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Table of contents

Conveniently, the first chapter provides an excellent bibliographic essay that reviews the literature on the telegram from World War I into the twenty-first century. Various early interpretations disagreed whether the telegram was a sinister German plot or evidence of British meddling, and events in the middle of and later in the century also produced differing interpretations. Boghardt lays the groundwork for the story of the telegram by devoting biographical chapters to each of the two central participants, Arthur Zimmermann and Sir William Reginald Hall.

As relations between Germany and the United States grew strained, Germany naturally sought ways to reduce the danger of an American intervention.

The Zimmermann telegram: the telegram that brought America into the First World War

Boghardt shows that both German and American diplomats came to an early appreciation of the consequences of an extensive American involvement in Mexico. There, Germany had a two-fold desire: to keep Japan from offering more assistance to the Entente, and, if possible, to cultivate Japanese and American antagonisms that had arisen from earlier immigration disputes. The drafting of the Zimmermann telegram took place against the background of a naval war that by the end of seemed to German military leaders to have become an indispensable complement to their land campaign on the western front.

But, as Boghardt points out, the telegram was the result of the confused strategic policymaking process that existed by the end of At that time, neither the Kaiser nor Chancellor Bethmann were willing to stand up to Field Marshall Paul von Hindenberg and General Erich Ludendorff, who dismissed concerns that the employment of the submarine weapon was certain to provoke the United States.

Communications Surveillance during World War I | EHNE

Interception of the telegram originated in the circumstances of German transatlantic communications. Dependent on cables controlled by British, the Germans were unable to overcome the technological problems associated with long-distance radio telegraphy or the problems associated with reliable routine physical delivery of messages to distant posts. State Department, which had been offered to facilitate peace work.

Thereafter, Hall simply awaited the proper moment, while protecting his sources and methods, to do the most damage to Germany with the information.


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This time Hall decided to inform the U. Likewise, the congressional response was mixed. Isolationism was still widespread in spite of the efforts of interventionists. Several senators with support from both political parties filibustered the armed ships bill, and Wilson was forced to achieve even this protective measure by executive order. But the British cryptographers, whose duty it was to root out secret codes, knew better. 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? 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, , 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 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.

Soon the world powers, through various treaties of their own, began aligning themselves on either side. 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. Despite U. 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, , British soldiers boarded a ship near Falmouth, England, and apprehended American journalist James Archibald. 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, passengers on board the Lusitania , 1, were killed, and of them were Americans. 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.

Zimmermann Telegram

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. In a dispatch to Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza—the commander of Federal forces at Tampico—Mayo demanded that a gun salute be given as an official apology and that the American flag be raised and saluted. Victoriano Huerta, the president of Mexico, claimed to be fearful of anti-American acts if he gave in to U. Venustiano Carranza center replaced Victoriano Huerta as president of Mexico after revolutionaries pushed Huerta into exile.

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. 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. 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, , 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.

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. In return, Villa lost nearly of his own men before the remaining marauders escaped back over the border into Mexico.

Furthermore, the British needed to find a way to convince the Americans the message was not a forgery.

For the first story, the British obtained the coded text of the telegram from the Mexican commercial telegraph office. The British knew that the German Embassy in Washington would relay the message by commercial telegraph, so the Mexican telegraph office would have the coded text. H" , a British agent in Mexico, bribed an employee of the commercial telegraph company for a copy of the message.

H" , or at least involved with the interception, in his autobiography. Moreover, the retransmission was encoded using the older code , so by mid-February, the British had not only the complete text but also 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 code had been compromised, but weighed against the possibility of United States entry into the war, that was a risk worth taking.

Finally, since copies of the 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 United States government. 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 code so that the United States government could verify the authenticity of the message independently with their own commercial telegraphic records; however, the Americans agreed to back the official cover-story. The German Foreign Office refused to consider a possible code break and instead sent Ambassador Eckardt on a witch-hunt for a traitor in the embassy in Mexico.

Eckardt indignantly rejected these accusations, and the Foreign Office eventually declared the embassy exonerated. Bell, at first incredulous, thought it a forgery. Once Bell was convinced the message was genuine, he became enraged. Page then reported the story to President Woodrow Wilson , including details to be verified from telegraph-company files in the United States.

Wilson released the text to the media on 28 February Popular sentiment in the United States at that time was anti-Mexican as well as Anti-German , while in Mexico there was considerable Anti-American sentiment. Pershing had long been chasing the revolutionary Pancho Villa and carried out several cross-border raids.

News of the telegram further inflamed tensions between the United States and Mexico. Many Americans wished to avoid the conflict in Europe.


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  • Since the public had been told untruthfully that the telegram had been stolen in a decoded form in Mexico, the message was widely believed at first to be an elaborate forgery perpetrated by British intelligence. This belief, which was not restricted to pacifist and pro-German lobbies, was promoted by German and Mexican diplomats and by some American newspapers, especially the Hearst press empire. This presented the Wilson administration 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 Arthur Zimmermann himself.

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    First, at a press conference on 3 March , he told an American journalist, "I cannot deny it. It is true. On 1 February , 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 previously refused to assign US Navy crews and guns to the merchant ships. However, once the Zimmermann note was public, Wilson called for arming the merchant ships, but anti-war elements in the United States Senate blocked his proposal.


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    • On 6 April , 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". Woodrow Wilson considered another military invasion of Veracruz and Tampico in —, [25] [26] so as to take control of the Tehuantepec Isthmus and Tampico oil fields, [26] [27] but this time the relatively new Mexican President Venustiano Carranza threatened to destroy the oil fields in case the Marines landed there.

      The Japanese government later released a statement that Japan was not interested in changing sides and attacking America. In October , 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.

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      The document is believed to be the actual telegram shown to the American ambassador in London in 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. 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.

      From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. This section does not cite any sources. Please help improve this section by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. January Learn how and when to remove this template message. For The President's Eyes Only. Harper Collins.

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      Retrieved 17 January BBC History Magazine. World War One. Ottawa, Canada: University of Ottawa. Mexico and the United States, Volume 3.

      Zimmermann Telegram: The Original Draft

      USA: Marshall Cavendish. The Zimmermann Telegram. The Oxford History of Mexico.