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VFW Magazine August 2017 : Page 25

FAR LEFT (TOP): “The Temptation” by John Knott was published March 2, 1917, in the Dallas Morning News . It depicts a German plan to give Mexico “generous financial support” and the opportunity to “reconquer” three U.S. states along the southern border in exchange for an alliance in World War I and help brokering a similar alliance with the Japanese Empire. FAR LEFT (BOTTOM): The actual coded message sent as a Western Union telegram on Jan. 19, 1917, from Germany’s U.S. ambassador in Washington to Germany’s Mexico ambassador in Mexico City. Originating from the office of Foreign Secretary of the German Empire Arthur Zimmermann, the telegram notified Mexico of Germany’s intention to begin unrestricted submarine warfare on Feb. 1, 1917, and offered incentives to join the fight against America and its allies. ships — regardless of purpose, passen-gers or nation of origin — were potential targets of attack. Since ship traffic in the region included both the cargo ships car-rying goods between the U.S. and Europe and the cruise ships enjoyed by wealthy American vacationers, the new German policy threatened both the American economy and American lives. To the astonishment of many, Wilson remained resolute against intervention, angering both the British government — which eagerly anticipated the support that American involvement would bring — and many previously supportive Americans startled by Germany’s stark provocation. So tensions and stakes were both high when Frank Polk, head of the State Department’s Bureau of Secret Intelligence, walked into Wilson’s office on Feb. 25 to drop — metaphorically — a new political bombshell. Polk handed the President an intercepted telegram sent by the German Foreign Office to Germany’s ambassador to Mexico. The telegram opened by informing the German ambassador of plans for unrestricted submarine warfare. Then it went on: We shall endeavor in spite of this to keep the United States of America neutral STOP 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 lost territory in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona STOP The settlement in detail is left to you STOP You will inform the President [of Mexico] of the above most secretly as soon as the outbreak of war with the United States of America is certain.... In the President’s hand was evidence of a German proposal for alliance with Mexico that included an offer of sup-port for Mexico taking by force the terri-tory of three expansive American states. How it ended up in Wilson’s hand is one surprising part of the story, while the impact it actually had is a question that historians still ponder. ‘D’YOU WANT TO BRING AMERICA INTO THE WAR?’ The head of the German Foreign Office at the time was Arthur Zimmermann, an uncertain bureaucrat disliked by the country’s military leadership. According to historian Thomas Boghardt, author of The Zimmermann Telegram: Intelligence, Diplomacy, and America’s Entry into World War I , Zimmermann was nearly consumed by anxiety and weariness that came with preparing for and then absorbing the diplomatic fallout that the German announcement of unrestricted submarine warfare inevitably brought. It was during these days, at a routine staff meeting, that one of Zimmermann’s underlings, Hans Arthur von Kemnitz, first suggested the Germany-Mexico President Woodrow Wilson worked hard to keep the United States out of the Great War, but even the architect of the peace-promoting League of Nations had his limits. Already infuriated with German submarine attacks on civilian targets, Wilson finally had enough when he learned of the Zimmermann telegram in late February 1917. By April 6 of that year, he had asked for — and Congress delivered — a declaration of war against Germany. alliance. With Zimmermann’s approval, Kemnitz prepared a proposal for the Mexican government. Remarkably, Kemnitz’s draft of the message passed through a string of approvals with lit-tle consideration. Zimmermann him-self signed off on it, with no comment or revision, on the same day he received it. The chancellor of Germany, it seems, never even saw or was informed of the telegram before it was sent on Jan. 16. Equally remarkable, in retrospect, is the route the secret telegram took to get to the German embassy in Mexico. With German trans-Atlantic cables cut by Great Britain, the U.S. State Department had been allowing Germany to trans-March 1: Headlines across U.S. report telegram Feb. 25: President Wilson receives the telegram April 2: Wilson asks Congress for declaration of a state of war with Germany April 4: U.S. Senate votes in favor of war April 6: House of Representatives votes in favor of war March 20: Wilson’s cabinet unanimously advises declaration of war AUGUST 2017   • WWW.VFW.ORG • 25

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