delanceyplace.com 11/30/09 - germany and mexico
resistant to entering World War I, and Woodrow
Wilson had just been re-elected on the promise to
keep America out of that war, when Germany made a
colossal diplomatic blunder that drew America
"As 1917 began, the war was not going well for Britain.
There seemed to be no end to the slaughter on the
Western Front yet there were no obvious signs of
Germany being defeated. Food shortages threatened
and the Asquith government had fallen. Worse,
Germany was about to start unrestricted U-boat
warfare in the Atlantic from February 1st with, it was
feared, a substantially larger U-boat fleet. Much
depended on whether America could be brought into
"Unrestricted U-boat warfare meant that every enemy
and neutral ship found near the war zone would be
sunk without warning. The Germans envisaged U-
boats sinking 600,000 tons a month, forcing Britain to
capitulate before the next harvest. Admiral von
Holtzendorff told the Kaiser: 'I guarantee that the
U-boat will lead to victory ... I guarantee on my word as
a naval officer that no American will set foot on the
"Enter Arthur Zimmermann, the new German Foreign
Minister, a blunt speaker who considered himself an
expert on American affairs. He developed a plan to
keep America out of Europe once U-boats started
sinking American ships. He proposed to establish a
German-Mexican alliance, promising the Mexicans
that if America entered the war, and following a
German victory, Mexico would have restored to her the
territories of Texas, New Mexico and
"On January 16th,
1917, [Zimmermann] sent a coded cable via the
channel to his ambassador in Washington, Count
Bernstorff. It contained his overture to Mexico
proposing a military alliance against America.
Bernstorff was instructed to pass on the message to
his counterpart Ambassador Eckhardt in Mexico
"The full text of the Zimmermann telegram
"Most Secret: For Your Excellency's personal
information and to be handed on to the Imperial
(German) Minister in Mexico.
"We intend to begin un-restricted submarine warfare
on the first of February. We shall endeavour in spite of
this to keep the United States neutral. In the event of
this not succeeding, we make Mexico a proposal of an
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 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.
[intercepted and decoded by the British
and] was passed to Washington with the explanation
that the British copy had been 'bought in Mexico'.
The contents of the telegram were passed on to the
Associated Press on February 28th. It sparked
eight-column headlines next morning. It caused a
sensation in America but at the same time aroused
suspicion among Washington politicians about
whether the telegram was authentic. Some even
sniffed a cunning British scheme to propel America
"Confirmation came from an unexpected source. To
Lansing's 'profound amazement and relief',
Zimmermann himself admitted his authorship.
Overnight the mid-Western isolationist press dropped
its pacifist posture. The Chicago Daily Tribune said
the United States could no longer expect to keep out
of 'active participation in the present conflict.'
"On April 6th 1917, America went to war with Germany,
as Wilson told a joint session of Congress: 'The world
must be made safe for democracy.' "
David Nicholas, "Lucky Break," History Today,
September 2007, pp. 56-57.