January, 1917
[Zimmermann Telegram]
American neutrality, World War One

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The Zimmermann Telegram

  Between late July of 1914 into 1917, most of the states of Europe were embroiled in a major conflict that became known (circa 1918-1939) as the Great War, but is now more usually referred to as World War One. During these earlier years of the war the United States remained neutral. In 1916 Woodrow Wilson was elected President for a second term and was helped towards such re-election because of the slogan "He kept us out of war."

  Events in early 1917 occurred in such a serious way as to undermine American neutrality. In February 1917 Imperial Germany, in the hope of dramatically undermining the British war effort, broke its "Sussex" pledge to limit submarine warfare. In response to this Imperial German introduction of a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare the United States severed diplomatic relations.

On 16th January 1917 British agents intercepted a coded telegram that, when deciphered by cryptographers based in the naval codebreaking bureau's Room 40 in Whitehall, proved to be a communication from German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann to the German Ambassador to Mexico, von Eckhardt.

  The content of this communication instructed von Eckhardt, should a state of war come to exist between Imperial Germany and the United States, to offer United States territory (Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona) to Mexico in return for joining with the German cause. These American States had actually been "lost" to Mexico in earlier conflicts with the United States.

  In an effort to protect their intelligence from detection and to capitalize on growing anti-German sentiment in the United States, the British waited until February 24th to present the telegram to Woodrow Wilson.

  The American press published news of the telegram on March 1st. In early April President Wilson addressed Congress spelling out his belief that the United States was effectively having war forced upon it principally by the campaign of submarine warfare but the Zimmermann proposals were also cited as a serious provocation.

  On April 6th, 1917, the United States Congress formally accepted that a state a war existed where the United States was in opposition to Imperial Germany and its allies.

  The decoded telegram reads:-

"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."


  The coded telegram is actually signed "Bernstorff" because it was transmitted through the United States and Bernstorff was the German Ambassador to Washington.

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