Why America had to join World War I

The centenary of the armistice that ended World War I on Nov. 11 inevitably raises questions about the United States’ involvement in that conflict, which cost the lives of 50,585 Americans and wounded 205,690.

Many Americans have believed, both at the time and since, that the United States ought not to have fought a faraway foreign war that looked like just the latest of the endemic dynastic quarrels of the European continent, from which the young American republic should have stood aloof. Are they right?

On Jan. 16, 1917, the German foreign minister, Count Arthur Zimmermann, dispatched a telegram to the German ambassador to Mexico City, Count von Eckhardt, about what to do in the event of the United States and Germany going to war as a result of the unrestricted U-boat campaign that Germany was planning, which would inevitably result in the sinking of American shipping.

The Zimmerman Telegram — as it became known — instructed Eckhardt to offer Mexico an alliance against the US, which would restore to it the “lost territory of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.”

Germany’s willingness to indulge in such fantasies with Mexico demonstrated her fundamental hostility to the United States, which was more than reciprocated in the American press and public.

The telegram was intercepted by British intelligence, and within six weeks of its publication, President Woodrow Wilson declared war.

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