Prior to America's entry into WWI the Zimmerman Telegram was one incident that helped push America to declare war against Germany and join the Allies.

While Mexico never fought against the US, so was this even a possibility?

I don't know how strong Mexico was at the time. Everything I have read says it was not able to sustain a war of any kind against the US. And considering how far Germany was: would there have been any way for Germany to give aid?

The telegram seems more a ruse on the US than a way for Germany to incite Mexico to wage war on the US and distract the US from the war in Europe.

5 Answers 5


It's unclear if you mean whether it was (1) a ruse by Wilson against the American public, or (2) Germany against the USA, or (3) Germany against Mexico, or (4) British against USA?

As far as being a ruse by Wilson (e.g. he made up the telegram to present to Congress), this can likely be discounted since there is documentary evidence - in 2005, an original typescript of the deciphered telegram (with Blinker Hall's handwriting) was discovered in UK.

Also, as noted below, Zimmerman himself admitted to sending it.

As far as Germany's ruse against the USA, it was most definitely not a ruse. It would have had (as it did) an obviously opposite effect of what Germany wanted had it been intercepted - e.g. USA entering the war against Germany on the side of Entente.

In addition, on March 29, 1917, Zimmermann gave a speech in which he admitted the telegram was genuine. (src: Meyer, Michael C. "The Mexican-German Conspiracy of 1915", The Americas. 23.1 (1966): 76)

As far as German ruse against Mexico (in other words, bait them with German help to attack the USA but know all along that you can't provide enough help) - it is certainly plausible, but impossible to ascertain.

On one hand, that was definitely in German interests, since they were worried that USA would declare war on Germany over unrestrained submarine warfare announcement that was forthcoming.

On the other hand, Germany had plausible reasons to believe that Mexico might be successful.

The failure of the Americans under General John J. Pershing to capture Pancho Villa in 1916, in the movement of President Carranza in favor of Germany emboldened the Germans to write the Zimmerman note (Wiki source: Friedrich Katz, The Secret War in Mexico: Europe, the United States, and the Mexican Revolution (1984) pp 346-7)

British ruse against Germany - it wasn't the first attempt to ally with Mexico. From Wiki:

The Telegram was not an isolated case of German-Mexican collaboration, for Germany had long sought to incite a war between Mexico and the U.S., which would have tied down American forces and slowed the export of American arms to the Allies. (src: Friedrich Katz, The Secret War in Mexico: Europe, the United States, and the Mexican Revolution (1984) pp 328-9 )

The Germans had engaged in a pattern of actively arming, funding and advising the Mexicans, as shown by the 1914 SS Ypiranga arms-shipping incident *(Katz, The Secret War in Mexico pp 232-40) and German advisors present during the 1918 Battle of Ambos Nogales. The German Naval Intelligence officer Franz von Rintelen had attempted to incite a war between Mexico and the U.S. in 1915, giving Victoriano Huerta $12 million. (Katz, 329-32)

The German saboteur Lothar Witzke, responsible for the March 1917 munitions explosion at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in the Bay Area, and possibly responsible for the July 1916 Black Tom explosion in New Jersey, was based in Mexico City. (src: Priscilla Mary Roberts, World War One p. 1606)

  • 1
    heh, I considered it a ruse against the US but you definitely thought of more sides of the ruse than I did. Very nice.
    – MichaelF
    Dec 21, 2011 at 17:31
  • Changed the question to note who I was thinking of, but your answer still stands well.
    – MichaelF
    Dec 21, 2011 at 17:35
  • 1
    Consider that it would have been to Gemany's advantage to have Mexico make war on the U.S. whether or not Germany had the ability or intention to aid them, and whether or not Mexico has any chance whatsoever of success. It would have provided a distraction and a diversion of resources. The actions of Russia in the first few weeks of the war had no hope of success in and of themselves, but did ultimately contribute to the failure of Germany to achieve it's immediate goal.
    – user18963
    Jul 3, 2016 at 2:24
  • Had to read the Q two times 'to get it', and didn't read the first comment here, but "ruse" makes no sense in any other way than 'British ruse against US' (and Germany by extension). Meaning: OP wonders 'if telegram wouldn't factually be such an absurd idea as to not be possibly authentic'. British lying to US about Germany to get US to act against its own interest. Interpreting the other ruses isn't as necessary as emphasising the last option: it is actually a plausible 'first idea', entertained at the time as well, but quickly dismantled in total! Could you clarify that coming from Q? Sep 24, 2019 at 11:11
  • You mention "(4) British against USA?" but then your 4th point discusses "British ruse against Germany" : which one is it ?
    – Evargalo
    Sep 24, 2019 at 12:21

Germany sent, or tried to send the "Zimmerman telegram" to a Mexican government that basically didn't exist. Americans initially thought it was a "ruse" by the Allies until Germany's Arthur Zimmerman admitted to sending the telegram, as pointed out by one of the posters.

The reason was that Mexico was in throes of a "free for all" civil war at the time, which is to say that it was in a state of anarchy.

The reason the Germans thought otherwise was because the most unruly of the four major factions, the one under Pancho Villa, "invaded" the United States, crossing the Rio Grande to escape from the others. The Germans reasoned that the Mexicans were trying to recapture Texas and New Mexico, so they offered "Mexico" Arizona and California as well, all of which Mexico had lost to the United States in the 1830s and 1840s.

America's General John J. "Blackjack" Pershing soon launched a counterattack that pushed Pancho Villa back into Mexico. Then he led American forces that ultimately won the First World War from Germany.

  • The Zimmerman telegram did not offer California to Mexico (perhaps that was being saved for Japan)
    – Henry
    Nov 10, 2021 at 13:34

Firstly, the Zimmerman telegram was real and sent, he admitted so himself at a press conference.

Secondly, it was a feint to turn Americas attention away from the war in Europe and towards a possible one against Mexico. Germany feared Americas involvement in the war and wanted to ensure they were more concerned with one closer to home. There was no serious plans from Germany at all to support a war between Mexico and America.

Thirdly, The American government thought the telegram was fake when told about it by the British government and thought it was a ruse being used by the British to involve America in a war most of their population were against.

  • 1
    Sources would improve this answer...
    – Evargalo
    Sep 24, 2019 at 12:24

Question: Was the Zimmerman Telegram a ruse on the US or a way of Germany to incite Mexico to declare war on the US?

The Zimmerman Telegram wasn't a ruse but nor was it the casus belli for US involvement in WWI.

The way we can be certain the Zimmerman letter was genuine even before Zimmerman gave a press conference in Germany to defend his letter, admitted it was from him, is in the nature of the transmission of German communications with Mexico. The reason he admitted ownership was because it was pointless to deny ownership. Ownership was readily verifiable.

You see Britain had cut all of Germany's transatlantic cables. Their only way to communicate with their oversea embassies in the America's was to hand their communications ( encrypted ) to the Neutral Americans in Berlin. The encrypted message was then Currier-ed / sent by the American Embassy to Great Britain were they would be telegraphed using British trans Atlantic cables, encrypted along to New York and eventually to the German embassy in question, in this case Mexico City. Great Britain allowed this "service" by neutral America; because Britain had broken Germany's code and could read the encrypted communications. It was Great Britain who made the United States aware of the contents of the message and it was irrefutable because of coarse the United States could independently verify the decrypted message the British showed them was the same message they had received from the German ministry for transmission across the Atlantic, because Britain also shared the decryption details.

I say it wasn't the casus beli for US entry into WWI because Germany's renewal of unrestricted submarine warfare was probable more deterministic as was private American financial interests with France and Great Britain as organized by JP Morgan. By the time the Zimmerman letter came out the United States was already fairly well down the path to entry into the war on behalf of the allies.


While Mexico never fought against the US, so was this even a possibility?

Actually the Zimmerman letter occurred January 1917. Poncho Villa raids into the United States on behalf of the Mexican government one of which resulted in the Battle of Columbus, New Mexico with the United States Army occurred March 9, 1916. The United States invasion and seven month occupation of some of Mexico's territory was also fresh.. April 9, 1914 Battle of Veracruz. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson considered another military invasion of Veracruz and Tampico just after the Zimmerman Letter in 1917 and 1918, relations were so poor. So US Mexican relations were definitely a sensitive spot just prior to WWI and had erupted in military action by both sides just before the letter was revealed, which of coarse is why Zimmerman proposed the "agreement"/understanding with Mexico should the US enter the war.


Most arguments to this being real are often flawed. There was very little German involvement with Mexico. Also the Germans denied the writing of the telegraph. Also, the British cut the German telegraph line with the America's. Also there was also evidence to point to France writing the telegraph in German. The final argument I have is that the US was not an allied power and wasn't going to be until a direct threat was made,thus the Germans had none to fear.

  • 7
    This answer would benefit from sources.
    – MCW
    Apr 17, 2017 at 1:34
  • 1
    Most arguments to 'this' being not real are often flawed. Like this 'theoretical' one without any sources to support extraordinary claims. Sep 24, 2019 at 11:16

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