World History 2 178 - 11.3.2 The United States Enters the War

Further exacerbating tensions between Germany and the United States was the publication on March 1, 1917, of the Zimmermann Telegram. This message had been sent to Mexico by Germany’s foreign minister, Arthur Zimmermann, offering a deal. In 1916, there had been numerous disturbances along the border between the United States and Mexico due to the exploits of Francisco “Pancho” Villa as he attacked U.S. towns. The U.S. Army had responded by sending thousands of troops to track Villa down. Germany wanted the Mexican government, in the event of war with the United States, to actively cause more disturbances along the border, keeping even more U.S. troops there and thus unavailable for deployment to Europe. In return for Mexico’s cooperation, upon its victory, Germany would grant it the region of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, territory it had lost in 1848 as a result of war with the United States.

In reality, it was unlikely that the Mexican government would have been able to participate in such a plan even if it had wanted to. In 1917, Mexico was embroiled in violent conflict among numerous revolutionary factions, of which Villa’s forces were one. The trouble had begun in 1910 when the liberal politician Francisco Madero had announced his candidacy for the Mexican presidency, an office that had been held continuously since 1884 by the dictatorial Porfirio Díaz, whose regime had favored wealthy landowners and business owners. Díaz handily won the rigged election and had Madero arrested, an action that led to uprisings throughout the country. In 1911, Díaz was forced to resign and went into exile.

However, when Madero, who had been declared president, failed to deliver on expected reforms, revolt broke out against his administration as well, and in 1913 he was forced to relinquish his office. He was replaced by Victoriano Huerta, a general who commanded rebellious forces within the Mexican army, and he was executed soon thereafter. Huerta, however, attempted to rule in a dictatorial fashion, and opposition quickly arose. In the south, Emiliano Zapata led a rebellion among Indigenous peasants who hoped to force a program of land reform. In the north, the revolution was led by Venustiano Carranza, Alvaro Obregon, and Pancho Villa. U.S. president Woodrow Wilson supported Carranza and supplied his forces with munitions. Wilson also used the occasion to order U.S. marines to invade Mexico to prevent damage to U.S.-owned property. In April 1914, the U.S. Navy took control of the Mexican port of Veracruz.

Throughout the summer of 1914, the various rebel factions did battle with one another as each leader sought to replace Huerta, who fled into exile in July. Carranza declared himself president over the objections of Villa and Zapata. In retaliation for U.S. support of Carranza, Villa attacked the town of Columbus, New Mexico, in March 1916, prompting Wilson to dispatch five thousand troops across the border to capture him. Villa evaded them, and within a year they had retreated. The U.S. invasion damaged U.S. relations with Carranza, however, who refused to countenance the insult to Mexican sovereignty. By 1917, he was firmly in power, but rebellion continued, led by Villa in the northern state of Chihuahua and by Zapata in Morelos in the south.

Thus, when Germany approached Carranza with its offer of an alliance against the United States, Carranza was not in a position to accept even if he had wanted to. Nevertheless, when this offer was made public, the United States was livid. It was not yet a combatant, and Germany was already planning how to dismember it. U.S. banks, which realized the loans they had extended to the European Allies would go unpaid if Germany won, already supported their country’s involvement, as did businesses that hoped U.S. assistance would encourage the Allies to grant them greater access to global markets. Now popular support for going to war against Germany swelled. In April 1917, the United States, already angered by the sinking of the Lusitania and the Sussex, entered the conflict on the side of the Allied powers.

The content of this course has been taken from the free World History, Volume 2: from 1400 textbook by Openstax