Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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Right Angle Club 2017
Dick Palmer died this year. We will miss him.

The Zimmerman Telegram

Arthur Zimmermann

Some time in February, 1917, Zimmerman the German foreign minister sent a telegram to the President of Mexico, in code. The Germans sensed their submarine warfare might win the war for them, and so it might be very helpful to have a second front attack the allies' main supplier, the United States. Germany would then win World War I, able to give Mexico --Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. The British intercepted the telegram, decoded it, and wasted no time putting the translation on Woodrow Wilson's desk.

Wilson had just won a Presidential election on the platform, "He kept us out of war." Furthermore, the Germans were the single largest ethnic minority in America. But no matter. Within a few days, Wilson stood before a joint meeting of Congress and urged them to declare war on Germany.

Telegram in Code

The consequences were immediate: the German minority was cowed with shame, and counting World War II as a continuation of World War II, sixty million people were killed. Because of a single stinking telegram. In retrospect, Wilson should have kept it quiet, privately negotiating something from Germany in return for ignoring the affront, and maybe keeping us out of both World wars. That's the sort of thing we play around with, when we create an uproar over catching an enemy with red hands. Otherwise, it tempts historians to assume he really did want a war, and needed a pretext for it.

It may violate the Constitution or some partisan law created by Congress, but it's the way diplomacy has been conducted ever since--well, since Benjamin Franklin was Ambassador to France, at any rate. It isn't exactly leadership, but it might have saved millions of lives. Muhlenberg told us, "There's a time to preach, and a time to fight." What he forgot was the part about preaching.


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