Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Zimmermann Telegram

"Had all the world been a school and Wilson its principal, he would have been the greatest statesman in history." ~Barbara Tuchman, The Zimmermann Telegram

In 2009 I wrote about the impact Barbara Tuchman’s Guns of August made on Robert Kennedy and how it emboldened him to take a stand against escalation during the Cuban missile crisis. This week I came across a reference to another book by Ms. Tuchman about a little known detail of history which had significant consequences, as many small things often do.

The Zimmermann Telegram actually preceded The Guns of August, published in 1958. As a writer it would be my hunch that the first book helped make the latter better. Both books deal with World War I. The Zimmerman Telegram is about a critical incident involving Germany and Mexico that helped the British to persuade Woodrow Wilson to enter the war.

A Rhode Island reviewer on Amazon.com wrote this about the incident: "While the Zimmermann Telegram is one of the most important documents in history, and is perhaps the greatest result of code breaking in history, it is nonetheless frequently overlooked. Most people have at least heard 'Remember the Lusitania' which had essentially nothing to do with the U.S. entering WWI. Few, however, are familiar with this short telegram that is truly a hinge on which history turned."

The irony here is that everyone who has a faint recollection of World War I does remember the Lusitania. How many of you were aware of the Zimmermann telegram before reading this blog entry?

Essentially, the drama in this book centers upon how to persuade President Wilson that the telegram was authentic without also giving away the manner in which they broke the code to retrieve its contents. The British desperately needed the U.S. to enter the war, but they also wanted to maintain their covert connections to German intelligence.

If you already have too many other books in your queue, read the review by A Customer at Amazon and get some new insights into all that was involved behind the scenes in this significant chapter of modern history. To dig deeper, order the book itself or Thomas Boghart's Spies of the Kaiser: German Covert Operations In Great Britain During the First World War Era.

"Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. They are engines of change, windows on the world, lighthouses erected in the sea of time." Barbara W. Tuchman

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