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We intend to begin on the 1st of February unrestricted submarine warfare. We shall endeavor in spite of this to keep the United States of America neutral. (1-2)
Germany wants to have it all—the war and the peace. They want to commit acts of war by firing on U.S. ships, but at the same time they want the U.S. to remain neutral. This dilemma was the inspiration for the proposal to Mexico.
In the event of this not succeeding, we make Mexico a proposal of 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. (3-4)
Zimmermann is laying on the compliance incentives. He mentions peace while asking for a war, he offers to pay, and he makes it seem like it's not really his decision. He's a used car salesman talking to a total chump.
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. (6)
Someone might have a crush on a fleet of submarines. Zimmermann mentions them twice in just this little telegram. Is this German pride, or is he trying to convince someone to do something, and submarines are the stick?
We shall endeavor in spite of this to keep the United States of America neutral. (2)
No matter what else happens, this is the top priority. The sky could be falling and Germany would be more scared of the U.S. entering the war against them. The Zimmermann Telegram is motivated by fear—this one very valid fear.
In the event of this not succeeding, we make Mexico a proposal of alliance on the following basis: make war together, make peace together…(3)
World War I started because nations made alliances with each other. Everybody promised to go to war for somebody else, so that if one country went to war they all did. Germany was worried that an alliance might also be the thing that would end the war. They wanted to get as many countries on their team as possible, especially if the U.S. was going to join the other side.
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. (5)
You can tell that Germany is frightened of the U.S. getting into the war because they have not one, but two plans to try and stop it from happening. Plan one involves Mexico; plan two enlists help from Japan. That last part seems a little half-baked, but that's even more evidence that Germany is getting desperate out of fear.
We intend to begin on the 1st of February unrestricted submarine warfare. (1)
Killing women and children who happen to be crossing the Atlantic during a war isn't the point here. The important thing is how Germany has found a practical solution to the pesky issue of the British navy controlling entire oceans and continuing to trade with so-called neutral nations.
[…] we make Mexico a proposal of 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. (3)
Germany isn't friends with Mexico. They aren't even chums who go like to have drinks after work. Germany needs something from Mexico and maybe Mexico can get something out of the arrangement too. This is an uncomplicated arranged marriage—or it might have been if people hadn't found out about it.
The settlement in detail is left to you. (4)
Germany doesn't really care what happens as long as they get what they want out of this relationship. Mexico could overthrow all of North America and turn the entire continent into a massive amusement park. Or they could fail miserably and lose another third of their land to the Americans. It's all cool as long it doesn't interrupt unrestricted submarine warfare because that's all that really matters.