World War I for Kids - The Zimmerman Telegram for Kids
The Zimmerman telegram was a diplomatic note from the German government to the German embassy in Mexico. In it Germany asks Mexico to declare war on the United States if the USA declares war on Germany. Germany would provide help to Mexico and Mexico would invade the US and take back Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Southern California. This note was intercepted by the British and given to America after it was decoded. The decoded telegram was published on the front page of American newspapers across the country on March 1, 1917.
Decoded message text of the Zimmermann Telegram: (The president referred to in this telegram is the President of Mexico. Arthur Zimmermann was the German foreign ambassador.)
"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 or 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
In this telegram, Zimmermann refers to "unrestricted submarine warfare". What does that mean? To the Germans, unrestrictive submarine warfare meant that the German navy intended to use submarines to attack both military and non-military enemy vessels, including tankers and cargo ships. Submarines were new. Torpedoes were the silent killers. They were terrifying. Tankers and cargo ships were unarmed.
US President Woodrow Wilson did not, as expected by the British, allow the release of the Zimmermann telegram in the American newspapers to pressure him into asking Congress to declare war on Germany. Although he was angry, as were the American people, Wilson did not believe this failed attempt by the German foreign ambassador to entice Mexico to declare war on the United States was a strong enough reason to risk American lives overseas. He believed American vessels would be safe from German submarine attacks as the United States was not a participant in the war.