Debate Sharpens Amidst Submarine Attacks, Secret Plotting.
Britain Regaining Offensive; Russia Collapsing.
Special to The Great War Project.
(5 March) Across the globe a century ago, events are speeding up, with the United States hurtling toward war.
“The Zimmerman telegram was published in the United States on March 1st,” reports historian Martin Gilbert.
Many in the United States who sought to keep the nation out of war denounced the telegram as a fake, a forgery. The telegram from the German foreign minister to his counterpart in Mexico City urged Mexico to join Germany in the fight against the U.S.
For its troubles, according to the telegram, at the end of the war, Mexico would regain Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, all territories it had lost in wars with Mexico in the 19th century.
Two days later, reports Gilbert, the German foreign minister confirms that the telegram is real.
“One more nail,” Gilbert observes, “had been knocked into the coffin of American neutrality.”
Far afield from Western Europe, reports Gilbert, the Allied war in the Middle East and Turkey is once again gaining momentum.
The British army is on the March in Mesopotamia (now Iraq). They are targeting the city of Kut on the Tigris River south of Baghdad, which they had lost the year before.
The British, moving up river, reach Kut a century ago, and take more than 1700 Turkish prisoners. The British are now within 25 miles of Baghdad.
In Persia, reports historian Gilbert, the Turks lose ground in Persia (now Iran) and Arabia. The British also make gains in Palestine and the Sinai.
All these gains appear to put to rest Germany’s ambition to become the dominant European nation in the Middle East.
The Turks see the writing on the war and begin their withdrawal from Baghdad.
Crucial developments in Russia are also unfolding rapidly. On March 3rd one hundred years ago, a strike breaks out in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg). The strike is targeting a key munitions facility, reports Gilbert, “the army’s main provider of weapons and ammunition.”
On the same day, a bread shop is looted, sparking riots. Turmoil in Russia is spreading rapidly. In just a few days, “an estimated 90,000 Russians are on strike.
At the same time, the Russian government is about to declare martial law in Petrograd.
The situation in Russia is serious now, with no clear notion of where it is headed.
At the same time, reports historian Gilbert, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson tells the United States Congress: “We stand fast on armed neutrality.”
Within days though, several German submarines attack and sink several American merchant ships. Although America is now clearly in the gun sights of Germany’s U-boats, Wilson resolutely resists increasing calls in America for the U.S. to join the war.
In Germany many dismiss fears that the action on the seas will draw the U.S. into the war. Those who express such fears that German action will bring the U.S. in are guilty of “humanitarian babbling.”
Much skepticism also in Germany that America could change things.
“If the USA did intervene,” writes historian Norman Stone, “would it really make any significant difference?”