The Germans knew that their escalated U-boat campaign risked antagonising the Americans. To manage this threat, they have attempted to form an alliance with Mexico. Zimmermann, the German foreign minister, sent a telegram to the German ambassador there, instructing him to promise the Mexicans arms, money and US territory in the event of war with the United States.
Unfortunately for Zimmermann, his telegram was intercepted by the British and decoded by their secret cryptography unit. Its public release has caused a sensation, hastening the Americans along the road to war.
Zimmermann could perhaps have tried dissimulation, claiming that the telegram was a forgery, another plot by perfidious Albion. This seems not to have occurred to him. Having already admitted to the telegram’s authenticity to a US journalist, he now addresses the Reichstag to explain why he sent it. He claims that Americans should not be alarmed by the telegram’s contents, as he was merely seeking a defensive alliance with the Mexicans.
Zimmermann’s speech does not go down well with the Americans. But it also plays badly in Germany. The public have been led to expect that victory is just round the corner thanks to the U-boat war. If so, why is the government trying to recruit Mexico as an ally? And given that Mexico is in the grip of an intractable civil war, how much help could it give Germany against the United States?
Meanwhile in Mexico, President Carranza wisely decides to keep the Germans at arm’s length. He does not want to be sucked into a war with the United States does all the fighting for Germany’s benefit.
Arthur Zimmermann (First World War.com – a multimedia history of World War One)
Read Zimmermann’s speech here.