Zimmermann Telegram (1917)

This secret German telegram, which was leaked to the U.S. press by British intelligence, did much to bring the United States into World War I. It stands as a perfect example of intelligence and propaganda working hand in hand. In January 1917 British naval intelligence intercepted and decoded a telegram from Arthur Zimmermann (1864—1940), head of the German foreign office, to his ambassador in Mexico City, instructing him to offer Mexico the states of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico if it would join Germany in any future war against the United States. The British, eager to draw the United States into the war, passed the telegram to the U.S. government, and on 1 March its contents became public. Americans were outraged, including those living in the traditionally isolationist regions of the West and Midwest. Coupled with unrestricted German submarine attacks against U.S. vessels, the telegram suggested that Germany now directly threatened the United States. It helped to unite public opinion behind the decision of President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) to ask Congress for a declaration of war, which he obtained on 6 April 1917.

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