Study Guide

Venustiano Carranza in Zimmermann Telegram

By Arthur Zimmermann

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Venustiano Carranza

The Man Who Couldn't Laugh

When everybody else read the Zimmermann Telegram and thought that it must be a joke, Mexico's president Venustiano Carranza…didn't.

Why not? Because he famously didn't have a sense of humor. He was known for being an especially serious and stubborn guy—not a lot of fun at a party, but maybe a good choice to lead the country.

When the Zimmermann Telegram arrived, Mexico was right in the middle of a bloody revolution. A group of young, charismatic, revolutionaries had overthrown the government in an attempt to bring social change. However, they couldn't really agree on what changes exactly, or how much of it to bring, or who should lead the new government. Mainly they just rode around on horses and fought each other.

The country ended up settling on a revolutionary who was neither young nor charismatic to see them through this difficult time. Carranza was basically the smartest looking guy in the room right when Mexico thought it probably ought to have a leader who wasn't a general, as generals tended to never let go of power.

People didn't love Carranza, but he fit the bill. He wasn't militaristic like most of the rest of the revolutionaries, but he was well over six feet tall…so he had that going for him. Also he wore glasses and had a long white beard and one of those hipster mustaches that curl at each end. So he looked big and smart and stern. He was like a constipated Dumbledore who all the other revolutionaries resented and made it their mission to unseat throughout his presidency.

You've Got Mail

Carranza spent his few short years as president of Mexico rewriting the constitution and fending off would-be coups from more likable revolutionaries who knew how to shoot stuff.

And then one day a telegram arrived for him.

Okay, not really for him. It actually arrived for Heinrich von Eckardt, the German ambassador to Mexico, but its contents were for Carranza. Zimmermann was gambling on the fact that Mexico had a former revolutionary leader with a hot-tempered personality who might be persuaded into doing something a little impulsive and crazy, like attacking the United States.

Thanks But No Thanks

They were wrong.

Carranza formally turned down Germany's offer to help recapture Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. But it's difficult for historians to know exactly why he turned it down. Was it because the telegram had gone public and the U.S. was already blowing a gasket? He did wait until after the U.S. declared war on Germany before announcing that he would not be invading the Southern U.S. Or was it because Mexico didn't have a snowball's chance in you-know-where of winning a fight against the Americans?

On this latter point historians agree. Mexico was in no shape to do the things Germany was asking. Nobody thinks that crossing a desert and trying to convince a bunch of apple-pie lovin' gringos that they're now living in Mexico would have been a good idea, or the least bit successful.

And since the subject of the telegram wasn't discreetly whispered to Carranza in the back hallway of his presidential palace as the Germans had intended, but instead splashed across the front pages of every newspaper in the world, we will never know how grumpy old Carranza would have reacted. Maybe he would have seen Zimmermann's plot as a fun way to distract his own country and put the hordes of revolutionaries circling Mexico City with guns drawn to better use. Stranger things have happened.

Instead, Carranza was so unpopular in Mexico that he couldn't run for reelection, was driven out of the capital, and assassinated by his former revolutionary friends. The Mexican Revolution would continue, minus one bewhiskered leader, and Mexico would not get another shot at revenge for the Mexican-American War.

At least not yet.

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