichen Marine), ⁠which was useless for decoding the Zimmermann Telegram but valuable to decode naval traffic, which had been retrieved from the wrecked cruiser SMS Magdeburg by the Russians, who passed it to the British. [22]

Disclosure of the telegram would sway American public opinion against Germany if the British could convince the Americans that the text was genuine, but the Room 40 chief William Reginald Hall was reluctant to let it out because the disclosure would expose the German codes broken in Room 40 and British eavesdropping on the US cable. Hall waited three weeks during which de Grey and cryptographer William Montgomery completed the decryption. On February 1, Germany announced resumption of "unrestricted" submarine warfare, an act that led the United States to break off diplomatic relations with Germany on February 3. [20]

Hall passed the telegram to the British Foreign Office on February 5 but still warned against releasing it. Meanwhile, the British discussed possible cover stories to explain to the Americans how they obtained the coded text of the telegram without admitting to their ability to intercept American diplomatic communications, which they would continue to do for another 25 years, and to explain how they obtained the cleartext of the telegram without letting the Germans know that the codes had been broken. Furthermore, the British needed to find a way to convince the Americans the message was not a forgery. [2]

For the first story, the British obtained the coded text of the telegram from the Mexican commercial telegraph office. The British knew that since the German embassy in Washington would relay the message by commercial telegraph, the Mexican telegraph office would have the coded text. "Mr. H", a British agent in Mexico, bribed an employee of the commercial telegraph company for a copy of the message. Sir Thomas Hohler, the British ambassador in Mexico, later claimed to have been "Mr. H" or at least to have been involved with the interception in his autobiography. [23] [ citation needed ] The coded text could then be shown to the Americans without embarrassment.

Moreover, the retransmission was encoded with the older code 13040 and so by mid-February, the British had the complete text and the ability to release the telegram without revealing the extent to which the latest German codes had been broken. (At worst, the Germans might have realized that the 13040 code had been compromised, but that was a risk worth taking against the possibility of United States entry into the war.) Finally, since copies of the 13040 codetext would also have been deposited in the records of the American commercial telegraph company, the British had the ability to prove the authenticity of the message to the American government. [3]

As a cover story, the British could publicly claim that their agents had stolen the telegram's decoded text in Mexico. Privately, the British needed to give the Americans the 13040 code so that the American government could verify the authenticity of the message independently with their own commercial telegraphic records, but the Americans agreed to back the official cover story. The German Foreign Office refused to consider that their codes could have been broken but sent Eckardt on a witch hunt for a traitor in the embassy in Mexico. Eckardt indignantly rejected those accusations, and the Foreign Office eventually declared the embassy exonerated. [20]

Use Edit

On February 19, Hall showed the telegram to Edward Bell, the secretary of the American Embassy in Britain. Bell was at first incredulous and thought that it was a forgery. Once Bell was convinced the message was genuine, he became enraged. On February 20, Hall informally sent a copy to US Ambassador Walter Hines Page. On February 23, Page met with British Foreign Minister Arthur Balfour and was given the codetext, the message in German, and the English translation. The British had obtained a further copy in Mexico City, and Balfour could obscure the real source with the half-truth that it had been "bought in Mexico". [24] Page then reported the story to Wilson on February 24, 1917, including details to be verified from telegraph-company files in the United States. Wilson felt "much indignation" toward the Germans and wanted to publish the Zimmermann Telegraph immediately after he had received it from the British, but he delayed until March 1, 1917. [25]

Many Americans then held anti-Mexican as well as anti-German views, Mexicans had a considerable amount of anti-American sentiment in return, some of which was caused by the American occupation of Veracruz. [26] General John J. Pershing had long been chasing the revolutionary Pancho Villa for raiding into American territory and carried out several cross-border expeditions. News of the telegram further inflamed tensions between the United States and Mexico.

However, many Americans, particularly those with German or Irish ancestry, wished to avoid the conflict in Europe. Since the public had been told falsely that the telegram had been stolen in a decoded form in Mexico, the message was at first widely believed to be an elaborate forgery created by British intelligence. That belief, which was not restricted to pacifist and pro-German lobbies, was promoted by German and Mexican diplomats alongside some antiwar American newspapers, especially those by the Hearst press empire.

The Wilson administration was thus presented with a dilemma. With the evidence the United States had been provided confidentially by the British, Wilson realized the message was genuine, but he could not make the evidence public without compromising the British codebreaking operation.

Any doubts as to the authenticity of the telegram were removed by Zimmermann himself. At a press conference on March 3, 1917, he told an American journalist, "I cannot deny it. It is true." Then, on March 29, 1917, Zimmermann gave a speech in the Reichstag in which he admitted that the telegram was genuine. [27] Zimmermann hoped that Americans would understand that the idea was that Germany would not fund Mexico's war with the United States unless the Americans joined World War I.

On February 1, 1917, Germany began unrestricted submarine warfare against all ships in the Atlantic bearing the American flag, both passenger and merchant ships. Two ships were sunk in February, and most American shipping companies held their ships in port. Besides the highly-provocative war proposal to Mexico, the telegram also mentioned "ruthless employment of our submarines". Public opinion demanded action. Wilson had refused to assign US Navy crews and guns to the merchant ships, but once the Zimmermann note was public, Wilson called for arming the merchant ships although antiwar members of the US Senate blocked his proposal. [28]

On April 6, 1917, Congress voted to declare war on Germany. Wilson had asked Congress for "a war to end all wars" that would "make the world safe for democracy". [29]

Wilson considered another military invasion of Veracruz and Tampico in 1917–1918, [30] [31] to pacify the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and Tampico oil fields and to ensure their continued production during the civil war, [31] [32] but this time, Mexican President Venustiano Carranza, recently installed, threatened to destroy the oil fields if the US Marines landed there. [33] [34]

The Japanese government, another nation mentioned in the Zimmerman Telegram, was already involved in World War I, on the side of the Allies against Germany. The government later released a statement that Japan was not interested in changing sides and in attacking America. [35]

In October 2005, it was reported that an original typescript of the decoded Zimmermann Telegram had recently been discovered by an unnamed historian who was researching and preparing an official history of the United Kingdom's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). The document is believed to be the actual telegram shown to the American ambassador in London in 1917. Marked in Admiral Hall's handwriting at the top of the document are the words: "This is the one handed to Dr Page and exposed by the President." Since many of the secret documents in this incident had been destroyed, it had previously been assumed that the original typed "decrypt" was gone forever. However, after the discovery of this document, the GCHQ official historian said: "I believe that this is indeed the same document that Balfour handed to Page." [36]


Zimmerman Telegram: What Was The Zimmerman Telegram, and How Did It Affect World War One?

The Zimmerman Telegram was an important piece of America's decision to enter World War One. After having remained neutral in the war for nearly three years, several events in 1916 and early 1917 occurred which brought America into the war against Germany.

Germany had previously engaged in unrestricted submarine warfare on the British, where the Germans declared they would sink any ship in or near British waters without warning. This included not just British and other allied shipping, but even ships from neutral nations, such as the United States. Several instances of German subs sinking neutral civilian ships and British civilian ships, such the William P. Frye, an American merchant ship in 1915, the British cruise ship Lusitania in 1915, and the French ship Sussex in early 1916.

Zimmerman Telegram-Coded Version

In May, 1916, Germany agreed to halt the practice of unrestricted submarine warfare (attacking ships without warning) in order to prevent possible American entry into the war. By early 1917, however, the British naval blockade of Germany (which the United States honored), was causing severe hardship to the German economy, prompting the Germans to renew their all-out naval attacks on the British, in an attempt to force Britain to sue for peace.

Still fearing the effect of antagonizing the Americans and their likely entry into the war on the side of Britain and France, Germany decided to make an offer to Mexico. This offer was sent to the German ambassador to Mexico by the German Foreign Minister, Arthur Zimmerman. In the so-called Zimmerman Telegram, Germany proposed an alliance between Germany and Mexico in the event of American entry into the war. Germany promised financial aid to Mexico and support in a Mexican war to re-conquer the territory lost in the first Mexican-American War . The telegram also asked Mexico to help negotiate peace between Germany and Japan in order to bring the Japanese also into the war against America and Britain.

Zimmerman Telegram-Decoded Version

The British intercepted the coded message and presented the decoded letter to American President Woodrow Wilson on February 24, 1917. The contents of the telegram were released to the American press on March 1, and the reaction among the American populace was predictable. Combined with the resumption of Germany's unrestricted submarine warfare on February 1, 1917, President Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war on Germany on April 2, 1917 . Congress voted for war, and the U.S. declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, entering World War One.

Related to the contents of the Zimmerman Telegram are several questions:

Did the Germans admit that the Telegram was genuine? Or did they claim it was "fake news?"

On March 29, 1917, Zimmerman publicly admitted that he did indeed send the telegram to his ambassador in Mexico, defending his action as a logical precaution in the event of American entry into the war. Until his confirmation, many in the U.S. doubted the authenticity of the letter.

Did Mexico consider declaring war on the United States based on the Zimmerman Telegram?

The short answer is NO. Mexico was in the middle of one of the bloodiest civil wars in all of history at the time, and the government of President Carranza knew Mexico could not win against America, especially since Mexico had been unable to effectively prevent American occupation of the port city of Vera Cruz by the U.S. in 1914, and also had been unable to stop the American Army under General John Pershing from entering northern Mexico in 1916 in pursuit of Mexican rebel leader Pancho Villa.

Why was Japan mentioned in the Zimmerman Telegram and what was the Japanese reaction?

Japan had entered the war against Germany on Britain's side in 1914, primarily to gain control of German colonies among islands in the Pacific Ocean and on mainland China. The Zimmerman Telegram instructed the German minister in Mexico to ask the Mexican president to act as an intermediary between Germany and Japan to bring Japan into the theoretical war with the United States. Japan later released a statement that they were not interested.

Below is the transcription of the infamous, and very ill-advised Zimmerman Telegram:

Transcript of Zimmermann Telegram (1917)

(Decoded message text of the Zimmermann Telegram)

FROM 2nd from London # 5747.

"We intend to begin on the first of February unrestricted submarine warfare. We shall endeavor in spite of this to keep the United States of America neutral. In the event of this not succeeding, we make Mexico a proposal or alliance on the following basis: make war together, make peace together, generous financial support and an understanding on our part that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The settlement in detail is left to you. You will inform the President of the above most secretly as soon as the outbreak of war with the United States of America is certain and add the suggestion that he should, on his own initiative, invite Japan to immediate adherence and at the same time mediate between Japan and ourselves. Please call the President's attention to the fact that the ruthless employment of our submarines now offers the prospect of compelling England in a few months to make peace." Signed, ZIMMERMANN


6 Indian Mutiny Telegram

The 1857 revolt by Indian soldiers could easily have taken the British completely by surprise if it wasn&rsquot for the telegraph system. The first telegraph line on the subcontinent had been laid by the East India Company in 1850 between Kolkata and Diamond Harbour, one of many technical innovations that the locals viewed with suspicion but which ultimately served as investments to secure imperial power.

On May 11, 1857, telegraph master Charles Todd went out to check on the telegraph lines when he was murdered by mutineers sent to take out the lines of communication. However, his two assistants, William Brendish and J.W. Pilkington, remained at their posts waiting for word from the military while providing updates on the mutiny breaking out in Delhi to the telegraph station at Ambala.

Eventually, Brendish and Pilkington were forced to flee, sending one final dispatch:

We must leave office. All the bungalows are on fire, burning down by the sepoys of Meerut. They came in this morning. Mr. C. Todd is dead, we think. He went out this morning and has not yet returned. We learn that nine Europeans were killed. We are off. Goodbye.

General George Anson, commander-in-chief in India, was at a dinner party in Simla, 106 kilometers (66 mi) from Ambala, on May 12 when he finally received the message. The word from Delhi would spur Anson into action, giving him time to mobilize troops to crush the rebellion. H.C. Fanshawe would write begrudgingly of the event in 1902: &ldquoIrresponsible chatter of one clerk with another that warned Punjab of what happened at Delhi, and enabled the authorities there to take steps which at least scotched further mutiny and saved the position for the time being.&rdquo


The Zimmermann Telegram

On February 1 we intend to begin submarine warfare without restriction. In spite of this it is our intention to endeavor to keep the United States neutral. If this attempt is not successful, we propose an alliance on the following basis with Mexico: That we shall make war together and together make peace we shall give general financial support, and it is understood that Mexico is to re-conquer her lost territory of New Mexico, Texas and Arizona. - Arthur Zimmermann

Some time ago I read The Zimmermann Telegram, a book written by Barbara W. Tuchman. The book is based on an interesting episode in world history that occurred 97 years ago. Mexico accepted a secondary role in the event. However, it could have been major player and worked the situation to its advantage. I'm talking about a telegram sent by the Foreign Affairs Minister of the German Empire, Arthur Zimmermann, on January 16, 1917, while World War I was in full swing.

The telegram describes a German proposal to the Mexican government to establish a military alliance against the United States. Mexico, in contemplating its meager military capability, declined the German proposal.

This document is so important that many historians attribute U.S. involvement in the so-called Great War to its existence. The document was intercepted and decoded by British intelligence.

In 1917 the war in Europe was bogged down. The United Kingdom knew that only the United States could provide it with a needed advantage. However, our northern neighbors remained firm in their neutrality. There was even strong support for Germany within some circles, but that's another story.

In this global game of chess, the United Kingdom played its moves brilliantly, eventually convincing the United States to enter the war, which was instrumental in the victory of the Allies.

In this complex game of strategy, what did Mexico gain? Nothing. This episode illustrates our historic inability to play our hand in the international concert of nations. Be clear: I'm not insinuating that Mexico should have joined the Central Powers. However, there's no doubt that Mexico failed to exploit its natural alliance with the United States . and I'm talking about an alliance, not subordination.

Many of the problems we have had with our neighbor are based on the lack of recognition of our strategic importance and not very rational approach when playing our cards.

Tuchman's book also recalls the epic corruption of the revolutionary government and the great treachery of Francisco Villa, who served as an instrument of the German government in his criminal attack on Columbus. Tuchman portrays President Woodrow Wilson as a dreamer for sending a punitive expedition of 6,000 to 12,000 men to trap Villa, and to respond to numerous German attacks with simple diplomatic notes.

The author portrays the Germans as so overconfident that they sent the telegram through U.S. communication channels, never thinking they would be able to intercept and/or decrypt the document. In the end, it was British intelligence that accomplished this feat, massively capitalizing on the smugness of its enemies. In fact, the British secretly mocked their American cousins ​​when they realized that the telegram had crossed U.S. territory and communication channels completely unhindered.

Today, global wars are fortunately no longer fought with weapons but through fierce competition among companies. The rivalry is still ruthless and the nature of countries and governments has changed very little.

Espionage is an even more important issue in this age of electronic communication. In the past few years we have learned that no government or institution, ally or enemy, is safe from the intelligence services of the United States everything passes through their hands. We must ask, what happens with this information? What unfair advantages does it provide for the government and companies? The vast data traffic over the Internet circulates through servers located in the United States, which means that no one is safe from this potential espionage.

Given this situation, is there any possible protection? With the increasing capacity to analyze large volumes of information, these issues take on greater relevance today than in 1917.

Almost one hundred years later, Mexico is still not able to bring its enormous economic, political, and demographic weight to bear in international affairs. Lesser nations make their voices heard in the centers where the big global decisions are made, while Mexico remains silent and defends its interests timidity.

Today we see how thousands of deadly weapons that kill thousands of our fellow citizens are traded with impunity across the Rio Grande, while Washington demands that we end the northern bound drug trade, without any efforts being made on its part to reduce consumption.

It's our duty to fight for our interests and for our place in the world as a nation. The Zimmermann Telegram episode is just one example of our limits in taking advantage of our circumstances and strengths. It's time to show our potential and to project it internationally. We have much to contribute. The strength, sophistication, and vitality of our youth give me hope that this situation will change.


Zimmermann Telegram

On March 1, 1917, the American public learned about a German proposal to ally with Mexico if the United States entered the war. Months earlier, British intelligence had intercepted a secret message from German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann to the Mexican government, inviting an alliance (along with Japan) that would recover the southwestern states Mexico lost to the U.S. during the Mexican War of 1846-47.

The secret to the British interception began years earlier. In 1914, with war imminent, the British had quickly dispatched a ship to cut Germany’s five trans-Atlantic cables and six underwater cables running between Britain and Germany. Soon after the war began, the British successfully tapped into overseas cable lines Germany borrowed from neutral countries to send communications. Britain began capturing large volumes of intelligence communications.

British code breakers worked to decrypt communication codes. In October of 1914, the Russian admiralty gave British Naval Intelligence (known as Room 40) a copy of the German naval codebook removed from a drowned German sailor’s body from the cruiser SMS Magdeburg. Room 40 also received a copy of the German diplomatic code, stolen from a German diplomat’s luggage in the Near East. By 1917, British Intelligence could decipher most German messages.

What led to the proposal of alliance to Mexico? Zimmermann sent the telegram in anticipation of resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare, an act the German government expected would likely lead to war with the U.S. Zimmermann hoped tensions with Mexico would slow shipments of supplies, munitions, and troops to the Allies if the U.S. was tied down on its southern border.

Some suspected the telegram might be a forgery to manipulate America into the war. However, on March 29, 1917, Zimmermann gave a speech in the Reichstag confirming the text of the telegram and so put an end to all speculation as to its authenticity.


India-Pakistan and wars:

The last Viceroy Lord Mountbatten split British India into India and Pakistan in 1947. Due to internal conflicts and international politics, Mountbatten split British India roughly along on an arbitrary line.

War started between the neighboring nations the very next day after independence on 15th August 1947. Militants sponsored by the Pakistan army entered into the princely state of Kashmir.

The Indian Army stopped the infiltration, and the United Nations intervened. UN mediators proposed a temporary solution for the issue.

In the years to come, India and Pakistan fought two more wars. In 1998 a new wave of peace prevailed in the region. The two nuclear powers sat down for negotiations. India’s Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sheriff opened peace talks. It was the first time an Indian prime minister made a state visit to Pakistan.


The Zimmermann Telegram

“No account of the stirring episodes leading up to our entry into the World War can be considered complete without at least a reference to the one in which the Zimmermann telegram played the leading role.”

—1938 study by the War Department Office of the Chief Signal Officer.

The Zimmermann telegram was intercepted by the British and passed along to the Americans. It helped pressure President Wilson to ask Congress for a declaration of war against Germany in 1917. (National Archives Identifier 302025)

At first glance, the telegram dated January 16, 1917, appeared to be nothing more than a series of numbers running across a page.

To the casual observer, these three- to five-digit number sequences (130, 13042, 13401, 8501) would seem nonsensical.

But the British cryptographers, whose duty it was to root out secret codes, knew better. They formed the nucleus of the British Admiralty’s code-breaking organization known as Room 40. Using captured German codebooks found in combat and through military intelligence, the British concluded that the coded message they were reading had been sent by the foreign secretary of the German empire, Arthur Zimmermann, to the German ambassador in Washington, Johann von Bernstorff.

The Room 40 codebreakers intercepted the message as it briefly passed over British territory. The Germans were often forced to use cables belonging to neutral countries after their own Atlantic cables were cut earlier in the war.

Once the Zimmermann telegram was decoded, the British knew they were on to something big—but the question facing them was what should they do with it?

An Assassination in Sarajevo Plunges Europe into War

World War I had begun nearly three years earlier when Archduke Franz Ferdinand—the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne—and his wife, Sophie, were assassinated on June 28, 1914, while making a goodwill visit to Sarajevo, Bosnia.

Because anti-government feelings ran strong in this territory, which had been annexed by Austria-Hungary, the archduke was warned against going. Franz Ferdinand, however, insisted on making the trip, arguing that this would also give him the opportunity to inspect military maneuvers taking place just outside of Sarajevo.

The assassination was carried out by 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip, who was acting on behalf of the Black Hand Society, a nationalistic group advocating the liberation of all Serbs under Austro-Hungarian rule.

Believing that Serbia itself was behind the archduke’s murder, Austria-Hungary issued a set of demands so severe that Austro-Hungarian leaders were convinced the Serbs would refuse to honor them, thus giving them a reason to declare war on Serbia.

To everyone’s surprise, Serbia accepted the bulk of the demands but drew the line when it came to allowing Austria-Hungary to conduct its own investigation into the archduke’s murder. With Germany’s encouragement, Austria-Hungary then declared war on Serbia. Soon the world powers, through various treaties of their own, began aligning themselves on either side.

From the war’s outset, however, President Woodrow Wilson was determined to keep the United States out of the war and to remain neutral. This, however, became increasingly difficult to do, as more and more citizens and political leaders called on America to enter the war on the side of the allies.

Germany Sends Spies, Saboteurs British Seek U.S. Entry into War

Despite U.S. claims of neutrality, the Germans were very much aware that American munitions depots were supplying ammunition to the British, and several German spies and saboteurs—many of them U.S. citizens who still maintained their allegiance to Germany—were known to be in the states to try to halt shipments from leaving the country.

Although his official title was German ambassador to the United States, Bernstorff was told before departing for America that he was to serve as Germany’s espionage and sabotage chief for the Western Hemisphere. Even as he was constantly assuring President Wilson that his country wished for a quick resolution to the war, he was ordering attacks on American supply depots.

Wilson, meanwhile, continued to hold firm to his neutrality policy and even allowed Bernstorff to use American transatlantic cables to send diplomatic messages back and forth between Germany and the West. At the same time, Bernstorff had been paying off several American reporters not only to write favorable articles about Germany but also to serve as couriers.

Acting on a coded message intercepted by the men of Room 40, on September 1, 1915, British soldiers boarded a ship near Falmouth, England, and apprehended American journalist James Archibald. Inside his briefcase they found, among other things, sabotage progress reports written by German military attaché Franz von Papen and Karl Boy-Ed, the German naval attaché to the United States.

Hoping to draw America into the war, Britain leaked the letters to the American press. These letters, coming on the heels of the German torpedoing of the luxury liner Lusitania on May 7, convinced the British more than ever that America needed to take a stand in the war. Of the 1,959 passengers on board the Lusitania, 1,198 were killed, and 128 of them were Americans.

Pressure Grows for War Trouble Brews with Mexico

Up to this point, Wilson had rejected several State Department requests to investigate von Papen, but in November, Secretary of State Robert Lansing wrote to the President suggesting that von Papen and Boy-Ed be expelled from the United States. Wilson finally agreed.

On December 10, after receiving a letter from Lansing demanding that both von Papen and Boy-Ed be recalled, Bernstorff officially recalled the two men to Germany.

Von Papen vigorously proclaimed his innocence, but when members of the British navy checked his luggage upon his arrival in Falmouth, England, they found a checkbook showing deposits of more than $3 million, as well as more than 100 check stubs written to suspected German saboteurs.

On April 9, 1914, three months before the start of World War I, the crew of the USS Dolphin was detained while purchasing fuel in Tampico, Mexico. Unbeknownst to the sailors, this particular fueling station was located in a spot that had previously been declared off limits to foreigners. Although the American sailors were quickly released, their commander, Adm. Henry T. Mayo, was enraged.

Crew of the USS Dolphin were detained in Tampico, Mexico. (19-A-2-45)

In a dispatch to Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza—the commander of Federal forces at Tampico—Mayo demanded that a 21-gun salute be given as an official apology and that the American flag be raised and saluted. Gen. Victoriano Huerta, the president of Mexico, claimed to be fearful of anti-American acts if he gave in to U.S. demands and refused to honor “the humiliating terms of the United States.”

On April 20, Wilson addressed Congress and asked for approval to use military force if called for, declaring that any action taken was simply to “maintain the dignity and authority of the United States.”

The Tampico affair was hardly an isolated incident, he told Congress, and it was important that Huerta show remorse for “slights and affronts” committed against the United States for its refusal to recognize him as Mexico’s Constitutional Provisional President.

U.S. Intercepts German Ships, Seizes Port of Veracruz

Venustiano Carranza (center) replaced Victoriano Huerta as president of Mexico after revolutionaries pushed Huerta into exile. (111-SC-82916)

When Wilson received word on April 21 that a German ship was headed toward Mexico with weapons for Huerta, he ordered American troops to seize the customs office at Veracruz to prevent the arms from reaching him. Once the U.S. Navy intercepted the German ship, thus enforcing the arms embargo Wilson had placed on Mexico, American soldiers stormed Veracruz, intent on taking possession of the customs house and railroad yards, as well as the cable, telegraph, and post offices.

Several U.S. battleships and cruisers arrived later that night, carrying additional troops to reinforce American forces already deployed in and around Veracruz.

The Americans advanced on the Mexican naval academy the following morning, and by the end of the day, American forces, with the help of warships in the harbor, were in control of Veracruz and would remain there for the next seven months.

In July, bowing to pressure from Mexican revolutionaries, Huerta resigned his position and went into exile. Venustiano Carranza replaced him.

On January 10, 1916, a group of outlaws associated with the legendary Mexican bandit Pancho Villa stopped a train near Santa Isabel, where they lined up 17 American mining engineers and shot them down in cold blood. Some historians believe this attack was in response to the American government’s support of Carranza, and not Villa, as Mexico’s official leader.

Just two months later, Villa and his men crossed the Mexican border into Columbus, New Mexico, in search of supplies. As they rode through town, ransacking stores and burning down houses, they were confronted by troops attached to the 13th Calvary stationed at Camp Furlong.

The 13th was able to repulse Villa’s attack, but not before 18 American civilians and soldiers were killed. In return, Villa lost nearly 100 of his own men before the remaining marauders escaped back over the border into Mexico.

Carranza agreed to allow American forces to enter Mexico for the sole purpose of capturing Villa. On March 16, Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing crossed the border with an expeditionary force determined to bring Villa to justice.

However, Wilson had stipulated that Pershing’s men respect the sovereignty of Mexico and avoid any kind of altercation with the Mexican army. This proved difficult to do. The Mexican military resented the American presence in Mexico and even fought against them in Carrizal on June 21, when American forces were tipped off that Villa might be found there.

By January 1917, with Pancho Villa still on the loose and diplomatic relations between the United States and Mexico further strained, the Mexican expedition was called off.

Fire, Explosions Destroy Arms Bound for Britain

By 1916, America had become the largest supplier of arms to Britain, much of it coming from Black Tom in New Jersey, a strip of land located on the western shore of the upper bay in the New York harbor. Formerly an island, the space between the island and shore—as well as parts of the island itself—had been filled in to provide easier access.

Black Tom was made up of numerous warehouses, piers, train tracks, and loading docks that had been extremely busy since the start of the war. It was a prime target for saboteurs.

At approximately 12:30 on the morning of July 30, 1916, a security officer spotted a fire coming from the train yard. Once the fire spread to the tracks, railroad cars holding explosives began detonating.

According to a Bureau of Explosives report, the cars contained a total of 550,000 pounds of dry trinitrotoluol, 965,000 pounds of wet trinitrotoluol, 25,200 pounds of trinitrotoluol in shells and cartridges, 6,415 pounds of black powder, and 53,437 pounds of smokeless powder.

It was nearly 1:30 a.m. when the Jersey City fire department arrived and found the fire burning too hot for them to get near the exploding cars. As tugboats began pulling barges away from the piers, one of the barges exploded. On board was more than 100,000 pounds of TNT. The sound and vibration was heard and felt as far away as Jersey City and caused severe structural damage to many buildings throughout the city and overturned tombstones in local cemeteries.

Black Tom, New Jersey, located in the upper bay in New York Harbor, was a prime target for saboteurs. (111-SC-95793)

Black Tom Explosions Rock New York City Skyscrapers

Just over 30 minutes later, a second explosion rocked Black Tom. The shock from this blast shook the Brooklyn Bridge and broke windows in several New York City skyscrapers. People standing on the Jersey City docks, a mile to the north, were thrown to the ground by the sheer force of the blast. Across the harbor, shrapnel tore into the chest of the Statue of Liberty, and rivets holding the torch to the arm were popped. The arm of Lady Liberty has been closed to tourists ever since. Surprisingly, the Black Tom explosion resulted in only five deaths.

Although many believed German saboteurs were responsible, it wasn’t until 1939 that Germany was held accountable for the explosion and ordered to pay $50 million in restitution. It is believed that Franz von Papen—the attaché expelled from the United States the previous year—was most likely responsible for the initial planning.

Throughout the war, German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann had been opposed to unrestricted submarine warfare. He was concerned that this might lead Wilson to abandon neutrality and allow America to enter the conflict on the side of the allies. By December 1916, however, he had changed his position and now supported the idea.

In contrast, Bernstorff, who wasn’t above a little sabotage here and there, believed unrestricted submarine warfare was an open invitation for America to go to war and was attempting to halt the use of U-boats before they could be put into service.

On December 28 he met with Edward House—one of Wilson’s closest advisers—to discuss a plan the President had proposed.

Believing that Germany was interested in finding a peaceful solution to the war and knowing they were unwilling to make any terms of peace known publically, Wilson suggested that any proposals be transmitted over the State Department cable. In return, Bernstorff promised that his government would send only peace terms over the cable.

This, however, would prove not to be the case.

The Germans now felt they had enough U-boat power to end the war before the Americans could intervene, but they still had to prepare for possible U.S. involvement. The only way to prevent U.S. entry into the war was to somehow distract the United States.

Zimmermann was instructed to check out the possibility of an alliance with Mexico in case the United States abandoned neutrality. Some officials in the German government believed that Carranza might be open to the idea after the Veracruz incident and Pershing’s expedition into Mexico had strained relations with the United States.

Germany Unleashes U-Boats, and the Telegram Goes Public

Over the continued objections of Ambassador Bernstorff and several other high-ranking officials, Germany decided on January 9, 1917, to begin unrestricted submarine warfare. Proponents of the U-boat policy believed it would help them win the war in six months.

Kaiser Wilhelm gave his authorization the next day, and February 1 was selected as the date on which the U-boats would begin this next phase of the war.

Although Zimmermann was sure that Wilson would not budge from his neutrality position (due in part to his recently being reelected on the slogan “he kept us out of war”) the foreign minister still had to be prepared in the event Wilson reversed course.

Zimmermann proposed to his colleagues that in return for Carranza going to war with the United States, any alliance with Mexico would include Germany’s assistance in recovering territory taken from them after the Mexican-American War in 1848. His proposal was approved, and he was told to proceed.

Knowing that Bernstorff had received permission to use the State Department cable, Zimmermann had the coded message delivered to the U.S. embassy in Berlin. It was then transmitted by diplomatic cable to Copenhagen before being wired to London and eventually to Washington.

This roundabout route was used because Germany no longer had cables in the Atlantic and because there was no direct wire from Denmark to the United States. Therefore, the message was sent from Copenhagen to a relay station on the westernmost point of England, where it was intercepted by the Room 40 codebreakers.

The State Department received the telegram on January 17 and delivered it to Bernstorff the following day. He then forwarded it to Heinrich von Eckhardt, the German ambassador to Mexico, on January 19 with instructions to keep its contents secret until further notice. Once decoded, the telegram read:

We intend to begin unrestricted submarine warfare on the first of February. We shall endeavor in spite of this to keep the United States neutral. In the event of this not succeeding, we make Mexico a proposal of alliance on the following basis: make war together, generous financial support and an understanding on our part that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The settlement in detail is left to you.

You will inform the president [of Mexico] of the above most secretly as soon as the outbreak of war with the United States is certain and add the suggestion that he should, on his own initiative, invite Japan to immediate adherence and at the same time mediate between Japan and ourselves.

Please call the president’s attention to the fact that the unrestricted employment of our submarines now offers the prospect of compelling England to make peace within a few months. Acknowledge receipt.

Still hoping to arrange a peace settlement and unaware of Germany’s most recent decision regarding the use of its U-boats, Wilson appeared before the Senate on January 22 and delivered what would become known as his “peace without victory” speech.

He appealed to all nations involved in the war to settle the dispute with no actual winner being declared. On January 31 a distraught Bernstorff reluctantly delivered the notice of Germany’s intent to use unrestricted submarine warfare to Lansing at the State Department.

Eckhardt had originally been instructed not to deliver the alliance proposal to Carranza until it was certain the United States was going to war, but Zimmermann now doubted that Wilson would fail to react and telegraphed Eckhardt on February 5 with a message to proceed.

The telegram’s mention of Japan referred to Germany’s hope to get Japan out of the war. Previous attempts to arrange a separate peace between Germany and Japan, which was fighting on the side of the allies, had been attempted but failed. Zimmermann hoped that Mexico and Japan would form an alliance and then Mexico would be able to mediate peace between Japan and Germany.

Releasing the Telegram: A Dilemma for Cryptographers

Adm. William “Blinker” Hall, the British director of naval intelligence, was faced with a dilemma. His Room 40 cryptographers had intercepted Zimmermann’s telegram to Bernstorff, but knowing they would have to admit to having spied on American diplomatic traffic, he was unprepared to reveal what had been uncovered.

But with seemingly no end to the war in sight and the Americans continuing to stand on the sidelines, Hall decided on February 5 that the time had come to notify his superiors of the intercepted cable.

Hall told them that the decoding was not yet complete and he needed more time before notifying the Americans of the telegram’s existence. The bulk of the telegram had already been deciphered, and Hall clearly understood what it suggested, but he was not yet ready to reveal its contents to the American government.

What Hall really needed was time to find a way in which to deliver the news to Wilson without divulging the fact that the British had been intercepting messages sent over American cable wires.

Knowing that Bernstorff would have relayed the message to Eckhardt using the commercial telegraph system, Hall also knew a duplicate copy would exist in the Mexico City telegraph office.

The Bernstorff-to-Eckhardt copy would have slight differences in date, address, and signature from the original sent by Zimmermann to Bernstorff. If this copy could be obtained and made public, it would appear as if it had been intercepted somewhere between Washington and Mexico. On February 10 a British agent in Mexico known only as “Mr. H” was able to bribe an employee of the telegraph office and secure a copy of the message.

British Foreign Minister Arthur Balfour showed the cipher-text to U.S. Ambassador Walter Page during a February 23 meeting. The next day, Page cabled Secretary of State Lansing with news of Bernstorff’s telegram to Mexico. Page, known to be extremely pro-British and often criticized by those back home for not vigorously defending U.S. interests, had to explain how the British came up with the telegram.

In his cover letter, Page wrote somewhat untruthfully that the British had “made it their business” to obtain copies of Bernstorff’s commercial telegrams to Mexico on a regular basis. The telegrams would be sent back to London for decoding, he wrote, thus accounting for the delay in notifying Washington. This explanation allowed the British to keep secret their monitoring of American cable transmissions.

As Wilson was addressing Congress that Monday, seeking passage of a bill allowing Navy gunners on merchant ships, news came over the wire that another British liner, the Laconia, had been torpedoed by a German U-boat.

The next day, February 27, Secretary of State Lansing showed Wilson the original encrypted version of the Zimmermann-to-Bernstorff telegram sent over the State Department cable.

Although he had been advised against releasing the Zimmermann telegram at this time, Wilson decided to release it the next morning. His decision came after receiving word that Senator Robert LaFollette of Wisconsin was planning to lead a filibuster against the armed ships bill. The President hoped that the telegram would convince lawmakers to approve the bill to protect American lives at sea.

The March 1 New York Times headline read:

Germany Seeks Alliance Against US

Asks Japan and Mexico to Join Her

Full Text of Her Proposal Made Public.

That same day, the House passed the armed ships bill 403-13, but it died in the Senate, where Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts questioned the authenticity of the telegram. Although Zimmermann’s name was clearly shown on the original telegram, many lawmakers and private citizens still believed it to be a hoax perpetrated by the British in order to entice America into the war.

Senator Benjamin Tillman of South Carolina declared the telegram an outright fraud, asking: “Who can conceive of the Japanese consorting with Mexico and the Germans to attack the United States? Why, Japan hates Germany more than the devil is said to hate holy water.”

Zimmermann, however, surprised everyone when on March 3 he admitted to having been the actual author of the telegram.

The next day, with the filibuster successfully completed, the U.S. Senate went out of session without passing the armed ships bill. Wilson was enraged. Calling the filibuster the act of “a little group of willful men, representing no opinion but their own,” Wilson used his executive authority and ordered all American ships to be armed and ready to fire on any hostile vessel.

On March 20, after German U-boats sank three American ships, Wilson met with his cabinet, where a majority called on him to declare war. Former President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed: “If he does not go to war I shall skin him alive.”

On the night of April 2, Wilson asked Congress to consider the recent actions taken by Germany to be acts of war against the United States and its people, adding that the Zimmermann telegram was proof of the German government’s intent to “stir up enemies against us at our very doors.” Having attempted to stay neutral throughout the course of the war, even playing peacemaker at times, the United States formally declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917.

Zimmermann’s alliance proposal did reach the desk of Mexican President Carranza, but it was officially rejected once a military commission determined that there would be no benefit in accepting it. The commission ruled, among other things, that Mexico did not have the military strength to engage in a war with the much stronger United States.

The Japanese prime minister, Count Terauchi, issued a statement denying Japan had been contacted about any such proposal and added that they would have replied with “indignant and categorical refusal” if they had been.

Jay Bellamy is an archives specialist in the Research Support Branch at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland, and a frequent contributor to Prologue.

Note on Sources

The Zimmermann telegram is in General Records of the United States, Record Group (RG) 59, National Archives at College Park, MD (NACP). It can also be found in the National Archives online catalog at https://catalog.archives.gov/id/302025 the original decipher of the telegram is at https://catalog.archives.gov/id/302024. A lesson plan about the Zimmermann telegram is online at www.archives.gov/education/lessons/zimmermann/. The telegram is also included in a list of 100 milestone documents: http://ourdocuments.gov/.

The dispatch sent from Admiral Mayo to General Zaragoza during the Tampico incident is located in Navy Subject Files, entry 464B, file code WE-5, Naval Records Collection of the Office of Naval Records and Library, RG 45, NACP.

The report of the Chief Inspector for the Bureau of Explosives concerning the Black Tom explosion is in Entry 15, Records of the Armed Services Explosives Safety Board, Records of Interservice Agencies, RG 334, NACP.

Embassy dispatches can be found in the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) volumes for 1914 and 1917.

The opening quotation is taken from “The Zimmermann Telegram of January 16, 1917, and its Cryptographic Background,” located in Records of the National Security Agency/Central Security Service, RG 457, NACP.

Secondary sources consulted include Chad Millman, The Detonators (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2006) and Barbara Tuchman, The Zimmermann Telegram (New York: Viking Press, 1958).


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