Could there be a civil war in Mexico?

First World War : With Mexico against the USA

The Germans were starving, the Bank of England was on the verge of bankruptcy and France had dismissed its commander-in-chief after loss-making failures: in the spring of 1917 the western front of the First World War had come to a standstill. Hundreds of thousands of British, French and Germans had been senselessly sacrificed. In this situation, could a telegram change everything and thus decide this war?

Nigel de Gray was convinced of it. It was January 17, 1917. The Briton, a bourgeois lecturer, spoke fluent German and French in addition to his mother tongue, was so inconspicuous that his colleagues freely translated him as the “little mouse”. On the morning of that day, he gave his supervisor a handwritten note with the heading "7500". "D.I.D.," he said to his boss - D.I.D. stood for Director of the Intelligence Divisons and referred to the intelligence chief of the Navy -, "Do you want to drag the Americans into the war?" "Yes, my boy," replied the D.I.D. incredulously, and de Gray went on, "Well, then I have some pretty amazing news here."

De Gray was 31 years old at the time and worked in "Room 40", the strictly shielded quarters of the British naval intelligence service. And "7500" was the key to the latest German secret code. In Room 40 they had been working for hours deciphering a telegram that the British had intercepted that night. It contained two messages from Wilhelmstrasse - at that time the seat of the German Foreign Ministry - for the German ambassador to the USA, which he had to forward to Mexico. The British had a huge mess of numbers in their hands, groups of four and five digits each. But now they could read some of it.

The sentence could be from today

"We intend to start unrestricted submarine warfare on February 1st," it said. And, what was far more important: the Germans were apparently planning a new alliance that was to be directed against the USA, which was still neutral in this conflict. The name of the partner they had chosen was also deciphered: Mexico, the poor American neighbor. That sounded like a secret declaration of war on the United States. At this point it was also clear to de Grey's boss that he was holding explosives. How could the Germans come up with such an idea?

Arthur Zimmermann, then State Secretary in the Berlin Foreign Office - a position that corresponds to that of the Foreign Minister today - did not find the idea absurd at all. Zimmermann had sent the telegram in which it said in plain language: “An attempt will be made to keep America neutral. In the event that this does not succeed, we propose an alliance to Mexico. "

Taken in isolation, this sentence could come from today. Two weeks ago, the CSU politician Manfred Weber told Tagesspiegel: "If Trump closes the doors, we should practice a partnership with the states that offend Trump." Weber, chairman of the Group of the European People's Party in the European Parliament, said thus specifically Mexico.

Zimmermann found himself in a dramatic situation in 1917. The submarine war was not his idea. The Americans were still neutral, but you couldn't call them friends of the Germans either. In 1915 a German submarine sank the passenger steamer Lusitania in the Irish Sea. 128 American citizens were killed. The Germans then found it difficult to appease the United States.

Diplomats hope to keep America out of this war

Since the Lusitania incident, submarine commanders had to make sure that they had no neutral ship in front of the torpedo tubes. In individual cases, this meant that the chances of success were lower because they had to show up. Now, the telegram announced, it would be over. From February 1st on it was again: fire free on everything that floats. Because since the beginning of the war the British had cut off Germany from the international movement of goods with their fleet. Now the German Empire and its army command with the submarines hoped, in reverse, to force the British to surrender.

Of course, there was a great risk of meeting neutral ships again, which is why the ambassador in Washington should be warned in advance. Somehow the diplomats hoped to keep the Americans out of this war anyway. And if not? In this case, Zimmermann fell in love with Mexico, which had more than one open bill with the United States.

Many Mexicans hadn't forgotten that California, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas had all been Mexican before the US claimed these territories for itself. And they had to watch powerlessly how US troops operated again and again on their national territory.

That did not go unnoticed in Germany in 1917. As well as that, several Mexican envoys in Berlin had campaigned for an alliance. Among them, however, were dubious figures who could hardly speak for their government. And if so, for which government? Mexico had been torn apart by a civil war for years, and the German ambassador in Mexico City reported "a picture of undeniable devastation, wretched ruin". You had to be pretty desperate to think this country would be an ally now.

The Germans didn't have much to offer

One person had aroused the Germans' special interest: Pancho Villa. For some, the beard with a mustache was something of a revolutionary in the civil war, for others the leader of a bandit troop. Pancho Villa, for his part, had crossed the border between Mexico and the USA in 1916 and attacked a small US town including a military garrison. He was repulsed, and since then an ever larger North American expeditionary force has tried unsuccessfully to capture him in Mexico. Should the Americans get involved in a war there in this way, they would have less capacity left for Europe.

Specifically, the Germans didn't have much to offer. The General Staff signaled that they could provide 30,000 rifles, 100 machine guns and ten pieces of artillery. Not much for the conquest of Texas and New Mexico. This is exactly what Zimmermann promised in his telegram: “Joint warfare. Joint peace agreement. Ample financial support and approval on our part for Mexico to recapture formerly lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona. "

If that wasn't enough, he went even further: Unfortunately, California couldn't be left to the Mexicans, that would have to be reserved for Japan. Incidentally, they want to ask Mexico to mediate between Japan and the German Empire. Even then there were voices in Germany who thought the telegram was insane. There was a good chance it would backfire.

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