It’s being called an end of an era.
The era of the telegram came to an end in Germany with a final flourish of thousands of the once-popular message service, the country’s main postal service, Deutsche Post, said Wednesday.
Deutsche Post said that 3,228 telegrams were dispatched on the final day of service on New Year’s Eve.
Kinda curious if the last word someone paid to send was “stop”? The cost of operating and using it had gotten quite high.
It also never really shook a reputation for being monitored and intercepted.
The canonical example is when German foreign secretary Arthur Zimmermann sent the following encrypted text to Germany’s minister in Mexico on January 16, 1917.
You may notice the telegram says “via Galveston” (Texas) but more importantly it routed through England. The British at the start of WWI severed cables connecting Germany to the world in order to intercept all its telegrams.
The British delivered a decrypted version of Zimmerman’s telegram to the U.S. government on February 24. The text also was exposed by the press on March 1, raising public anger immediately about a German military alliance with Mexico and Japan carrying threats of invasion.
Public knowledge of these secret German plans was how the British government helped American public opinion overcome powerful leaders trying to aid Germany (i.e. Henry Ford) and shift the balance of power to better men.
Most notable, perhaps, was that former President Theodore Roosevelt along with the U.S. Army Chief of Staff (former commanding officer of the famous “Rough Riders”) had heavily promoted active response to aggression. Roosevelt objected since the start of WWI to America being passively in alignment with Germany, and objected even more in 1915 when “America First” became Wilson’s racist campaign for re-election (including a restart of the KKK).
Roosevelt instead campaigned for a civilian Preparedness Movement to ready America for defense of freedom.
Basically, in the two years before the Zimmerman telegram exposed Wilson’s treachery, Americans had watched their President fraudulently blame “leftists” and “labor” for a growing “holocaust” of German attacks bombing cities, burning factories and sinking ships.
When a Preparedness Day parade was bombed by German military intelligence, for example, Wilson had for years before secretly been advised of this and related plots. On July 22, 1916 (just eight days before the infamous Black Tom explosion in NYC) a massive explosion rocked downtown San Francisco and killed 10 people.
Authorities under Wilson, despite strong counter intelligence, intentionally ignored their known and obvious German suspects and instead falsely used the violence as pretense to target “leftist organizers”. Today it’s known as a “one of America’s darkest miscarriages of justice”.
Think about the outrage then if Wilson had been caught enabling a foreign military to kill Americans so he could win elections (e.g. what Richard Nixon also did).
If that sounds like something the GOP still would do today, you know now exactly why Donald Trump calls himself America First when he invites Russian attacks and divisively blames “leftists” for everything. Separatist movements in 2016 America driven by foreign adversaries? Sounds like a memo straight out of 1916 Germany.
After the British vociferously exposed the public to German secret communications, Wilson no longer could sustain such devious German alignment meant to fraudulently blame foreign military attacks killing Americans on domestic political opponents.
In April 1917 the unpopular U.S. President finally had his hands tied and Americans very quickly joined the war against Germany, with thanks to the leadership of Roosevelt and England, not to mention poets such as Alan Seeger (American soldier in Foreign Legion of France) who in 1916 wrote “I Have a Rendezvous with Death”.
I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air—
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.
It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath—
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.
God knows ’twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where Love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear …
But I’ve a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.
Powerful stuff, and Roosevelt was a legend (pumping out preparedness books, movies, speeches), but nothing overcame Wilson’s secret executive alliances and elevated American public sentiment into active defense like that decrypted Zimmerman telegram.
Well done England.
Another interesting footnote is that the KKK had pushed for suffrage (white women voting) as a means to dilute Black votes, especially in “young” states like Montana.
This effect was seen clearly in 1917, after Germany had bombed major American cities, when Jeannette Rankin of Montana (first woman elected to Congress in her first term) voted against war authorization. Again in 1941, after Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor, Rankin voted against war (placing the only no vote). She expected America could align itself with Nazi Germany and Hitler.
Historians recently have pointed out something to better frame Rankin’s hard edge politics; “anti-labor” actions in 1917 were in fact planned attempts at ethnic cleansing or even genocide.
…after all of this research, the deportation was not a response to a labor action. It was that to a limited extent, but it was also in the nature of an ethnic cleansing.
Obviously she did not in any way represent Americans who weren’t white. She was especially toxic to Black women who had been rebuffed by racism of most white women’s organizations including Rankin’s suffrage groups.
Black women by comparison famously supported the war efforts and many served with distinction, despite attempts by Rankin’s carefully crafted role to erase them and their communities. This divide is what led into the tragic Red Summer and Wilson sending troops to massacre non-white Americans who had supported the war and even served in it.
Thus, one decrypted telegram from Germany also changed entirely the course of Civil Rights in America. Who knows what damage Rankin might have done if she hadn’t been exposed as part of American systemic racism.
The toxic America First platform in both WWI and WWII, a barely concealed front for the KKK, actively manipulated sentiment using highly targeted propaganda pushing white women to make their sons serve German interests instead. Obviously those efforts failed under the reality of German aggression that grew after WWI (modeling itself on Wilson and Ford), such that by WWII any mention of America First was labeled seditious.
Perhaps, with great subtlety, the fizzle and end of the historic German telegram thus signals something wider: the long overdue end to Wilson’s racist America First platform as well.