Zimmerman Telegram, 1917

Sorry that posts have been sparse lately. School got pretty crazy, and I acquired a stomach virus on top of that (gross!). But I’m feeling better and will post more regularly.

World War I broke out between European nations in 1914, but the isolationist United States wanted nothing to do with it. In fact, President Woodrow Wilson was reelected after running with the slogan, “He kept us out of war.” However a series of events led the US to eventually declare war on Germany. In addition to Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare against US ships, Wilson referred to the Zimmerman Telegram in his request to Congress to declare war.

The Zimmerman Telegram, via

The Zimmerman Telegram was a memo written by German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmerman to the German Minister to Mexico, von Eckhardt. First, the note stated that Germany would continue unrestricted submarine warfare despite America’s protestations. This is because although the US was neutral and would trade with all belligerent countries, they could not trade with Germany due to a British naval blockade. Germany knew their actions could provoke the neutral US into war, so then Zimmerman proposed an alliance with Mexico (and  Japan); Mexico, in turn, was promised its former territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The alliance between Germany, Mexico, and Japan would open up two new fronts and help reduce the strain on the German military.

However, British cryptographers intercepted the message and gave it to Wilson on February 24, 1917. Finally, the note was released to the press on March 1, and the US public was horrified by the telegram. Zimmerman conceded on March 3, that the leaked telegram was authentic. In addition, Germany responded by complaining that the Allies shouldn’t have been tapping their secure peace network in the first place. Germany playing the victim was not effective, and on April 6, 1917, the United States Congress approved Wilson’s decision to declare war on Germany.

Wilson’s Fourteen Points, 1918

On this day in 1918, President Woodrow Wilson delivered a speech to the United States Congress, outlining “Fourteen Points” that he believed would lead to lasting peace between nations. Like FDR’s Four Freedoms speech, Wilson’s Fourteen Points speech concerns  global security and reflects the ideology of an American president during a World War.

President Woodrow Wilson (in office March 4, 1913 – March 4, 1921)

At the time of Wilson’s speech, America was currently involved in World War I, fighting on the side of the Entente Powers, or Allies (namely Britain and France), against the Central Powers (namely Germany).

I won’t go through all of his fourteen points, but here are the highlights:

  • No more secret agreements- If you study the causes of the First World War, you will see how many secret agreements and alliances there were. It is one of the (many) reasons why so many countries became involved in the war.
  • Freedom of the seas– America declared war on Germany (even though Wilson really really did not want to get involved in the war) mainly because of Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare.
  • Equal trade between countries– Wilson is saying that a country could impose tariffs on other countries, but this tariff would have to apply to all countries; it could not discriminate among countries.
  • Reduction of armaments– Wilson’s allies were not too happy about this one. It was easy for the United States- a rising world power isolated from Europe- to ask countries to reduce armaments. But what about France, who shared a border with Germany and kept getting invaded by them?
  • Objective adjustment of colonial claims– Again, this was easy for the United States to say. They had less of a stake in colonies than their Allied counterparts.
  • Various specific suggestions for certain disputed states and territories– Including the self-determination of Belgium, Austria-Hungary, and the Balkan states, among others. Also, he said France should be liberated and given Alsace-Lorraine back. Wilson asked for the creation of an independent Polish state.

And here is Wilson’s crowning glory:

  • A League of Nations should be established for the purpose of maintaining peace between all states, big and small– You can think of the League of Nations-which was eventually created- as an early, ineffective United Nations.

Later in November 1918, the war ended with the Armistice with Germany. The Fourteen Points could have even influenced the Germans to surrender, expecting just treatment. However, the  Treaty of Versailles, against Wilson’s wishes, was very vindictive, forcing Germany to take responsibility for starting the war and to pay gross reparations.

Some parts of Wilson’s Fourteen Points were included in the Versailles Treaty, including the creation of a League of Nations. However, the Treaty of Versailles was not ratified by the US Senate, and the United States never joined Wilson’s own League of Nations.

Regardless, President Wilson received the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize for his peacemaking efforts.

Christmas Truce, 1914

On Christmas Eve in 1914, an estimated 100,000 soldiers on both sides of the trenches along the Western Front engaged in an unofficial truce which continued to Christmas Day.

Months earlier, World War I began. The prospect of war was exciting, but soon there was a stalemate on the Western Front between the Central and Allied Powers. The troops were ordered to dig into trenches which were poorly constructed and in which soldiers suffered deplorable conditions. Enthusiasm for the war waned in these fruitless months.

However, morale was temporarily restored in December 1914 when British and German troops received Christmas gifts from their countries and families. A feeling of good will spread throughout the trenches and on Christmas Eve spontaneous truces began to occur along the Western Front.

Together, British and German soldiers sang carols, exchanged gifts, and played soccer. The events of the truce are documented in various soldiers’ diaries. Here, German soldier Kurt Zehmisch describes his experience:

The English brought a soccer ball from the trenches, and pretty soon a lively game ensued.  How marvellously wonderful, yet how strange it was.  The English officers felt the same way about it.  Thus Christmas, the celebration of Love, managed to bring mortal enemies together as friends for a time.

In addition to the fraternizing and festivities, members of both sides made use of the truce to go into No Man’s Land and bury their dead. Thus, the truce was both a sweet and somber time.

These spontaneous truces amongst soldiers were frowned upon by some  military officials. In fact, there was never again a ceasefire on Christmas during World War I because war officials made it clear they would prosecute soldiers who initiated, or participated in, another truce.

This is one of my favorite historical events in history because it demonstrates the humanity that can endure in times of war. There is a 2005 French film called Joyeux Noël (Merry Christmas) that depicts the events of the Christmas Truce. I believe the movie is available for streaming through Netflix and Amazon Prime if you’re interested.

Have a great holiday!

Armistice Day, 1918

Did everyone make a wish at 11:11 on 11/11?

That’s okay; I forgot too. I think I was conjugating French verbs or something equally boring.

But a very important historical event occurred on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month… the armistice between the Allies and Germany!

Soldiers celebrate the armistice.

Thus, November 11 is known as Armistice Day, Veteran’s Day, and Remembrance Day in different countries.

Depending on where you live, you may be seeing a lot of poppies. This is because poppies are a symbol of remembrance for those who have died in war. The symbol of the poppy was inspired by the poem “In Flanders’ Fields” written by Canadian physician Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae. The poem describes how poppies would grow in the ground over dead soldiers’ bodies.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

McCrae’s poem, written in 1915, was used as propaganda.

I used to not like studying the First World War. It was just the war that we briefly studied before World War II, which was when things got interesting. Oh, how wrong I was. World War I is fascinating! It only took an Oscar-winning movie and an enthusiastic IB History of the Americas teacher to persuade me.

However, as interesting as World War I is, it was a also a tragic period of history in which 16 million people lost their lives and 20 million were injured. These numbers do not take into consideration the social effects of the war. Many soldiers returned home with PTSD; the men and women who came of age during this period were called “The Lost Generation,” and war was no longer viewed as a positive and glorious means of achieving a country’s goals.

Armistice Day became Veteran’s Day in America after World War II as a day to remember not only those who fought in World War I, but all of our veterans.

So I would like to take a moment to thank all veteran’s for their service- for having enough courage to fight overseas in war and having the courage to come back home and face a different set of struggles.

Thank you.

Hello, fellow history nerds!

There’s something about learning about a historical event on the day it happened that increases your appreciation for it; it connects you on a different level.

For example, I never really enjoyed learning about World War I until my history class this year. We are currently learning about the war on a much deeper level than I am used to. Also, we happened to begin studying it around Veterans Day (aka Armistice Day and Remembrance Day), on 11/11. Learning about the war near such an important date to the war enhanced my experience. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because the year moves on but we (and by “we” I mean all of the inhabitants of the Earth) continue to repeat the same 365 (and 1/4) days over and over.

Although Veteran’s Day has come and gone, here is a small tribute to all who have served and to the day that sparked my interest in learning about history on the day it happened. Poppies, of course, are the symbol of wartime remembrance.

So I started this blog to learn more about history on the day (or week) it actually happened, and to share my research. I’m a history nerd, but definitely not an expert. I’m hoping to expand my knowledge and learn more about the world’s fascinating history.

-Emily