Study Guide

Zimmermann Telegram Themes

By Arthur Zimmermann

  • Manipulation

    How do you get foreign governments to do whatever you want?

    Glad you asked.

    Step one: always remember to mention how cool and strong your military is. This will ease negotiations on your end. Step two: Bring up old grudges between neighbors. This will make them mad at each other, not at you. Step Three: Conduct all persuasion tactics in absolute secrecy. If anyone finds out what you're doing, it will likely backfire and have the opposite affect that you intended.

    These tips have been brought to you courtesy of the Zimmermann Telegram, a seven-sentence guide for manipulation in foreign relations.

    Questions About Manipulation

    1. Do you think that Germany should have offered Mexico something else in exchange for an alliance? What do you think might have been more motivating?
    2. If the Zimmermann Telegram hadn't been intercepted, how would you rate Zimmermann's proposal to Mexico on a scale of one to ten? (One being he must have lost his marbles and ten being he's a crafty genius.)
    3. If you were Heinrich von Eckardt (the German ambassador to Mexico) and you received the Zimmermann Telegram, what would you have done with it? Would you follow orders? Conveniently forget how to break the code?

    Chew on This

    The Zimmermann Telegram is an excellent example of German diplomacy at its finest. Had it not been discovered, it might have manipulated the U.S. in a similar manner to how Germany had tricked many other unsuspecting nations.

    The fact that the Zimmermann Telegram was intercepted is beside the point, because even if it had remained a secret, pigs would fly before Mexico would have acted on it and actually attempted an invasion into the U.S.

  • Fear

    When the Zimmermann Telegram was sent, Germany had been at war for a couple of years and things had been going okay. Not great, just so-so. They didn't have a lock on this thing yet, and actually it was a bit of a stalemate. Turns out they were pretty evenly matched with their opponents. Do they let you have a tie in wars like they do in soccer? No? Anyway, Germany was getting scared that if they didn't do something big, they might actually lose. And if America joined in, well that would be truly terrifying.

    All you have to do is squint, and you can practically see their fear in this telegram.

    Questions About Fear

    1. What advice would you have given to Germany midway through World War I when things were going nowhere (except into a muddy trench)? Keep fighting? Negotiate? Lash out at cargo ships?
    2. Instead of trying to keep the U.S. out of the war, should Germany have offered to bring the U.S. in on the side of the Central Powers? Why or why not?
    3. Based on Germany's fear as revealed in the Zimmermann Telegram, should the U.S. have joined the war earlier? Might this have saved lives and prevented further damage?

    Chew on This

    The Zimmermann Telegram was a desperate Hail Mary by a nation paralyzed with the fear of losing a war they falsely assumed would be a cakewalk.

    Germany may have feared the U.S. entry into World War I, but not nearly as much as the U.S. public feared the same thing.

  • Pragmatism

    In the decades leading up to the First World War, Germany had given birth to an ugly baby that they named realpolitik. It basically meant that the answer to everything in politics was "just do it." Germany, and anyone who adopted this baby philosophy, would stop talking about grand ideals or flowery sentiments, and just set a goal to be accomplished through whatever means necessary. Governments would do what was most practical, rather than what was morally right. So yeah, some people might get hurt along the way, but success wouldn't be measured in the emotions of weak humans, it would be shown in the triumphs of the nation.

    Questions About Pragmatism

    1. Why do you think Americans were shocked by early examples of realpolitik while Germans were more comfortable with the idea?
    2. Should a government ever be allowed to set ethics aside to meet their goals? What should prevent or allow this to happen?
    3. Beyond the Zimmermann note, what examples of realpolitik can be seen in modern history, or in politics today?

    Chew on This

    The Zimmermann Telegram is a dangerous example of realpolitik usurping the role of diplomacy in international affairs and risking the lives of innocent people.

    The Zimmermann Telegram was a practical solution to a wartime issue and should not be taken personally by the people or countries involved.