On February 1 we intend to begin submarine warfare without restriction. In spite of this it is our intention to endeavor to keep the United States neutral. If this attempt is not successful, we propose an alliance on the following basis with Mexico: That we shall make war together and together make peace; we shall give general financial support, and it is understood that Mexico is to re-conquer her lost territory of New Mexico, Texas and Arizona. - Arthur Zimmermann
Some time ago I read The Zimmermann Telegram, a book written by Barbara W. Tuchman. The book is based on an interesting episode in world history that occurred 97 years ago. Mexico accepted a secondary role in the event. However, it could have been major player and worked the situation to its advantage. I'm talking about a telegram sent by the Foreign Affairs Minister of the German Empire, Arthur Zimmermann, on January 16, 1917, while World War I was in full swing.
The telegram describes a German proposal to the Mexican government to establish a military alliance against the United States. Mexico, in contemplating its meager military capability, declined the German proposal.
This document is so important that many historians attribute U.S. involvement in the so-called Great War to its existence. The document was intercepted and decoded by British intelligence.
In 1917 the war in Europe was bogged down. The United Kingdom knew that only the United States could provide it with a needed advantage. However, our northern neighbors remained firm in their neutrality. There was even strong support for Germany within some circles, but that's another story.
In this global game of chess, the United Kingdom played its moves brilliantly, eventually convincing the United States to enter the war, which was instrumental in the victory of the Allies.
In this complex game of strategy, what did Mexico gain? Nothing. This episode illustrates our historic inability to play our hand in the international concert of nations. Be clear: I'm not insinuating that Mexico should have joined the Central Powers. However, there's no doubt that Mexico failed to exploit its natural alliance with the United States ... and I'm talking about an alliance, not subordination.
Many of the problems we have had with our neighbor are based on the lack of recognition of our strategic importance and not very rational approach when playing our cards.
Tuchman's book also recalls the epic corruption of the revolutionary government and the great treachery of Francisco Villa, who served as an instrument of the German government in his criminal attack on Columbus. Tuchman portrays President Woodrow Wilson as a dreamer for sending a punitive expedition of 6,000 to 12,000 men to trap Villa, and to respond to numerous German attacks with simple diplomatic notes.
The author portrays the Germans as so overconfident that they sent the telegram through U.S. communication channels, never thinking they would be able to intercept and/or decrypt the document. In the end, it was British intelligence that accomplished this feat, massively capitalizing on the smugness of its enemies. In fact, the British secretly mocked their American cousins when they realized that the telegram had crossed U.S. territory and communication channels completely unhindered.
Today, global wars are fortunately no longer fought with weapons but through fierce competition among companies. The rivalry is still ruthless and the nature of countries and governments has changed very little.
Espionage is an even more important issue in this age of electronic communication. In the past few years we have learned that no government or institution, ally or enemy, is safe from the intelligence services of the United States; everything passes through their hands. We must ask, what happens with this information? What unfair advantages does it provide for the government and companies? The vast data traffic over the Internet circulates through servers located in the United States, which means that no one is safe from this potential espionage.
Given this situation, is there any possible protection? With the increasing capacity to analyze large volumes of information, these issues take on greater relevance today than in 1917.
Almost one hundred years later, Mexico is still not able to bring its enormous economic, political, and demographic weight to bear in international affairs. Lesser nations make their voices heard in the centers where the big global decisions are made, while Mexico remains silent and defends its interests timidity.
Today we see how thousands of deadly weapons that kill thousands of our fellow citizens are traded with impunity across the Rio Grande, while Washington demands that we end the northern bound drug trade, without any efforts being made on its part to reduce consumption.
It's our duty to fight for our interests and for our place in the world as a nation. The Zimmermann Telegram episode is just one example of our limits in taking advantage of our circumstances and strengths. It's time to show our potential and to project it internationally. We have much to contribute. The strength, sophistication, and vitality of our youth give me hope that this situation will change.