Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Zimmerman Note sent

A encoded telegram was sent from the Foreign Secretary of the German Empire Arthur Zimmermann to the German ambassador to Mexico, Heinrich von Eckardt reading as 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.

The text proposed to invite Mexico into World War One as a Germany ally with the enticement that it was to receive those territories lost during the Mexican War.  Rather obviously Germany lacked a concrete understanding as to the degree of Mexican military strength, but as absurd as it sounds, in 1915 some vague Mexican revolutionary forces actually considered, and indeed attempted, to sponsor an uprising in that territory, albeit to little effect.  And Carranza's government did study the proposal, finding it unrealistic.

The note was decoded by the British in subsequent days, as will be seen, with negative consequences for Germany

1 comment:

Pat, Marcus & Alexis said...

An excellent question came upon the 100 Years Ago Today Subreddit, where this is linked in, regarding the actually transmission date of the telegram for the note. Therefore, I add this text here to hopefully clear that up:

Excellent points.

Yes, it was sent, but it wasn't fully transmitted right away.

That has to do with the sort of odd way in which the telegram for the note was sent, which gives you multiple dates for when it was sent, in part (with British deception about how they decoded it contributing).

The original note was dispatched (according to Wikipedia) on January 11. The message was delivered to the United States Embassy in Berlin (ironically) to be transmitted by diplomatic cable to Copenhagen. From Berlin it was transmitted by diplomatic cable to London. This required use of Swedish and American cables. From there it was transmitted by cable to the German Embassy in the United States. Both the Swedish cable used for part of the transmission and the American cable ran through Land's End, which the Germans apparently failed to grasp.

As the Germans were using the American cable for their transmission, which they assumed to be clear, it required the permission of the American embassy to actually transmit it from the embassy in its coded form. That did take several days and the American Embassy passed it on, on January 16. Even at that, however, it did not end up in Mexico on January 16 or 17, which was typical for telegrams of the era, so it ended up being delivered on January 19, in Mexico City, after being further telegraphed on from Washington D. C. A two day delay like that would have been the norm for telegrams at the time.

So, if we want to look at if fully accurately, and indeed we should, it was delivered for transmission on January 11, having been fully composed and, further, coded. After that, it sat in the American Embassy in Berlin for five days while the Germans worked on persuading the American Ambassador To Germany to allow its transmission on coded form. Once that permission was acquired the telegram was actually transmitted on January 16, but to the German Embassy in Washington D. C. At that point they turned it around and telegraphed their embassy in Mexico and it arrived there on January 19.

I suppose all that in some way serves to point out that this was risky in a variety of ways. It was risky to rely upon cables that belonged to two neutrals, particularly if you are proposing war against one of them. It was also risky to leave a coded message in the hands of the neutral that you proposed to have Mexico attack, although that risk wasn't what caused the break in decoding. It was risky to assume the cables did not contact land, given the distances involved and the history of transatlantic cables somewhere prior to getting to North America and maybe that was even a bit negligent.

Indeed, maybe the real risk wasn't suggesting that Mexico thrown in against the US if war came at all. That was perhaps delusional but Germany had nothing to loose by proposing it to Mexico. The only risk is if they were caught proposing it, which they seem to have run in multiple ways.