Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

100 Years Ago: The Zimmermann Telegram Made Public

The notorious Zimmermann Telegram which contributed to America's entry into the Great War was revealed to the American public a century ago today, 1 March 1917. After the message was intercepted and decoded at the legendary Room 40, British naval intelligence chief "Blinker" Hall took it upon himself to leak the telegram to the Americans without reference to his own Foreign Office. The translated document is worth reading in its entirety.  Even after 100 years it seems breathtakingly provocative:

The disastrous decision to dispatch the telegram was taken by Foreign Secretary Zimmermann without reference to the German chancellor, the kaiser, or the German general staff. Zimmermann's action was typical of the dysfunctional German federation, which lacked a central policy-making body. 

Arthur Zimmermann
Moreover, the Foreign Ministry failed to investigate carefully the circumstances surrounding disclosure of the telegram. Zimmermann preferred to scapegoat German ambassador Heinrich von Bernstorff and the German embassy staff in Washington rather than admit to a rather obvious breakdown in cryptographic security. Thus, this leak was never sealed. Unlikely as it seems, Zimmermann, an experienced diplomat, and his staff were woefully ignorant of political forces at work in America, Mexico, and Japan. Thus, these abortive German efforts to get Japan (a British ally) and Mexico (then in the throes of a civil war) to attack the United States had no chance of success. 

In contrast,U.S. secretary of state Robert Lansing effectively covered up the true provenance of the Zimmermann decryption. Like Wilson's diplomatic confidant and emissary Colonel House, he favored American entry into WWI on the side of Great Britain and saw Zimmermann's rash and ill-informed gambit as decisive in this regard. With the ongoing crisis over Germany's policy of unrestricted U-boat warfare and the mid-month abdication of Tsar Nicholas II and his replacement by the Provisional Government in Russia, the release of the Zimmermann Telegram gave President Wilson could counter almost all the domestic elements still objecting to America joining the war.  Before the month was out, he would call Congress into special session to request a declaration of war.

Source: The Zimmermann Telegram: Intelligence, Diplomacy and America's Entry into World War I by Thomas Boghardt


  1. The loss of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona still eats away at the patriotic Mexican.

  2. Regardless of any theoretical peace treaty in the event of a German/Mexican victory, I can see no chance of the well-armed citizens of CA, AZ, NM, and, most especially Texas, submitting to Mexican domination. After all what is a citizen militia for? (cf. 2nd Amendment). A very foolish move on the part of the Germans.

  3. It's interesting, to me at least, that the Mexican "Reconquista" is taught in Mexican schools to this day and that there are those still pushing for it.

    "In March 2015, at the midst of the War in Ukraine, when the US was planning on supporting Ukraine to fight against Russia, a speaker for the Chechen parliament threatened to "arm Mexico against US", and questioned the legal status of the territories of California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming." Matt Clinch (27 March 2015) - "Chechnya threatens to arm Mexico against US"

  4. Texas will be part of Mexico again in 2023 after the second American civil war.