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hroughout World War One, the German Empire tried to incite war between the United States and Mexico. Due to the mass export of arms from the US to the UK, the allies seldom had equipment shortages, unlike the Central Powers, who had many of their trading routes blocked. By trying to incite war between the two North American nations, Germany hoped to tie down supplies that would otherwise make their way to Europe.

During the late stages of the war, equipment shortages got very bad for the Central Powers. In an attempt to drag Mexico and the US into a war, Germany made one of the biggest diplomatic mistakes of World War One.

Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona

Arthur Zimmermann. Source: Wikimedia Commons

At the beginning of the 20th century, the United States wasn’t the world power we know today.

Although still occupying most of the North American continent, the power disparity between it and its neighbors wasn’t as big as it is now as such, Mexico was known to have plans of conquering parts of the south of the US in the early 20th century.

Germany knew about this power struggle on the continent and, due to their quite desperate scenario in the late stage of World War One, decided to exploit it. Arthur Zimmermann, the State Secretary for Foreign Affairs of the German Empire starting in 1916, planned to offer Mexico an alliance.

For their support in the war in case of further American aggression, he promised land, more specifically the states of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.

A portion of the Telegram as decrypted by British Naval Intelligence codebreakers. Source: Wikimedia Commons

International communications were done with telegrams at the time; as such, Zimmermann wrote the following telegram directed at the Mexican government:

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. Signed, ZIMMERMANN

The telegram was meant to be securely transferred to Mexico through Transatlantic telegraph cables. While the message was on its way across the Atlantic, the British Intelligence operatives, who monitored the telegraph traffic at all times, intercepted the telegram and shortly decoded it, revealing Germany’s plan.

British intelligence was hesitant to release their findings as they didn’t want to let know the Americans know that they were monitoring their telegraph traffic as such a cover story was made that British intelligence intercepted the telegram in its encrypted form in Mexico.

The 2nd Amendment

Once word got out about the German telegram, Mexico had a choice. Either join the Central Powers and try to beat back the might of America in hopes that they could reclaim the three states promised to them by the Germans or stay neutral. Mexico chose to stay neutral due to America, although being weaker than its 1945 and Cold War counterpart, still being stronger than Mexico.

As well as this, Mexico was still experiencing internal struggles; having to manage three new territories full of English speakers who all had guns was not a feat the Mexican government was ready to perform.

In the end, the Zimmermann Telegram only worsened relations between Germany and the United States, increasing the war support within the American populace. Combined with the sinking of the Lusitania two years prior, it made it easy for the US to declare war against Germany. Zimmermann’s mistake was perhaps one of the biggest diplomatic mistakes of the early 20th century, as it left his already weak country even weaker than before and facing even more enemies.

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