"We make Mexico a proposal of alliance": Mexican-German Relations, 1910-1918

On March 1, 1917, a diplomatic bombshell exploded in Mexico that stunned the United States and drew it into the First World War, forever changing the course of history. That bombshell was the so-called Zimmermann Telegram, the offer by Imperial Germany to assist Mexico in the reconquest of the American Southwest if it joined the war against the Allies. But while the telegram proved a rude surprise for the American public, it was only the climax of a German policy toward Mexico that dated back to the turn of the century.

German-Mexican Relations Before the Revolution

Like the other major European powers before 1910, Germany was one of the main foreign influences in Mexico under Porfirio Diaz. Unlike Britain and France, however, it was a latecomer to the game of using Mexico as a counter to the United States, and as a result its commercial and economic penetration of the country was always impeded by its European and American rivals.

The victory of the United States over Spain in 1898 was the principal spur to intensified German interest in Mexico after 1900. No longer seeing the region as an area ripe just for economic imperialism, Berlin also viewed it as a potential counterweight to the growing power of the United States. But how to use Mexico? Germany was entranced by its potential to be used as an anti-American instrument, yet it feared provoking reactions from the United States that would damage German interests in Mexico. As a result of these conflicting concerns, German policy toward Mexico constantly wavered in uncertainty, eventually culminating almost 20 years later in the spectacular failure of the Zimmermann Telegram.1

This pattern appeared as early as 1902-1903, when Germany launched efforts aimed at challenging the Monroe Doctrine's prohibition against European interference in Latin America. In addition to joining a British-Italian blockade of Venezuela and sinking a Haitian ship, the Germans made quiet inquiries into buying Baja California for use in naval operations. President Theodore Roosevelt's strong reaction to the European intrusions, however, brought a quick reversal of Berlin's policy, and it temporarily retreated to a less provocative posture.2

In 1904-1905 Germany edged back toward its anti-American policy. After the visit of the German Far Eastern Naval Squadron to Mexican waters, the Diaz government floated proposals that German naval officers help train the Mexican navy. Kaiser Wilhelm II killed the idea, but he approved of another idea broached by Diaz that would also have proved antagonistic toward the United States. In this case, Diaz requested the use of German military instructors for the training of the Mexican army. Wilhelm II somehow believed Washington would welcome such a move, but the German Foreign Office realized this would only anger the Americans, and the kaiser's agreement was withdrawn.3

By 1907 German policy had reached the point that it promoted diametrically opposed goals. One one hand, Berlin pressured Diaz to renew his request for German military instructors, despite the danger of damaging relations with Washington. At the same time, Germany tried to manipulate the United States into a German-American alliance, playing on rumors that Japanese troops were training in Mexico in preparation for a Japanese-American war. The Germans even went so far as to suggest their troops land in Mexico to help ferret out the phantom Japanese army, but Roosevelt refused, knowing his acquiesence in the introduction of foreign troops into Mexico would irreparably breach the Monroe Doctrine.4

As for the Diaz regime, Germany's interest in Mexico was welcomed as a check on British, French, and most importantly American influence. Diaz successfully resisted, however, German attempts to gain control over Mexican finances through the use of loans.5 His was a balancing act of playing off the Great Powers against each other, a feature of Mexican foreign policy that persisted until the end of World War I.

Germany and Revolutionary Mexico from Madero to Huerta

No one expected a revolution in 1910, least of all the Germans. According to a former German ambassador, the Mexicans were a little more than a "teeming, bestial mass of humanity" that had no chance of toppling Diaz. When the unthinkable happened, Berlin then assumed his replacement, Francisco Madero, would turn out to be another Diaz who would once again rule Mexico with an iron grip.6

German diplomats in the country had no reason to think otherwise, since Madero was known to have come from one of Mexico's wealthiest families. They further expected Madero to promote German commercial interests, for his family had close ties with the Deutsch-Sudamerikanische Bank, one of Germany's main banking houses in Mexico. Not only did the bank supply Madero with financial backing in his quest to succeed Diaz, it may even have helped ship arms to Madero's revolutionaries. In return, the new government gave the bank special privileges, called on its assistance in its financial dealings, and occasionally even allowed the bank to give it advice. It also helped found a mortgage bank for Mexico and attempted to develop new industrial firms in cooperation with the Madero family. The latter venture collapsed because of the regime's continuing political instability, and in 1913 it relocated its headquarters to Argentina to escape the unrest.7

German policy through 1913 had as its primary objective the avoidance of confrontation with the United States. This was not always easy, as the American press took to accusing Germany of trying to use the Mexican revolution as an excuse for intervention. The Kolnische Zeitung, a semiofficial German paper, responded to these accusations in unequivocal terms: "Even if the current unrest should lead to a total revolution in Mexico, even if Mexico were to be incorporated into the United States, even if the Americans were to attempt this incorporation against the will of the Mexicans, Germany would certainly not play Don Quixote and draw its sword." Madero, meanwhile, was anxious to use German political influence to ward off the United States, but the German legation, led by Ambassador Admiral Paul von Hintze, refused to do anything he thought would provoke the Americans.8

Even though Madero attempted to follow a generally pro-German foreign policy, Berlin found his domestic policies extremely disturbing. The problem was that Madero insisted on promoting democratic freedoms instead of following the example of Porfirio Diaz by suppressing Mexico's unrest. According to Hintze, "The cardinal error lies in his ... belief that he can rule the Mexican people as one would rule one of the more advanced German nations. This raw people of half-savages without religion, with its small ruling stratum of superficially civilized mestizos can live with no regime other than enlightened despotism." Hintze, however, never divulged his political opinions to Madero, knowing it would only turn him away from his otherwise pro-German policies. What Hintze hoped for most was a military coup that would establish a dictatorship aimed at reversing Madero's revolution.9 He did not have long to wait.

In February 1913 the conspiracy that overthrew Madero began to take shape, one of its chief figures being the American amabssador to Mexico, Henry Lane Wilson. From the beginning Wilson enjoyed the strong support of Hintze, although they differed on the question of who should succeed Madero. Wilson favored Felix Diaz, nephew of the former dictator, while Hintze viewed Diaz as both incompetent and pro-American. Their most serious split occured during the Decena Tragica, when Wilson arranged for a ceasefire to evacuate foreigners caught in the crossfire. But since he feared that removing all the foreigners would weaken his other objective, an armed American intervention, he didn't tell the rest of the diplomatic corps about the ceasefire. Already upset by Wilson's effort to install Diaz, Hintze decided to press for his own candidate, General Victoriano Huerta, without bothering to consult Wilson.10

He arranged a meeting with Madero's foreign minister, Pedro Lascurain, where he proposed the "Installation of General Huerta as Governor-General of Mexico, with full powers to end the revolution according to his own judgment." Lascurain passed on the proposal to Madero, who initially agreed, according to Hintze's later account. To the ambassador's chagrin, however, Madero then changed his mind.11

Shortly thereafter, the Mexican president and his government were prisoners of the conspirators, prompting Hintze to launch his final campaign against the rise to power of Felix Diaz. In this he was successful, helping to forge a compromise whereby Huerta was given "temporary" control of the government and Diaz was promised to be his successor. However, he was less successful in his campaign to persuade Huerta to exile Madero, whom he hoped would be useful as a potential counterweight to the Huerta government in case it took a pro-American stance. Ignoring Hintze's offer to send Madero to Europe, Huerta had the ex-president murdered two days later.12

German businessmen warmly welcomed the Huerta coup, expecting the new government to reinstate Porfirian policies. Support for Huerta was especially strong among German coffee plantation owners in Chiapas, who hoped for a return to the system of indebted servitude that sustained their enterprises. Huerta also enjoyed strong relations with German shipping and armaments firms, but not so with German banks. They offered the government a loan if it agreed not to take out any other loans without the banks' approval, which Huerta understandably declined. They then attempted to penetrate the Mexican petroleum industry, but when the negotiations with Huerta ultimately failed, the banks lost interest in pursuing other possible investments. They then turned against him completely in January 1914 when he confiscated customs fees that were to be used to pay foreign debts. Although the banks called for his resignation, they did so without supporting his revolutionary opponents, since the banks were aware that the revolutionaries had already said they would refuse to honor the debts of Huerta's government.13

As for the German government, it treated Huerta very cautiously, at first viewing him as an American instrument. After April 1913, however, Huerta began taking anti-American positions, encouraging Berlin to recognize his government on May 15 and give him its full support. This placed the Germans on a collision course with the Americans, a danger that dramatically increased when Hintze fell ill and was temporarily replaced by Rudolf von Kardorff. Unlike the smooth-speaking and charming Hintze, Kardorff embarked on a series of diplomatic blunders that threatened to bring on the German-American confrontation that Hintze tried so hard to avoid.14

His first mistake was to ask the German government to send the battleship Bremen to Veracruz, the appearance of which thoroughly alarmed the commander of the U.S. fleet stationed there. Although the Bremen was quickly withdrawn, Kardorff then joined in a decision by the other foreign legations in Mexico to request that their respective governments put pressure on the United States to recognize Huerta. Far from cowing Washington, the Americans responded by telling the diplomats they should urge Huerta to seriously consider its proposals-proposals that had not even been announced. When they appeared, their blunt demand that Huerta resign put Germany and the other European powers back on the defensive.15

With the return of Ambassador Hintze in September 1913, German policy quickly retreated from its confrontational tactics, while quietly urging Huerta to resist the calls for his resignation. Hintze's instructions from Berlin, however, clearly reflected Berlin's fear of further antagonizing Washington: "Please avoid any further opposition to the United States and counter any such interpretations of our policy. Sole German interest rapid reestablishment of order and of normal relations between the United States and Mexico."16

Following these instructions became much more difficult following Huerta's dissolution of the Mexican parliament on October 11, 1913, coming barely a month after the American demand for his resignation. The United States now broke completely with Huerta and urged Germany to do the same. Hintze advised his government not to do so, arguing that Huerta had to stay in power. "I must stick to my opinion," he said, "that a military dictatorship is the government appropriate to the situation and the one which serves us best, and that Huerta, in spite of his alcoholism and his forays into the state treasury, is the best dictator." The ambassador's less than ringing endorsement of General Huerta betrayed something of his real views, that he was willing to sacrifice Huerta if the system he represented could be preserved. He further understood that Huerta could not survive without American support, and he therefore proposed that the United States and Britain join Germany in establishing what amounted to a protectorate over Mexico. The British, however, declined the offer, as they had already reached an agreement with Washington that made the German proposal unnecessary.17

In mid-October of 1913 Huerta's relations with the United States were so poor that he asked Hintze to mediate between him and Washington. The ambassador had no desire to act as an official mediator, but he gladly accepted a role as unofficial mediator. During these negotiations, his main goal was to persuade Huerta to resign so he could be replaced by another member of the Mexican elite. As might be expected, Huerta refused to step down, and the talks were broken off. For Hintze, however, the outcome was not completely negative, for he had again succeeded in heading off a German-American confrontation over Mexico.18

In early 1914 Hintze found his work almost completely undone by an unexpected complication now known as the Ypiranga affair. Several British and French banks made unofficial loans to Huerta in February and March, which Huerta used to make weapons purchases from munitions manufacturers in France, England, Germany, and even the United States. Since the United States had imposed an arms embargo against Mexico, Huerta had to make his purchases through an intermediary, who then transported the weapons via a circuituous route that ultimately placed them in the hold of the Ypiranga, a ship belonging to Germany's Hamburg Amerika line. When President Wilson learned of the shipment, he ordered American forces to seize the customs house in Veracruz, the ship's destination, to prevent the vessel from being unloaded. The Ypiranga arrived in port shortly thereafter, whereupon the United States ordered it not to unload its cargo and to stay in port. As it happened, the German cruiser Dresden was also in Veracruz's harbor, so the captain of the Dresden commandeered the Ypiranga to keep it out of American hands and making the ship in effect part of the German navy. By doing so, Germany put itself in the position that any attempt to unload the ship would now have the appearance of having the official approval of Berlin, in direct conflict with Wilson's Mexico policy.19

German diplomacy adopted a hard line, accusing the United States of violating international law with its threatened seizure of the Ypiranga, though the ship itself was not unloaded as a way of retaliation. Because Wilson wanted the Germans to agree not to give the arms to Huerta, he officially apologized for his actions, gaining -- or so he thought -- the expected assurance that the weapons would remain on the ship. Unfortunately for the Americans, no such agreement was actually reached, for the Germans took the position that Hamburg Amerika was responsible for the conduct of its own ships, and the shipping firm never went along with Wilson's desire to enforce the embargo. Thus the Ypiranga left Veracruz and sailed on to Puerta Mexico, where the arms were promptly unloaded into Huerta's custody.20

Upon learning of this, the United States was outraged, but the initially sharp reaction of the American government was not followed by any punitive measures against the Germans. One reason for this was that German policy began shifting away from supporting Huerta and had aligned itself to a considerable extent with American aims. After the American seizure of Veracruz, for example, Huerta offered Germany the U.S. oil fields around Tampico, but Hintze refused to engage in such a blatantly frontal attack on American interests. He instead repeated his proposals throughout May and June 1914 that Huerta resign and if possible reach some sort of agreement with the leader of the revolutionaries, Venustiano Carranza. If Huerta continued to refuse, Hintze feared the more radical revolutionaries led by Francisco Villa and Emiliano Zapata would gain control.21

In July 1914 Huerta finally realized his government was finished, and he fled to Jamaica on the cruiser Dresden. For Hintze and Berlin, the ensuing political chaos was a disaster, marking the final collapse of the old system created by Porfirio Diaz. In its place, Hintze now foresaw only a dark future for German interests: "There are now only two possibilities of solving the Mexican question... Power in Mexico must either pass into the hands of the Constitutionalists or the Americans must take charge of the pacification of the country."22

The Road to the Zimmermann Telegram

Within a month of Huerta's departure from Mexico, the First World War broke out in Europe, fundamentally changing German aims in Mexico. Cut off from the rest of the world by the British naval blockade, Berlin could no longer directly promote German economic expansion outside Europe, and it instead sought ways to disrupt supplies reaching its enemies, especially Britain.

Mexico played a key part in German strategy, for one of the Allies' principal suppliers was the United States, even though it was still officially neutral. From Mexico the Germans could launch sabotage operations against American ports and create provocations in hopes of inciting a new Mexican-American war. In the latter event, Berlin hoped a war would tie down large numbers of American troops who might otherwise join the Allies in France, and that the fighting would destroy the Mexican oil fields, depriving the British navy of fuel. In doing so, however, Germany would have to approach all sides of the revolution, from the exiled Huerta and Felix Diaz to Carranza and Villa.23

After Huerta fled to Jamaica, the Mexican political climate turned extremely fluid as the various revolutionary leaders vied for power. As Carranza gradually assumed at least nominal control of the country, Germany found itself in the unhappy position of trying to swallow its distaste for him. For the German charge d'affaires, Carranza and his followers were "a horde of Huns calling themselves Constitutionalists." Heinrich von Eckardt, the new ambassador to Mexico, had similar opinions: "Carranza's governmental bodies are prototypes of vulgarity and depravity, which wheel, deal, extort, and steal, just like the military commanders in the cities and the countryside." However, because Carranza's forces controlled Chiapas, site of the majority of German coffee plantations, Berlin felt it had to be restrained in its dealings with him. Germany went as far as granting de facto recognition to the Carranza government on November 10, 1915, but relations remained cool until the American intervention of 1916.24

During his first months in power, Carranza displayed openly anti-German attitudes and lent his sympathies to the Allied cause -- a position that only strengthened when he learned of German plans to help Huerta return to depose him. However, after his victory at the Battle of Agua Prieta, Carranza realized the only force now capable of overthrowing him was not Huerta or Germany but rather the United States. Like Diaz, Madero and Huerta before him, Carranza now felt the need for a counterweight to American influence, but the world war had limited his options. Since France and Britain were dependent upon American supplies, they could not be expected to take an anti-American position in Mexico. As for Japan, the only member of the Allies not economically dependent upon the United States, Carranza found it willing to sell him arms, but not to give him the political support that he wanted most. The only other major power Carranza could turn to, therefore, was Germany.25

Carranza's first attempt to improve his relations with Berlin came in early 1916 when he agreed to assist the German coffee plantation owners in Chiapas in their efforts to find laborers for their crops. He also took steps to suppress anti-German publications, but Ambassador Eckardt remained unimpressed, crediting Carranza's successes to his "pedantic mediocrity."26

More useful to German aims was Francisco Villa, whose cross-border raid on Columbus, New Mexico, on March 10, 1916, provoked President Wilson into sending a punitive expedition into Mexico on March 15. U.S. officials were convinced German agents goaded Villa into making the raid, a view that is still echoed by historians of the period.27 Certainly the raid played into Germany's objective of fomenting a Mexican-American war that would preoccupy the United States and weaken its ability to supply the Allies. "...so long as the Mexican question remains in this state," the German ambassador to the United States had earlier reported to Berlin, "we are, I think, fairly safe from aggressive moves on the part of the American government." U.S. Secretary of State Robert Lansing was aware of German aims in this regard, warning President Wilson that "Germany desires to keep up the turmoil in Mexico until the United States is forced to intervene; therefore we must not intervene."28

It is true that one of Villa's chief agents was Felix A. Sommerfeld, a German mercenary with close ties to both Ambassador Hintze and the German secret service. However, there is no documentary evidence that shows Germany directly inspired the raid, and neither Ambassador Eckardt nor the German Foreign Office's Mexican expert were aware of the impending attack. What is known, however, is that when the crisis failed to develop into a full-scale war, the Germans tried to persuade Villa to strike at the Tampico oil fields. Villa agreed to do so and prepared his forces for the attack, but then changed his mind at the last minute.29

The most important effect of the Villa raid and the resulting American intervention was Carranza's complete change in attitude toward Germany. As a sign of his desire for closer relations, he first appointed a pro-German military attache to the Mexican embassy in Berlin. He then asked that Germany instruct its ambassador in Washington to publicly condemn the American intervention, in exchange for which Carranza offered to support U-boats in their attacks on British oil tankers leaving Tampico.30 This the Germans declined to do, of course, since their aim was to turn the intervention in a larger conflict.

In November 1916 Carranza made another attempt to cement his relations with Berlin, giving Secretary of State Arthur Zimmermann a proposal for Mexican-German cooperation. The proposal's provisions included requests for friendship, commercial and maritime treaties; German instructors to train the Mexican army; assistance in building munitions factories and a radio station to facilitate communications between Germany and Mexico; and the purchase of U-boats for the Mexican navy. Zimmermann treated the proposal with caution , fearing that an overt alliance with Carranza would worsen German-American relations. He therefore declined the offer as premature, but he told Carranza that Germany was willing to sell him weapons.31

By the end of 1916, however, the German government was convinced the only way it could win the war was by waging unrestricted submarine warfare against Allied shipping, a tactic that Berlin believed would bring the United States onto the Allied side. With the American punitive expedition still in Mexico and Carranza apparently desperate for German aid, Berlin decided the time was right to goad the United States into a wider war with the Mexicans. Furthermore, the expedition's difficulties in pursuing Villa's forces seemed to indicate that the United States would require a large number of troops to subdue Mexico, greatly diluting the contribution Washington could make to the Allied effort. The only problem was how to entice Carranza to attack the United States.32

Zimmermann's solution was to offer the return to Mexico of the American Southwest, though he thought Carranza would attack only if he received German armaments and a guarantee that Germany would not conclude a peace without including Mexico. In early 1917 Zimmermann prepared the offer, and he sent it by coded telegram to Ambassador Eckardt on January 16.33 The telegram read as follows:

We intend to begin unrestricted submarine warfare on the first of February. We shall endeavour in spite of this to keep the United States neutral. 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 Kansas, New Mexico and Arizona. The settlement in detail is left to you.
You will inform the President [Carranza] of the above most secret as soon as the outbreak of war with the United States 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. Please call the President's attention to the fact that the unrestricted employment of our submarines now offers the prospect of compelling England to make peace within a few months. Acknowledge receipt.34

Unfortunately for Zimmermann, British intelligence intercepted and deciphered the telegram, but exactly how they did so was concealed for years afterwards. According to Admiral Reginald Hall of the Royal Navy's intelligence service, the British possessed a naval code book that had been recovered from a sunken German warship, which they then used to decipher the message. However, this was only half-true. The British knew the code known as 13040, but the telegram had been sent using code 0075, a new code British intelligence had not yet cracked. As it turned out, Ambassador Eckardt did not have the new code yet either, so it was copied for him using code 13040. Now not only were the British able to decipher the message, they were able to compare the two codes and thereby crack code 0075. So important a breakthrough was this that the British went to great pains to conceal from the Germans the fact that code 0075 had been broken, even long after the war ended.35

Upon deciphering the message, the British waited for the right time to tell the Americans. That came when the Germans launched their submarine assault on Allied shipping and President Wilson asked the U.S. Congress for measures to be taken against Berlin. Contrary to Zimmermann's expectations, Wilson did not ask for a declaration of war, confining himself instead to breaking off relations with Germany. However, on March 1, 1917, the day before Congress was to begin debate on how to respond to the Germans, the telegram was released to the American press.36 The impact on American public opinion was profound, with one German propagandist reporting that the telegram had "put an end to all pro-German sentiment in the U.S." This was not immediate, however, for pro-German publishers such as William Randolf Hearst told their readers, "The alleged letter of Alfred Zimmermann published today is obviously faked; it is impossible to believe that the German foreign secretary would place his name under such a preposterous document."37

Although President Wilson knew the telegram was authentic, he could not prove it to the public without revealing how it had been deciphered, and he therefore knew he could not ask Congress for a declaration of war. On March 5, Zimmermann solved Wilson's problem by confirming the telegram's veracity, revealing in the process what the purpose of the proposal had been. "I was looking for a definite objective," he told the German Parliament's Budget Committee. "I would set new enemies on America's neck... By holding up these American states as bait I would urge Mexico to invade the United States as quickly as possible and so keep the American army busy."38

Publication of the telegram came just as Mexican-American relations were beginning to improve following the withdrawal of the punitive expedition. However, Mexican officials such as Foreign Minister Candido Aguilar feared the United States might intervene again if war broke out between America and Germany: "The Mexican government knows that the Germans would attempt to destroy the oil fields. That would have as a consequence the landing of British or American armed forces, whom the Mexican government is determined to resist."39

Aguilar learned of the Zimmerman telegram from Eckardt on February 20, but nothing concrete resulted from the meeting. Eckardt hoped Aguilar would urge Japan to join the German alliance, but in two meetings at the Japanese consulate, Aguilar merely asked what the Japanese response would be in the event of a German-American war. He later claimed to have been sympathetic to the Zimmermann proposal, but that Carranza wanted to turn it down without damaging relations with Germany. Other officials give a different version, that Carranza turned the proposal over to a high-ranking military officer for evaluation, who warned Carranza the idea was unworkable. Germany, the officer told him, would be unable to supply Mexico with an adequate supply of arms, the seizure of part of the United States would be a cause for future wars, and Mexico in any case would be unable to absorb the large American population in the areas it conquered. Carranza thus rejected Zimmermann's proposal on April 14, citing the premature release of the telegram as his principal reason.40

Germany and Mexico After the Zimmermann Telegram

German diplomats had two options after the failure of the Zimmermann proposal: either to continue prodding Carranza into a war with the United States or to maintain Mexico's benevolent neutrality. Until August 1917 Germany attempted to pursue the former policy with no success, and Berlin instead began to plan for Mexico's role in a postwar world dominated by Germany. "Berlin is the center of attraction," Eckardt said in November 1917. "Mexico is oriented ... toward Berlin. The legacy of Hernando Cortez, extended far beyond the equator, is for sale... Let us seize it."41 Eckardt was correct that Mexico was indeed oriented toward Germany despite the Zimmermann debacle, since Carranza still feared the influence of American power. One of the principal ways Mexico's pro-German attitude manifested itself was through Carranza's support of the German propaganda campaign. This propaganda had several goals, including the maintenance of Mexican neutrality and the preservation of Germany's prewar economic holdings.42

Prior to mid-1916, the Mexican press tended to be pro-Allied, but after the American intervention Carranza ordered the official newspaper El Democrata to adopt a pro-German slant. Carranza soon ordered other official papers to follow suit, including El Pueblo, El Nacional, El Occidental, and La Vida Nueva, all of which received German financial support.43 Papers that continued to publish anti-German editorials, like El Universal, were targets of huge demonstrations, as when a certain Leon Osorio led 30,000 protestors against the paper in April 1918. By the end of the war, Germany was subsidizing 23 Mexican newspapers, many of which featured ads offering Mexico commercial and territorial rewards if the government continued to support Germany's war effort.44 So effective was the German propaganda machine in Mexico that the German legation believed its own stories, reaching an absurd climax at the conclusion of the war when Eckardt dismissed reports of the armistice as Allied propaganda.45

Germany's press campaign was less than successful, however, in avoiding the political minefields created by the Mexican revolution. Eckardt had instructed German-subsidized papers to support Carranza unconditionally, but difficulties emerged in Guadalajara where El Occidental was published. There Germany collided with the influence of the Catholic Church when El Occidental followed the lead of Carranza's anticlericalism by sharply criticizing the clergy. The Church, itself largely pro-German, retaliated by calling on Guadalajara's citizens to boycott the newspaper's advertisers, most of which happened to be German-owned businesses. Eckardt intervened, trying to persuade the Church to end the boycott by arguing that the paper reflected Germany's international position, not its opinions regarding Mexican domestic matters. The intervention failed, the German businesses withdrew their ads, and the paper collapsed.46

Despite such pitfalls, the Allies considered German propaganda extremely effective. The American consul in Coahuila, for example, estimated that 72% of the city's population was pro-German, while the consul in Piedras Negras came up with the figure of 80% for his city. According to the latter consul, "El Democrata's editor has been able to exercise a major influence in this part of Mexico, especially among the lower classes.... The hostility to America which this newspaper has evoked in its readers is steadily growing and cannot be overestimated. Among the lower classes, which make up the majority of the population, every word is taken as good coin and their bitterest feelings against the U.S. are aroused."47


Of all the major European powers competing for influence in Mexico, the Germans were one of the most conspicuous in their attempts to shape Mexican policy. It is all the more surprising, therefore, that virtually none of their objectives ever reached fruition, and even the negative achievement of avoiding conflict with the United States was completely demolished by the proposals of the Zimmerman Telegram. It is also clear from their attitudes that they had little regard for the country, even when it was still under Porfirio Diaz, treating Mexico as a pawn in the great struggle of world politics. This attitude remained unchanged after the outbreak of the First World War, reflecting Germany's unshakeable self-assurance that it was capable of molding entire nations for its own purposes. According to historian Friedrich Katz, "Germany's notion that it could dominate Mexico was based on a gross overestimation of its own strength, on a similar underestimation of the strength of the Americans, and a complete ignorance of the dynamics of the Mexican revolution."48 While a judgement is undoubtedly true, most of Katz's critcisms can be applied just as easily to any of Germany's rivals, including the United States.

The most outstanding feature of Mexico's foreign relations was its consistently realistic view of the world around it. Despite the political chaos created by the revolution, despite the battles between revolutionary and counterrevolutionary forces, Mexican leaders kept returning to the Porfirian policy of playing off the Great Powers against each other, thereby maintaining Mexican independence at its weakest and most vulnerable stage. As a result, German aims in Mexico were effectively blocked, and Mexico was far more successful in using Germany for its own purposes rather than the other way around.

1 Friedrich Katz, The Secret War in Mexico: Europe, the United States and the Mexican Revolution, Chicago and London, 1981, pp. 62-63.
2 Ibid, p. 63.
3 Ibid., pp. 64-65.
4 Ibid., pp. 67-70.
5 Ibid., pp. 52-54.
6 Ibid., pp. 71-72.
7 Ibid., pp. 74, 85-86.
8 Ibid., p. 87.
9 Ibid., pp. 88-90.
10 Ibid., pp. 98-99, 102.
11 Ibid., p. 104.
12 Ibid., pp. 109-110.
13 Ibid., pp. 203-206.
14 Ibid., pp. 211, 213.
15 Ibid., pp. 213-215.
16 Ibid., pp. 216-217.
17 Ibid., pp. 218, 220.
18 Ibid., pp. 220-221, 224-225
19 Ibid., pp. 232-237.
20 Ibid., pp. 237-239.
21 Ibid., pp. 241-244.
22 Ibid., p. 248.
23 Ibid., pp. 328-329.
24 Ibid., pp. 344-345.
25 Ibid., p. 345.
26 Ibid., pp. 346-347.
27 Douglas W. Richmond, Venustiano Carranza's Nationalist Struggle, 1893-1920, Lincoln, 1983, pp. 195-196. 28 Alan Knight, The Mexican Revolution, Volume 2, Cambridge, 1986, pp. 345-346.
29 Katz, pp. 334-337, 338; Knight, p. 346.
30 Katz, p. 348.
31 Ibid., pp. 348-350.
32 Ibid., p. 350.
33 Ibid., pp. 351, 355.
34 Quoted in Ronald Atkin, Revolution! Mexico, 1910-20, New York, 1970, p. 294. The text of the telegram in Katz's The Secret War in Mexico is substantially different:
"We intend to begin unlimited U-boat warfare on February 1. Attempts will nonetheless be made to keep America neutral.
"In the event that we fail in this effort, we propose an alliance with Mexico on the following basis: joint pursuit of the war, joint conclusion of peace. Substantial financial support and an agreement on our part for Mexico to reconquer its former territories in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Settlement on details left to Your Right Honorable Excellency. "Your Excellency shall present the above to the president in the strictest secrecy as soon as war with the United States has broken out, with the additional suggestion of offering Japan immediate entry to the alliance and simultaneously serving as mediators between us and Japan.
"Please inform president that unlimited use of our U-boats now offers possibility of forcing England to negotiate peace within few months. Confirm receipt. Zimmermann."
Katz, p. 354.
35 Katz, pp. 355-359.
36 Ibid., p. 359, 361.
37 Ibid., p. 360.
38 Ibid., p. 361; William Weber Johnson, Heroic Mexico: The Violent Emergence of a Modern Nation, Garden City, 1968, p. 326, footnote.
39 Katz, p. 362.
40 Ibid., pp. 363-367. Katz calls Zimmermann's proposal "a large-scale deceptive maneuver to incite Carranza to a suicidal attack on the United States." Another historian says "Carranza knew that Mexico might not be able to withstand the holocaust of expanded warfare," and that the Telegram itself was "a German attempt to lure him into a hopeless war." Katz, p. 353; Richmond, p. 205.
41 Katz, p. 387.
42 Ibid., pp. 441-442.
43 Ibid., p. 448.
44 Richmond, p. 204.
45 Katz, p. 450.
46 Ibid., pp. 451-452.
47 Ibid.., p. 453.
48 Ibid., p. 441.

Atkin, Ronald. Revolution! Mexico 1910-20. New York, 1970.
Johnson, William Weber. Heroic Mexico: The Violent Emergence of a Modern Nation. Garden City, 1968.
Katz, Friedrich. The Secret War in Mexico: Europe, the United States and the Mexican Revolution. Chicago, 1981.
Knight, Alan. The Mexican Revolution. Volume 2, Cambridge, 1986.
Richmond, Douglas W. Venustiano Carranza's Nationalist Struggle, 1893-1920. Lincoln, 1983.

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