Book Review: The Zimmermann Telegram: Intelligence, Diplomacy, and America's Entry into World War I


by Thomas Boghardt

Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2012. Pp. xiv, 320. Illus., appends., notes, biblio., index. $36.95. ISBN: 1612511481

An account of what was probably the most important intelligence coup of the First World War.

A specialist in the history of espionage and covert operations during the Great War, in The Zimmermann Telegram Boghardt gives us the first new book on this event since Barbara Tuchman’s treatment over 60 years ago.  In his excellent opening survey of the historiography of the subject, Boghardt notes that Tuchman and other earlier writers on the subject worked without many documents that remained classified until recently, and also wrote largely without reference at all to German sources.   

Boghardt then explores the events leading to the origin of the telegram, attributing it, as was the case with much else in German policy, to faulty intelligence.   He points out some of the more interesting complexities of the diplomatic situation, such as efforts by some factions in Mexico’s complex revolutionary mix to secure German support, German peace initiatives with Japan, and more.  Boghardt makes excellent use of his cast, giving us insightful personal profiles of numerous figures in several countries, but most notably German foreign minister Arthur Zimmermann, a rare commoner in an aristocratic regime, and William “Blinker” Hall, the irascible chief of British naval intelligence, who identified the telegram, and worked to make good use of it, putting at risk the super secret fact that Britain could read Germany’s codes.  Boghardt concludes that while the telegram was less significant in bringing about American entry into the war than is often claimed, it certainly played an important contributory role. 

A valuable work for anyone interested in the diplomacy of the war or American’s participation.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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