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Z-Day: 1 de Marzo de 1917

1 March 2010

The decoded “Zimmerman Note” was published in U.S. newspapers today in 1917.

German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmerman, who authored the note offering German support to the Carranza government for an invasion meant to re-annex Arizona, New Mexico and Texas (and, incidentally, keep the United States from supporting Great Britain in the “Great War of 1914-1918) had a Prussian sense of humor.  When the note was published, and he was criticized in the German Parliament, it wasn’t his fault he had trouble making friends… Prussians being rather clumsy when it comes to the social niceties of Hispanic culture.

As it was, Venustiano Carranza probably never saw the note (although the Wikipedia, in an uncited entry, says he turned it over to “a Mexican general” — unnamed — for followup).  Although Carranza — like other Mexican leaders — himself tended to be pro-German (as were most Latin American leaders, German immigrants having naturalized themselves more easily than those from the United States and Britain, and Latin Americans then, as now, simply liking Germans more than Englishmen) , mostly as an alternative to United States and British influence (and control of the oil industry), there was no way Mexico would have considered the idea seriously.  First off, the country was in the middle of a civil war, and couldn’t afford any imperialist adventures of its own, even if it had any intention of doing so.  Secondly, the proposal was nuts… depending on Zimmerman’s ability to convince British ally, Japan, to switch sides.

Wacky as it seemed, Zimmerman’s proposal was not quite the blunder he claimed.  It was a calculated gamble, not meant to create a war between Mexico and the United States, but to force the United States to consider its own protection, rather than involving itself in the European War.  Unfortunately for the future of the German Empire, the British were able to spin the leaked document as “proof” of German perfidity and convince the already pro-British Wilson Administration that the Germans, not the British, were the bigger threat to the United States.

Carranza, desperate to maintain neutrality, offered to cut off all oil supplies to combatants, which — like the Zimmerman note — backfired.  The British Navy at the time ran on Mexican oil.  A cut-off would have effectively ended the “War to End All Wars” (which might not have been a bad thing), but was meant basically to pressure the British into agreeing to more Mexican control over their own natural resources.  Instead, the British went out and hired a mercenary general, Manuel Peláez, effectively guaranteeing yet more Mexican bloodshed and a twenty year struggle to gain national control of the oil resources.

For Prussians, of course, a joke is a serious matter.  Oil, the British, the Royal Navy and Latin American resource rights:  it’s back in the news again, and maybe Herr Zimmerman is enjoying his practical joke on the British somewhere.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 1 March 2010 8:39 am

    and Latin Americans then, as now, simply liking Germans more than Englishmen)

    Had to laugh! That worked out very nicely for the Nazis looking for safe havens in ’45! I’m not sure it applies terribly well to Mexico though, certainly not in the ‘as now’ sense. I’ve certainly never heard of such a bias, and in discussions I do often point out that the British and Germans are more like brothers (albeit, in the last century at least), very argumentative brothers. There is, after all a reason I, like many north of the border too, are referred to as Anglo Saxons.

    I personally prefer Germans to my British brethren though!

    It’s highly unlikely that Mexican oil embargo would have finished the war. If anything, the opposite. I suspect the history books would simply have more meat to them, if you’ll forgive the pun, as they include the limited British invasion of Mexico, and the dates of WW1 amended to 1914 to 1920. The later figure one, I admit, that I pluck from the air.

    As for how Herr Zimmerman’s joke plays now….in the previous post you linked to you made a couple of factual errors, one of which was serious enough to undermine your whole argument of how the situation will possibly play out.

  2. 1 March 2010 10:51 am

    Re. Liking the Germans more…

    While there was the political preference for Germans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (mostly because the Germans didn’t have any territorial ambitions, only business ones, in Latin America), it’s still somewhat true that Germans are preferred over the British: tour promoters prefer German groups (maybe they’re better at sticking to schedules??) and German products do better in the marketplace.

    At least in part, that’s due to Porfirio Diaz’ conscious decision to favor German businesses and immigrants over English and U.S. ones, but German goods developed a reputation for better value… the Volkswagen certainly changed life in Mexico and throughout Latin America.

    Where there was significant German immigration, like here in northwest Mexico, you still see — and hear — the German influence much more than British influence — although Los Beatles are an obvious exception (OK, Queen too). But the music is German, and German names are common enough to not be considere “foreign”.

    The English LANGUAGE is popular now, but that’s a different thing.

    As to Carranza’s proposed neutrality. British and U.S. political cartoon at the time showed Carranza as a German puppet for making the proposal and there was open discussion of the proposal as a disaster for the British war effort.

    As it was, the British did rely on a mercenary force to keep Aguila Oil out of Carranza’s hands, and there was serious consideration in the United States of a military invasion for this reason. Britain and Germany were both teetering on the edge of bankruptcy by then and neither had the manpower or resources to launch such an adventure… the British having to be satisfied with propping up Manuel Peláez.

    The Nazis were able to find refuge in the Southern Cone because there already was a sizable German community and the anti-British Peronists had been replaced in Argentina (and elsewhere in the southern cone and the Andes) by overt fascists (propped up by the U.S. as “anti-communists”). Last year’s attempted Bolivian separatist terrorist operations were overtly fascist, so alas, that unfortunate political trend hasn’t died out yet.

    There was some Nazi supporters in Mexico (notably José Vasconcellos), but again, it was more anti- “Anglo-Saxon” sentiment, and admiration for Franco’s Falangism, than anything else.

    Mexico — which supported the Spanish Republic while the U.S., Britain and France tilted towards Franco — claims to have been the first “officially” anti-Fascist country, and did open its doors to anti-fascist refugees. Incidentally, Mexico was on the allied side in the Second World War (and there is a monument to Churchill on Reforma, along with one to Marshall Tito and several streets named for Stalin among the memorials to the wartime allied leaders).

    All this says nothing about the British as a people (other than as tourists in groups), but their government — like the U.S. government — isn’t all that popular. The only serious anti-British demonstrations I’ve seen in Mexico were outside the Embassy at the start of the Iraq invasion (when British intelligence bugged Mexican U.N. Ambassador Aguilar Zinser’s — note this maternal name — office) but they were a sideshow to demonstrations against the U.S. and Spain.

    The only place where I see the British having an edge in popular culture — besides rock-n-roll — is that some still believe a “British Accent” is “better” English than ‘Merican. London itself is popular with the leisure class, and British eduction is considered superior among the upper class (although they really prefer Jesuit or Opus Dei schools ) but that’s not a huge percentage of the population.

  3. 4 October 2014 3:43 am

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