Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, October/November 1999, pages 57-58, 76
The Zimmermann Telegram
Palestine, the Balfour Declaration and Why America Entered the Great War
By John Cornelius
In an earlier article1 I set forth my view that, 80 years after the event, there is still no satisfactory explanation as to why, on Nov. 2, 1917, the British issued the Balfour Declaration (BD) in which they, in essence, promised Palestine as a Jewish homeland. I proposed that this action could best be explained as being part of a trade, in which Zionists in Germany betrayed the text of the Zimmermann Telegram (ZT) to the British, who used it as means of persuading President Woodrow Wilson, and Americans generally, to go to war with Germany. It may be recalled that the ZT was sent by German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann to the German ambassador in Mexico City suggesting a German-Mexican alliance in case of war between Germany and the United States.
After that article appeared, the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, published several letters commenting on it, and in a second article2 I responded to these comments. I also argued that the story in Chapter 1 of Barbara Tuchman’s book, The Zimmermann Telegram,3 of how the ZT was intercepted and deciphered in London on the day it was sent could not be true. I based this conclusion on a close reading of a formerly classified U.S. Army Signal Corps Bulletin on the ZT by Friedman and Mendelsohn, first published in 1938 and declassified in 1965.4
In my first article I assumed that the betrayal of the ZT to the British was an unpremeditated action by Zionists in January 1917.
When my second article was written I had learned more about British-Zionist relations in earlier years and had modified my view.
In this article I would like to give my present views on British-Zionist relations before and during World War I, but first I would like to revisit a letter to the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs by author Russell Warren Howe.5
In his letter, Mr. Howe makes two surprising statements: first, that Britain broke the German code 7500 a few weeks before the ZT, and second, that the ZT was concocted in London to encourage Washington to go to war with Germany. He provides no supporting evidence for either of these statements, but they deserve to be considered.
The first statement conflicts with the professional judgment of Friedman and Mendelsohn that at the time of the original ZT (Jan. 16, 1917), the British could not have had enough material in code 7500 to accomplish more than a fragmentary decipherment of the ZT.
IT NOW APPEARS THAT THE ZT WAS NOT ZIMMERMANN’S IDEA
I earlier doubted his statement that the British had cracked code 7500 some weeks before the ZT. By now, however, I am inclined to believe that Mr. Howe is correct, except that I believe that the British obtained code 7500 by betrayal, rather than by cracking.
In thinking about how this might have been done, one should recall examples of people, e.g. Jonathan Pollard, who have photographic memories.
Code 7500 would have been used by the British for more than deciphering the ZT alone, as its possession would have enabled them to follow, and therefore perhaps influence, the thinking of the German government. It would also, of course, have provided them with a complete and accurate text of the ZT as soon as it was sent from Berlin to Washington.
Mr. Howe’s second statement appears to conflict with Zimmermann’s confirmation, in answer to a question in the Reichstag, that the ZT was genuine. Nevertheless the ZT does look like something that might have been concocted by the British, and it was certainly of far greater value to the British than it could ever have been to the Germans. If the British were indeed able to get the Germans to send the ZT, it would have to have been through the actions of an agent provocateur, someone who appeared to have Germany’s interests at heart and to have no connection with Britain.
It now appears that the ZT was not Zimmermann’s idea. The telegram was drafted by one Herr von Kemnitz,6 an East Asia expert in the German foreign office, who, against the opposition of some of his colleagues, persuaded Foreign Minister Zimmermann to send it.
In 1903, the sixth Zionist congress took place in Basel.7 It is referred to as the “Uganda” congress because it dealt with an offer by the British government to make available land in Uganda for Jewish settlement. The offer was seriously considered, and was in fact approved by a majority of the delegates, but the debate proved to be very divisive, and ultimately the offer was not taken up.
During that period Arthur Balfour was British prime minister, and the Zionists had retained the London law firm of Lloyd George, Roberts and Co. This firm was chosen because one of the partners, David Lloyd George, was an MP and thus in touch with Foreign Office thinking.8
Both Balfour and Lloyd George must have given serious thought at that time to the question of what the British government and the Zionists could do for each other.
That Balfour continued to think about that is shown by his statement, at his second meeting with Chaim Weizmann, in 1915 (the first was in 1906), “You know, I was thinking of that conversation of ours, and I believe that after the guns stop firing you may get your Jerusalem.”9
In November 1916, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson was re-elected to a second term with the slogan, “He kept us out of war.” It was understood that it was Wilson’s aim to bring about a negotiated end to World War I without victory for either side. Some influential people in Britain must have concluded at that time that their only hope of winning the war (as opposed to a draw) lay in playing the Zionist card and bringing America into the war.
In early December 1916, a political crisis occurred in Britain, and Herbert Asquith, who had been prime minister since 1908, was forced to resign.
The denouement came on Dec. 6, 1916. That afternoon King George V summoned several prominent political figures, including Balfour and Lloyd George, to a conference at Buckingham Palace.10
Later that same evening, Balfour received a small political delegation, which proposed that the difficult political situation could be resolved with Lloyd George as prime minister, provided Balfour would agree to accept the position of foreign minister, which he did.
Blanche Dugdale, Balfour’s niece and biographer,11 mentions that a family letter, written shortly thereafter, jokingly refers to Balfour and Lloyd George as having “fallen in love with each other at the Buckingham Palace conference.”
Lloyd George quickly imposed a war dictatorship, and direction of the war was entrusted to a “War Cabinet.”
I would postulate that the December 1916 change in government in Britain was engineered by Balfour, Lloyd George, and George V for the purpose of forming a British-Zionist alliance, frustrating Wilson’s peace initiative, and bringing America into the war, thus ensuring an Allied victory.
I would postulate further that at about this time the British acquired a copy of code 7500. The British, through their new Zionist allies, may have been able to induce Zimmermann to send the ZT, but whether they did or not, the British would have obtained the ZT, accurately and completely, on the day it was sent. On Jan. 17, 1917 they would have known that the game was won.
If this picture is correct, it follows that the incomplete version of the ZT supplied by the British to the Americans in the spring of 1917 and referred to by Friedman and Mendelsohn as the “Hendrick version” would have been generated from the complete ZT by introducing omissions and uncertainties for the purpose of deceiving the Americans into believing that the decipherment of the ZT was at that time still a work in progress.
JAMES A. MALCOLM
A publication entitled Origins of the Balfour Declaration, Dr. Weizmann’s Contribution by James A. Malcolm12 has come to my attention. This is a 12-page typewritten manuscript which was published by the British Museum in 1944. Mr. Malcolm identifies himself as an Armenian from Persia, whose family had had a long association with British interests, who was educated in England, and whose adult life had been spent in England. He describes having encountered Sir Mark Sykes, an old family friend and undersecretary of the War Cabinet, in late autumn of 1916, and finding him dejected about the progress of the war.
Malcolm goes on to describe how he introduced Sykes to the subject of Zionism and suggested how, through support for Zionism, Britain might be able to enlist substantial Jewish support in America for war with Germany. He states that Sykes took these views to the War Cabinet and describes how they ultimately led to the BD.
I can accept that Malcolm tells the truth as he saw it, but since I believe that the War Cabinet in Britain was formed in December 1916 for the very purpose of coming to an understanding with the Zionists, it is impossible to believe that its members first learned of Zionism from Malcolm. He may have been encouraged to believe that his role in bringing about this understanding was more important than it really was.
Malcolm quotes legal authority in describing the Balfour Declaration as “a definite contract between Great Britain and Jewry” and adds that “the consideration for this contract had already been given before Nov. 2nd, 1917.” He does not state what that consideration was but seems to imply that Zionists in America used their influence in the direction of war with Germany. He gives no indication that he connected Zionists with either planting or betraying the ZT.
It has been suggested to me that my theory marks not just an advance, but the basis for a revolution in understanding the history of the First World War, in the sense that the word “revolution” is used in Thomas Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.13 I have come to believe that this suggestion is correct. It has certainly caused me to sharply reconsider historical views I have held since childhood.
Kuhn holds that scientific progress is of two sorts: normal science, in which all researchers share a common belief structure or “paradigm” and make advances within that paradigm, and scientific revolutions, which occur when the old paradigm fails to explain important results, and a new paradigm emerges.
In reading Kuhn, I was particularly struck by two of his statements concerning the emergence of new paradigms. One was his observation that researchers who propose new paradigms have almost always been either very young or very new to the field. Being very new to the field (of studying America’s entry into World War One) describes me accurately.
The other was his statement that the emergence of a new paradigm often suggests directions for further research. That also has been true in this case. Consider the following example:
The ZT would not have been sent had not the German government made the fateful decision to resume unrestricted submarine warfare, which had been suspended for some months because of diplomatic protests from the U.S. The decision to resume was not taken lightly. In retrospect it is clear that it was a disastrous decision for Germany, and it is interesting to consider whether the British and their Zionist allies might have affected it.
During German government hearings in 191914 it became evident that at the time the decision was made to resume unrestricted submarine warfare (Jan. 9, 1917) Foreign Minister Zimmermann and Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, both of whom were strong advocates of the decision, believed that President Wilson’s peace initiative had been suggested by England in order to prevent the German submarine war and that Wilson was thus acting on behalf of England. Furthermore, both men still retained that view more than two years later, after the war had ended.
A member of the committee of inquiry cast doubt on the correctness of their view and pointed out that at the time of the submarine warfare decision there had recently been a change in government in Britain. The committee member attributed the fall of the previous Asquith government to the fact that it had toyed with the idea of peace without victory and had looked with favor on American intervention to bring that goal about. The new Lloyd George government, however, was entirely opposed to such an American intervention. At that point the committee went into secret session.
It would be very interesting to know how Zimmermann and von Hindenburg had come to their apparently completely incorrect conclusion that Wilson was acting on behalf of England.
A clue may be found in Zimmermann’s reference, in testimony before the committee, to a report of a conversation between a German minister and a neutral foreign minister, in which the latter was quoted as suggesting that Wilson’s peace move was for the purpose of forcing Germany to declare its peace conditions “in England’s interests.” The neutral foreign minister was said to have stated “that he was unwilling to allow himself to be made use of for the purpose of such maneuvers.”
Zimmermann did not state the source of the report but said that it could be found on page 14 of title 5 of “the compilation.” Presumably the compilation was something which was handed to members of the examining committee.
It would be interesting to know more of this matter.
1Cornelius, John, “The Balfour Declaration and the Zimmermann Note,” in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, On Middle East Affairs, Aug./Sept. 1997.
2Cornelius, John, “Answering Critics of the Theory that Balfour Declaration Was Payoff for Zionist Services in WWI,” in the Washington Report On Middle East Affairs, Sept. 1998.
3Tuchman, Barbara W., The Zimmermann Telegram, New York: Ballantine Books, 1958, 1966.
4Friedman, William F. and Mendelsohn, Charles J., The Zimmermann Telegram of January 16, 1917 and its Cryptographic Background, Laguna Hills, CA: Aegean Park Press, 1994 1 (800) 736-3587.
5Howe, Russell Warren, Letter in Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, On Middle East Affairs, Jan./Feb. 1998, p. 110.
6Link, Arthur S., Wilson, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1965, pp. 433-36. This is Vol, 5 of Wilson and was published in 1965. Other volumes were published earlier.
7Lowenthal, Marvin (ed.), The Diaries of Theodor Herzl,New York: Dial Press, 1956.
8Dugdale, Mrs. Edgar, The Balfour Declaration—Origins and Background, London: The Jewish Agency for Palestine, 1940, p. 15.
9Weizmann, Chaim, Trial and Error, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1949, p. 152.
10Dugdale, Blanche, Arthur James Balfour, Vol. 2, New York: Putnam’s, 1937, pp. 127-28.
11Ibid., p. 131.
12Malcolm, James A., Origins of the Balfour Declaration, Dr. Weizmann’s Contribution, London: British Museum, 1944.
13Kuhn, Thomas S., The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, Third edition, 1996.
14German Government, Official German Documents Relating to the World War, New York: Oxford University Press, 1923, pp. 433-39.
John Cornelius is the nom de plume of an American with long-standing interest in the Middle East, who believes he has uncovered something important.
Further Questions Raised
1.When and on whose initiative was the declassification of the Friedman and Mendelsohn book4 undertaken? Was it during JFK’s time?
2. When and by whom was the original ZT in code 7500 removed from State Dept. files?4
3. Can more be learned about the von Kemnitz6 who first suggested sending the ZT?
4. According to Official German Documents Relating to the World War,14 a certain Mr. Koch (no first name given), a German businessman in New York, wrote numerous letters to influential people in Germany in the fall of 1916 stating that the German Embassy in Washington and the German Consulate in New York were incorrectly representing the situation in America and that America would not go to war with Germany under any circumstances.
I wonder if this man could be better identified and whether it could be determined what his motives were.