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The Zimmermann Telegram

Excerpt from How America Got It Right, by Bevin Alexander, pages 85

On February 23, 1917, after carefully concealing the fact that Britain had broken the German diplomatic code, Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour presented the telegram to the American ambassador in London.

President Wilson’s eyes were at last opened to Germany’s perfidy, and he released the telegram to the public. On March 1, 1917, the news burst across the newspapers of America. The New York Times headline, running all the way across the top of the page, read: “Germany seeks alliance against U.S., asks Japan and Mexico to join her.”

The Zimmermann telegram led most advocates of war to demand immediate hostilities. But the vein of neutrality ran so deep in America that many did not accept that the letter was authentic. Then, unbelievably, [Alfred] Zimmermann admitted at a press conference on March 3, 1917, that he had indeed written the letter, that he had—while still at peace with the United States—tried to forge an alliance with Mexico and pull Japan on the side of the Central Powers against the United States. The admission was a blunder of colossal proportions, because it settled the matter in American minds. No one knows why Zimmermann did not keep his mouth shut. Probably he had decided that the Americans had acquired documentary proof of his actions and that denial would make him look foolish. This was logical, but incorrect. The British had not revealed to Washington the full truth about how they had acquired the telegram.

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