Zimmerman Telegram

Notice of a significant anniversary from the BBC:

Why was the Zimmermann Telegram so important?

By Gordon Corera
Security correspondent

Tuesday marks the 100th anniversary of a remarkable success for British intelligence: but one that involved spying on the United States and then conspiring with its senior officials to manipulate public opinion in America.

On the morning of 17 January 1917, Nigel de Grey walked into his boss’s office in Room 40 of the Admiralty, home of British code-breakers.
It was obvious to Reginald “Blinker” Hall that his subordinate was excited.

“Do you want to bring America into the war?” de Grey asked.

The answer was obvious. Everyone knew that America entering World War One to fight the Germans would help break the stalemate.

“Yes, my boy. Why?” Hall answered.

“I’ve got something here which – well, it’s a rather astonishing message which might do the trick if we could use it,” de Grey said.

The previous day, the German foreign minister, Arthur Zimmermann, had sent a message to the German ambassador to Washington.

The message used a code that had been largely cracked by British code-breakers, the forerunners of those who would later work at Bletchley Park.

Zimmermann had sent instructions to approach the Mexican government with what seems an extraordinary deal: if it was to join any war against America, it would be rewarded with the territories of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

“This may be a very big thing, possibly the biggest thing in the war. For the present, not a soul outside this room is to be told anything at all,” Hall said after reading it.

Part of the problem was how the message had been obtained.

German telegraph cables passing through the English Channel had been cut at the start of the War by a British ship.

So Germany often sent its messages in code via neutral countries.

Germany had convinced President Wilson in the US that keeping channels of communication open would help end the War, and so the US agreed to pass on German diplomatic messages from Berlin to its embassy in Washington.

The message – which would become known as the Zimmermann Telegram – had been handed, in code, to the American Embassy in Berlin at 15:00 on Tuesday 16 January.

The American ambassador had queried the content of such a long message and been reassured it related to peace proposals.

By that evening, it was passing through another European country and then London before being relayed to the State Department in Washington.

From there, it would eventually arrive at the German embassy on 19 January to be decoded and then recoded and sent on via a commercial Western Union telegraphic office to Mexico, arriving the same day.

Thanks to their interception capability process, Britain’s code-breakers were reading the message two days before the intended recipients (although they initially could not read all of it).

A coded message about attacking the US was actually passed along US diplomatic channels.

And Britain was spying on the US and its diplomatic traffic (something it would continue to do for another quarter of a century).

The cable was intelligence gold-dust and could be used to persuade America to join the War.

But how could Britain use it – when to do so would reveal both that they were breaking German codes and that they had obtained the message by spying on the very country it was hoping to become its ally?

Find out at the link.

On This Day…

Ninety-eight years ago Boston witnessed an event similar to the London Beer Flood. From New England Today, notice of the Great Molasses Flood of 1919:

In January of 1919 Purity Distilling Company of Boston, maker of high-grade rum, was working three shifts a day in a vain attempt to outrun national Prohibition. The company’s huge iron tank along the water’s edge at 529 Commercial Street in the North End was filled with more than two million gallons of molasses. Pipes entering the tank were heated to aid the flow of the dense liquid. A solitary vent was the only outlet for the fermenting gases.

It was just after noon on January 15 when the great molasses tank exploded with a ground-shaking blast. Those nearby who survived the ensuing catastrophe reported strange noises coming from the tank just before it let go. “It was like someone was on the inside hammering to get out,” said one witness.

A massive tidal wave of molasses swept across Commercial Street, smashing into a house at 6 Copps Hill Terrace, demolishing the building and killing Mrs. Bridget Clougherty. The metal latticework of the Boston Elevated Railway Company’s Atlantic Avenue line, running above Commercial Street, was struck by a large chunk of the shattered tank. A section of the El collapsed. A quick-thinking motorman, seeing the rail disappear ahead of the train, dashed to the rear car and, with the steel wheels spinning, managed to get it headed in the opposite direction.

The Bay State Street Railway freight depot and several motorized boxcars were destroyed. On the waterfront, Boston Fireboat #31 was sunk at its dock with loss of life. A five-ton Mack truck was picked up by the wave of molasses and slammed into a building. The city paving department office and stable were erased within seconds, killing five men and a number of horses. Scores of buildings, vehicles and bystanders were swept away. In all, 11 people were killed and more than 50 injured by the initial explosion.

Click on the link for more, including numerous photographs. Residents of the area claim that on hot summer days you can still smell the aroma of molasses in the air. I’m pleased to note that unlike Meux’s Brewery, the Purity Distilling Company actually was found responsible for the accident, and had to pay compensation to the survivors.

New Book by Karen Owen

Very pleased to note that Karen Owen, director of Reinhardt’s Master of Public Administration program, has published a book, Women Officeholders and the Role Models Who Pioneered the Way (Lexington Books, 2016). Buy it at Amazon or at Lexington Books.

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From the website:

Recent electoral seasons in American politics demonstrate women’s keen interest, involvement, and influence as candidates and officeholders. Women possess political ambition, albeit in varying degrees, and as such, women seek opportunities to be politically engaged and affect America’s representative institutions. This book analyzes why American women run for political office, and explores how political role models, identified as publicly elected officials and/or those who have served in the political arena, have greatly motivated women to run for higher political office, including seats in the U.S. Congress and state governorships.

Evidence from personal interviews with ten congresswomen and fifty-five female state legislators reveals the ambitious nature of female politicians, the encouragement of political factors in their decisions to advance in politics, and their perceived responsibility to be role models to other women. Moreover, in studying thirty-five years of elections data, I find substantial support for how female political role models influence female state legislators’ candidacies and electoral outcomes to higher office. This work highlights the importance of women as symbolic representatives; female politicians are instrumental in emboldening a new generation of women to engage in politics. Role models in politics indeed have a purpose and an influential nature.

Jimmy Carter

I do enjoy some local tourism from time to time. Yesterday we had a fun day in Atlanta, where we saw the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum (logo from Wikipedia).

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I had last visited the Museum in 2004 in my first semester at Reinhardt. Since then it has been renovated and looks nice, although I’m afraid it didn’t really compare to the ones we saw this summer. The biggest difference? The lack of friendly volunteers who could answer questions about Jimmy and his legacy. This made the whole place seem like it was suffering from a certain… malaise. You did, however, get to understand why he was elected in the first place: after Viet Nam and Watergate, such an earnest, honest outsider had a great deal of appeal to your average voter. The big room dealing with his achievements (like SALT II, the Panama Canal, the Camp David Accords, etc.) was interesting, especially as also contained references to contemporary events that form some of my earliest memories (e.g. the original Star Wars, the explosion of Mount St. Helens, “Who Shot J.R.?”, and the Miracle on Ice.)

Presidents get a lot of gifts in the course of doing their jobs. Here’s one from Mexico, a portrait of Carter in a “metaphoric style” by artist Octavio Ocampo.

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The pamphlet below was on display in the museum, but I actually took this picture last year at the Lake Acworth Antique and Flea Market. I thought that material from the 1976 election and a 8-track tape (featuring Bob Seger, natch) formed a nice combination.

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This photo, featuring Amy Carter and a ’76 election exercise, brought a smile to my face.

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Unfortunately, there wasn’t much on Billy and his beer.

The post-presidency section (including the Carter Center, numerous books, and the Nobel Prize) was nicely done.

Star-Spangled Banner

A sensation this past weekend was the refusal of Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback for the San Francisco Forty-Niners, to stand for the national anthem, on the principle that he was

not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

Some people were outraged, others supportive, in reaction to this. The 49ers themselves said that “we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem,” while the NFL claimed that “Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the National Anthem.” I confess that I personally don’t care for this sort of activism – you’re a football player, paid millions of dollars to throw a football, and if you must bestow your pearls of wisdom upon us, save it for after the game, when you’re out of uniform – although I’ve often thought that we can save ourselves trouble by not courting it in the first place. Why do we sing the national anthem before sporting events? It’s not as though any national teams are playing or anything.

Having said that, I was curious to read an article claiming that “Colin Kaepernick Is Righter Than You Know: The National Anthem Is a Celebration of Slavery” on The Intercept:

Almost no one seems to be aware that even if the U.S. were a perfect country today, it would be bizarre to expect African-American players to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Why? Because it literally celebrates the murder of African-Americans.

Few people know this because we only ever sing the first verse. But read the end of the third verse and you’ll see why “The Star-Spangled Banner” is not just a musical atrocity, it’s an intellectual and moral one, too:

No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

“The Star-Spangled Banner,” Americans hazily remember, was written by Francis Scott Key about the Battle of Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812. But we don’t ever talk about how the War of 1812 was a war of aggression that began with an attempt by the U.S. to grab Canada from the British Empire.

However, we’d wildly overestimated the strength of the U.S. military. By the time of the Battle of Fort McHenry in 1814, the British had counterattacked and overrun Washington, D.C., setting fire to the White House.

And one of the key tactics behind the British military’s success was its active recruitment of American slaves. As a detailed 2014 article in Harper’s explains, the orders given to the Royal Navy’s Admiral Sir George Cockburn read:

Let the landings you make be more for the protection of the desertion of the Black Population than with a view to any other advantage. … The great point to be attained is the cordial Support of the Black population. With them properly armed & backed with 20,000 British Troops, Mr. Madison will be hurled from his throne.

Whole families found their way to the ships of the British, who accepted everyone and pledged no one would be given back to their “owners.” Adult men were trained to create a regiment called the Colonial Marines, who participated in many of the most important battles, including the August 1814 raid on Washington.

Then on the night of September 13, 1814, the British bombarded Fort McHenry. Key, seeing the fort’s flag the next morning, was inspired to write the lyrics for “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

So when Key penned “No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,” he was taking great satisfaction in the death of slaves who’d freed themselves. His perspective may have been affected by the fact he owned several slaves himself.

More at the link. Although it’s somewhat silly to bring up the third verse, when nobody knows it, he’s right about the War of 1812: it was, in one respect, a war to preserve slavery (as was the Revolutionary War: contrary to Mel Gibson, it was the British who offered freedom to slaves in return for their services, not the colonists).

Of course, the Americans did have a point otherwise, and it is great that the ideals of the revolution, which were really quite radical for the eighteenth century, were eventually applied successfully to the question of slavery.

Ho for the Hols

• In honour of Canada Day (yesterday), a rendition of the Royal Arms of Canada from a 50-cent piece from 1946. I always liked the style of this one.

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“KG” = Kruger Gray. I like how this one has a real compartment (actual ground that the supporters are standing on), as opposed to the rose-thistle-shamrock-lily “bouquet” that one normally sees. I also like the omission of the motto, helmet, mantling, and crest, and and the depiction of the old-style “Imperial” crown. The maple keys on the branch are a nice touch.

• Also, don’t forget that today is America’s real Independence Day! (And the Millennium didn’t really begin until 2001!)

Fort Gaines, Alabama

One more set of summer-trip postcards, from Fort Gaines, Dauphin Island, Alabama. As it says on the sign, Fort Gaines was established during the presidency of James Monroe to guard the entrance to Mobile Bay. (Two miles across the bay, at the tip of Mobile Point, lies Fort Morgan, which was built in the 1830s. We did not get to visit that fort, however.)

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Fort Gaines was taken over by the Confederacy, and regained by the United States after the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864. This is the engagement when Admiral Farragut gave his famous order: “Damn the torpedoes – full speed ahead!” (or words to that effect – contemporary sources differ on the phrasing). This was a risky but ultimately effective tactic of running the Confederate minefield and then sinking the Confederate ships in Mobile Bay. Forts Morgan and Gaines surrendered to the US shortly thereafter. The anchor from the USS Hartford, Farragut’s ship, is on display in the courtyard of Fort Gaines.

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The fort was modified in 1898 as a result of the Spanish-American war, and decommissioned in 1926, at which time it was sold to the City of Mobile. During World War II it housed a unit of the Alabama National Guard. At some point the fort was deeded to the Dauphin Island Park and Beach Board, which act as its current caretakers. It is not currently in the best of repair but we kind of liked that – it was fun to explore all its nooks and crannies. Every time a hurricane comes through it gets damaged a little more, and erosion from seawater is eating away at its foundations. Apparently it’s on a list of endangered historic places so you should see it while you can, or give money to save it before it’s too late.

gaines2You can go on an interesting self-guided walking tour and see the cannons, magazine, fort museum, kitchen, twelve-seater latrine, barracks and, best of all, the working blacksmith forge and blacksmith Ralph Oalmann who explains his craft as he exercises it.

Presidential Museums

An aspect of America’s imperial presidency is the custom of the Presidential Library and Museum – that is, after a president is no longer in office, all of the documents relating to his term get transported to an elaborate, specially-built building somewhere, which also features a museum devoted to his life and times. (I’m debating whether it is a good thing that these are built, not with tax money, but with private “donations.”) Three such institutions are in Texas, and we visited all of them. They are:

1. The Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin.

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2. The George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, on the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station.

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3. The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

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I think that Johnson had the most interesting building. The largest and most elaborate was George W. Bush’s – this was also the most venal, charging $17 to get in, $25 to get your picture taken at his desk, and $2 for postcards in the gift shop. But all of them are staffed by friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable volunteers. Of course, the main problem with the museums is that they are pretty one-sided. For instance, you won’t see LBJ lifting his beagle up by the ears, or learn about his habit of addressing subordinates while sitting on the toilet. You won’t read about George Bush saying “Read my lips: no new taxes” or “Message: I care,” or learn anything about Willie Horton or the time when he vomited on the Japanese Prime Minister. And you definitely won’t read that George W. Bush said “Heckuva job, Brownie!” in the wake of Hurricane Katrina or asked “Is our children learning?” on the campaign trail, or that he nominated Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court or that his war provoked the largest political protests in history. I suppose this gap, between what’s presented and what you remember, is the widest in the case of George W. Bush, although I assume this is at least partly because I remember his presidency the most clearly. However, I do remember the George Bush as he appears in this museum – how he was such an optimistic person. The Iraq War was not about oil, nor about Israel, nor about vindicating his dad, although I’m sure all of those played a part. Fundamentally, Bush really believed that inside every Iraqi was an American waiting to get out – or rather, that everyone in the world yearns for “freedom,” as an American might understand it, and that we protect our own security when we try to spread the benefits of our way of life. He really believed that every child has the capacity to learn, if only we enforced high standards and held schools accountable for them.

The unintended consequences of both of these projects will be with us for some time to come…

Capitol Campaign

Continuing our personal project, here are some more state capitols that we saw on our recent trip:

1. Baton Rouge, Louisiana. This departs from the regular pattern of a neoclassical dome – instead, like Bismarck, N.D. or Lincoln, Nebr., it takes the form of a tower. You can take the elevator to the top for a nice view.

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This building, of course, is essentially a monument to Huey Long, Louisiana’s populist Depression-era governor, who authorized its construction and who was assassinated in it in 1935.

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A statue of the Kingfish stands on the grounds.

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The former capitol building down the street is a crenellated structure that now acts as a museum of political history.

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Needless to say, Huey Long appears in here, too.

IMG_2695The Capitol Park Museum nearby is first rate.

2. Austin, Texas. Quite large, as befits anything Texan. It was surprisingly crowded on a Sunday. I was amused to note that the guards were armed with assault rifles. Don’t mess with Texas!

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Enjoyed the portraits of Ann Richards, George W. Bush, and Rick Perry, along with the view of the interior of the dome, and the mosaic on the floor.

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You can hardly see it, but “TEXAS” appears between the arms of the star.

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Another appearance of the Six Flags, or rather, the Six Emblems, with Texas at the center of the large star, and the other five between the arms of the star. Alas, this was the least crowded it ever got while I was there.

Down the street, the Bullock Texas State History Museum is wonderful.

3. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. A rainy day and construction, but the locals were certainly friendly. 

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The interior has a nice collection of paintings of famous Oklahomans, like Will Rogers, Gene Autry, Sequoyah (they claim him), and Wiley Post. Like Texas, the interior of the dome is nice, as is the floor decoration beneath it.

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The arms of the star illustrate devices used by the Five Civilized Tribes, who were all expelled there in the nineteenth century: starting with the seven-pointed star on the top left and moving clockwise, these are the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Seminole, and Creek. The middle of the seal shows “Columbia” (a feminine personification of America not much used anymore), holding a balance above her head, and blessing a handshake between a white settler and an American Indian, who are flanked respectively by a train and a teepee.

(Not to be too much of a wet blanket, but I don’t think this image necessarily reflects the reality of the Dawes Act, or the land runs that followed.)

Unfortunately, we were too late to see the Oklahoma History Center. Next time!