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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, September 1998, pages 57-58More on the Zimmermann Telegram
Answering Critics of the Theory That Balfour Declaration Was Payoff for Zionist Servicesin WWI
By John Cornelius
Following the appearance of my article “The Balfour Declaration and the Zimmermann Note” in the Aug./Sept. 1997 issue of the
in which I put forth mytheory of a trade, at the time of the First World War, with the Zionists getting Palestine and Britain getting America (as an ally—some might say a recoveredcolony), several readers have sent in comments, some of them critical. I believe I can answer them all, but perhaps it is better to address first the likelysource of most of them.Most people wanting to know more about the Zimmermann telegram would probably consult Barbara Tuchman’s book
The Zimmermann Telegram.
It isreadable, entertaining, and widely available. Having read the 1938 Signal Corps bulletin on the subject by William Friedman and Charles Mendelsohn, however,it is hard for me to believe that it is not also disinformation. There have been two editions of Tuchman’s book. The first appeared in 1958. The secondappeared in 1966 following the declassification of Friedman and Mendelsohn’s book in 1965, and is probably damage control. The second edition appears todiffer from the first only in the inclusion of a new preface, which acknowledges the declassification of the Friedman and Mendelsohn book, states that theBerlin-to-Washington ZT was sent in code 0075, and says that the implications of that will be discussed in a then-forthcoming book,
byDavid Kahn. Friedman and Mendelsohn state that the ZT was sent in code 7500. I do not know why Tuchman misquotes them.Tuchman’s book overlooks the elementary fact that the ZT was sent from Berlin to Washington in one code (7500) and from Washington to Mexico City inanother (13040 or 13042). The book appears to make the naive assumption that the Germans used only a single diplomatic code throughout the war. It wasnot necessary to await the declassification of the Friedman and Mendelsohn book to know that this was not so. In fact, in Chapter 12 of her own book Tuchmanquotes Zimmermann as saying that the telegram “went to America in a special code.” Furthermore, in
German Ambassador to WashingtonCount Bernstorff is quoted as saying that he received new codes by submarine twice during 1917. (Code 7500 was received in November 1917.) It isinteresting to read in Chapter 1 the story of how the British received and deciphered the ZT, with the realization that what one is reading is almost completefabrication. Tuchman retained this story even in the second edition of her book, when she could have had no doubt that it was false. One has to wonder howmuch trust can be placed in her other books.
It is hard for me to believe that Tuchman’s book is not disinformation.
Kahn has a different and less implausible story of how the British decoded the Berlin-to-Washington ZT sent in code 7500 which, like Tuchman, he refers to as0075. His explanation is simply that “somehow the British obtained copies of enough of the telegrams in this code” to make a start in breaking it. The result hepresents, however, is far more than a start. It is about 70 percent of the ZT, with, in my opinion, only those parts omitted which the British wished to omit.Friedman and Mendelsohn have the following to say on the subject. “When all is said and done, the decipherment of the 7500 version of the Zimmermanntelegram, even to the degree given in the Hendrick version, approaches the unbelievable.” (The Hendrick version is the incomplete version of the ZT referredto in Friedman and Mendelsohn and quoted by Kahn.)In his letter, Reverdy Fishel maintains that what the British got in exchange for the Balfour Declaration was money. There may be some truth to this, but it wasAmerican money, incidental to America’s entering the war. There are some things money won’t do. The British were losing the war militarily, and money alonewould no more have saved them than it would have saved Constantinople from the Turks in 1453.I read Mr. Abbas’ letter and article with interest and agree with much of what he says, but I do not understand why he rejects my theory. I suspect he doesnot appreciate the degree to which Britain was losing the war by the time America became her ally. I suggest that he read the texts of two telegrams sent byAmerican Ambassador to Britain Walter Page to President Woodrow Wilson on June 28 and 29, 1917. These can be found in Chapter 14 of “Hendrick,” reference 5, Volume 3. 1 have no doubt that Britain was imperialist before the war and had every intention of being so afterwards. But ever more importantwas not losing the war, and everything had to be secondary to that.Mr. Abbas states in his article that the appointment of David Lloyd George as prime minister in December 1916 was a “great stroke of luck” for the Zionists.Later on, he seems to doubt that it was mere luck, and I share his doubt. It would seem that both Lloyd George and Balfour came to believe, well before 1916,that the key to victory lay in support for Zionism.Lloyd George was an attorney in Zionist employ already at the 6th Zionist Congress in Basel in 1903, and he first met Weizmann in 1914, although he falselystates (according to Weizmann) in his
that it was 1916.Weizmann first met Balfour in 1906, and at their second meeting in 1915 Balfour greeted him with, “Well you haven’t changed much since we met. You know,I was thinking of that conversation of ours, and I believe that when the guns stop firing you may get your Jerusalem.” It seems probable to me that by late 1916 there was a firm understanding among LG, Balfour, Weizmann and others that a change of government should bebrought about and that Britain should commit to a Jewish Palestine in exchange for America’s being brought into the war. The entries in the
on LG and Balfour have the following to say: “A series of maneuvers, too complicated to describe here, resulted in Asquith’s resignation on Dec. 5 and his replacement on Dec. 7 by Lloyd George” (1916).It also states that the old guard of his party never forgave LG for having jockeyed Asquith out of office.In December 1916 Balfour moved “surprisingly from support of Asquith who had always defended him, to support of Lloyd George who had been a severecritic.” By accepting the foreign office in the new government he did as much as anyone to consolidate Lloyd George’s position.I have read both the letter by Mr. Russell Warren Howe and his book,
Mata Hari, The True Story,
which would probably not otherwise have come to myattention, and which I found very interesting. Mr. Howe states, without supporting evidence, that Britain broke code 0075 a few weeks before the ZT, andmanaged to preserve the secret until the end of the war. On the contrary, if the British did break code 7500, which as I have said, Friedman and Mendelsohnstrongly doubt, and wanted to keep the fact secret, they behaved very foolishly in making available the text of the“Hendrick version,” which was clearlyobtained from the Berlin-to-Washington ZT, sent in code 7500. In this case, of course, making the contents of the telegram public was far more important thankeeping from the Germans the “fact” that their code had been broken. It is of course possible that it was the code itself, rather than the ZT, that was betrayedto the British, but this would seem to have been more difficult, and I consider it unlikely, and also essentially immaterial to my theory.Mr. Howe states that he was taught at Cambridge that the ZT was concocted in London to encourage Washington to join the Allies against the Central Powers.As a
editor has pointed out, German Foreign Minister Zimmermann stated, in response to a question in the Reichstag,that the telegram was genuine. If what Mr. Howe was taught at Cambridge can nevertheless be shown to be true, it would appear to me greatly to strengthen the case for my theory. The