The Mexican Plot
It is true that Germany does not know the meaning of honesty and fair
play. Most Americans, in everything, want "a square deal." They demand
it for themselves, and a true American feels that the harshest thing
that can be said of him is that he is not fair and square in his
dealings. In any American school, a pupil who is deceitful is at once
shunned by all the other boys and girls as a "cheat" and a "sneak." He
place among them, least of all in their games and sports, for
not to play according to the rules of the game is to upset and spoil
the sport entirely.
In playing some of our great national games, like baseball and
football, where the players are divided into teams, one player, by
cheating, does not suffer for it himself alone, but his whole team has
to pay the penalty. Indeed, if he persisted in being unfair, he would
soon lose his place in the team for all time.
The Germans would not understand this, and they would not understand
that the last half of the ninth inning in a ball game is seldom played
because the winners do not wish to "rub in" the defeat of their
opponents. Some think that it is because German children have had few
sports and games that the German nation has so little sense of honesty
and fair play.
In German schools, the pupils at one time were allowed to engage in
certain sports, but later these were officially forbidden.
The rulers of Germany have for years forbidden anything taught in their
schools which did not praise Germany and make the children believe
their Emperor to be a god. The pupils are taught in history, geography,
and even in reading, only those facts about other countries which show
how much inferior they are to Germany.
So the pupils have never learned the true and the interesting things
about other countries in the great wide world. German history tells
only about Germany's great war victories. The pupils never learn of
Germany's defeats in war. The teacher makes the history class the
liveliest of the day, often seeming to be more of a Fourth of July
orator than a school teacher. The children are taught that Germany is
the one civilized country in the world; that there was never anything
good that did not come from Germany; that even the victory of the
North, in the Civil War in America, was due to there being such a large
majority of German-born men on the Northern side.
Their geography tells only about Germany's political divisions, its
civilization, and its commerce. Their readers contain stories of German
military "heroes." The two great school holidays are the Emperor's
Birthday and Sedan Day, the anniversary of the great defeat of the
French in the Franco-Prussian War.
The walls of the schoolrooms are covered with pictures of the Emperor,
the Empress, and of battle scenes, especially those showing German
soldiers bringing in French prisoners. The singing of "Deutschland Ã¼ber
Alles" occurs several times a day.
A German boy is trained into a soldier, hard-hearted and deceitful. The
pupils in school are made to spy on one another, and the teachers, too,
spy on one another. An American boy was expelled from a German
gymnasium in Berlin, because he refused to "tattle-tale" on the pupils
in his class.
The Germans have not been taught to respect the rights of others,--no
one apparently has any personal rights except the Kaiser and certain
high officials; and so great has been their power that they have been
able to cheat the whole German nation, and they have attempted to cheat
the other nations of the world.
Some years before the Spanish-American War, Germany began to show an
unfair spirit toward the United States. Much ill-feeling existed
between the two countries in their commercial relationships. There
grew up among the aristocracy of Germany, especially among the
landowners, an extremely hostile attitude toward the government in
Washington. This hostility was first publicly shown by a remark
reported to have been made by the Emperor at mess with a company of
officers, to the effect that "it would not be too bad if America should
very soon require Europe to teach her the proper place for her." This
remark was afterward officially denied, with the addition that the
Emperor's feeling for the United States was not hostile.
When, however, Prince Henry of Prussia, brother of the German Emperor,
arrived on a government mission in Hongkong, it is said he gave a
banquet to representatives from all the fleets in port. Commodore Dewey
of the American fleet was present. After the dinner, Prince Henry
called for the usual national toasts. There is a custom in the navy of
calling upon the representatives of the different nations in a certain
regulated and well-understood order. But when the time came to call for
the toast to the United States, the Prince passed it by; he did this
several times. Commodore Dewey, realizing that this was intentional on
the part of Prince Henry, left the banquet. The next morning a
messenger from the German prince brought the explanation that the act
had been committed wholly by mistake, and was not meant as a
discourtesy to the United States or her commander. Dewey thanked the
messenger for his courteous manner in delivering his Admiral's word,
but sent back the statement that such an incident called for a personal
apology from the Prince. Very soon Prince Henry called in person and
apologized, saying that the name of the United States had not been
written in its proper order on the list which he followed in giving the
When war had been declared between the United States and Spain, and
Commodore Dewey had received orders to "seek the Spanish fleet and
destroy it," he set sail from Hongkong for Manila. Germany, according
to announcements from Spain, was determined to prevent the bombardment
of the city, because of German interests and German subjects there.
After capturing the Spanish fortress which guarded Manila, it was
necessary for Dewey to maintain a strict blockade against the city,
lest Spanish reÃ«nforcements should arrive. No American troops or ships
could reach him in less than six weeks.
In Manila Bay were warships of Great Britain, Russia, France, Japan,
and Austria. These nations were content to send only one or two
vessels, while from Germany there were five and sometimes seven. One of
them, the Deutschland, was commanded by Prince Henry, and was heavily
armed. In fact, in numbers and guns, the Germans were stronger than the
Americans with their six small vessels.
There was one regulation common to all blockade codes, one which was
always followed by the officers on every ship. It was that no foreign
boats should move about the bay after sunset, without the permission of
the blockade commander.
But the Germans sent launches out at night and in many ways violated
the rules. When Dewey protested, they only sent them off later at
night. They even gave the Spaniards many supplies. Then Dewey had to
turn the searchlights on them and keep their vessels covered, to
prevent any boat leaving at night without his knowledge.
This is particularly offensive to any naval commander, and the German
Admiral, Von Diederichs, objected. The American commander was courteous
but firm, and said that the United States, and not Germany, was holding
Still the Germans persisted in moving their vessels so mysteriously
that an American ship was sent to meet every incoming vessel to demand
its nationality, its last port, and its destination. To the German flag
lieutenant, who brought a strong protest against this order, Dewey
said: "Tell Admiral von Diederichs that there are some acts that mean
war, and his fleet is dangerously near those acts. If he wants war, he
may have it here, now, or at the time that best suits him."
Von Diederichs answered that his actions were not intended to violate
the rules, but he then went to the British commander, Captain
Chichester, and asked whether he intended to follow such strict orders.
The English captain suspected the German and answered, "Admiral Dewey
and I have a perfect understanding in the matter." Then he added, "He
has asked us to do just what he has asked of you, and we have been
directed to follow his orders to the letter."
The English commander then sent a dispatch to Admiral Dewey, saying
that his orders were just, his regulations fair, and that if the
American commander felt unable to enforce them alone, he could depend
upon the British fleet to assist him. It is understood that the British
officer afterward informed Von Diederichs of what he had done, and the
Germans strictly obeyed the rules and gave no further trouble.
Not many years ago, in 1911 in fact, while the United States was doing
her best by Germany, the German government tried to injure and deceive
At that time Germany was also plotting against France, to make war upon
her and to seize the whole country. Perhaps Germany knew that America
would not allow such horrible crimes to succeed, and so sooner or later
she would find herself at war with the United States.
Therefore Germany must think ahead, and plan some means of making the
United States keep her ideas of justice to herself and let Germany do
as she chose. German officials consulted together and said, "Mexico is
a little country at the very southern tip of the United States,
conveniently near the new waterway at Panama. We could do some damage
there, with Mexico's help, and as a reward, Mexico might get back some
of the states just over the border--New Mexico, Texas, and
Arizona--which formerly belonged to her.
"Then Japan is across the sea from Mexico and the gold coast of the
United States. Japan needs more land for her millions of people. She
might as well take California and some of the islands near Panama. All
this would keep America busy so that she could not hinder us from doing
our will in France."
A press correspondent in Berlin, as early as February, 1911, sent the
following word by cablegram:
The story was told here last night that Japan and Mexico have
come to an understanding with each other against America, and
that the United States, therefore, is secretly favoring the
Mexican revolutionists led by Madero. To-day the report is
published in several newspapers, even in the most trustworthy of
them. The report says: "Since America obtained the Panama Canal,
she has had an increasing interest in robbing Mexico and the
Central American states of their independence."
According to the story, the present trouble has arisen because
of Mexico's refusal to allow the United States to use Magdalena
Bay as a coaling station. There must be some reason for
publishing the story so widely. It is made much of by the jingo
press, which warns the Central and the South American states to
beware of ambitious political plans of the United States.
As this word was sent in time of peace, it was not censored, and while
it did not at that time appear to be of great importance, it really
meant that Germany was taking advantage of the civil war in Mexico to
stir up antagonism between that country and the United States.
In American and German newspapers, stories were also printed hinting at
bad feelings between the United States and the Japanese government,
though no one seemed to know from whom the stories came. It was said
that, before long, an American fleet would be forcing its way into
Japanese waters, or the Japanese fleet would form in battle line
somewhere along the coast of California.
In that same year, stories were publicly printed in American papers,
intended to spread the belief that Japan and Mexico were especially
friendly to Germany, and that they were interested in plotting together
against the United States. These stories were so mysterious and
mischievous that explanations from the different governments became
During the last week of February, 1917, there came into the hands of
the State Department in America, a note from Alfred Zimmermann, German
Minister of Foreign Affairs, to the German Minister in Mexico City. The
American government had already urged the German government to cease
submarine warfare, as it was not at all a fair method of fighting, but
was, instead, entirely barbarous and contrary to international law.
Germany, however, determined to wage unrestricted submarine warfare
against England and her allies. Twelve days before the plan was finally
announced, this note was sent to the German Minister in Mexico:
BERLIN, Jan. 19, 1917.
On the 1st of February we intend to begin submarine warfare
unrestricted. In spite of this, it is our intention to endeavor
to keep neutral with the United States of America.
If this attempt is not successful, we propose an alliance on the
following basis with Mexico:
That we shall make war together and together make peace. We
shall give general financial support, and it is understood that
Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in New Mexico, Texas,
and Arizona. The details are left to you for settlement.
You are instructed to inform the President of Mexico of the
above in the greatest confidence, as soon as it is certain that
there will be an outbreak of war with the United States, and
suggest that the President of Mexico, on his own initiative,
should communicate with Japan suggesting adherence at once to
this plan; at the same time offer to mediate between Germany and
Please call to the attention of the President of Mexico that the
employment of ruthless submarine warfare now promises to compel
England to make peace in a few months.
When all this became known to the American people, at first it was
almost impossible for them to believe that Germany had been plotting
against the United States, and for so long. Only the word of the
President of the United States, saying that clear and sufficient
evidence to prove it beyond dispute was in the hands of the government,
could persuade them that Germany had been for years acting the "cheat"
and the "sneak."
The first step taken by the American government was to ask Mexico and
Japan to explain the many stories that had been circulated, and to tell
whether they had agreed with Germany to war against the United States.
The people in this country waited anxiously to hear from Japan, for it
would be denying the truth to say that the stories had not aroused
suspicion. Japan answered just as the United States would have answered
in her place, an answer that left no room for doubt. Not only did the
Japanese Foreign Minister deny that Japan had been asked by Mexico or
Germany to join against the United States, but he added more than is
absolutely necessary in diplomatic circles; he added that even if such
a proposal had come, it would have been rejected at once.
This is exactly such an answer as the United States would have given to
any friendly country. The answer did more to bind the friendship
between the two countries than many years of official visits and formal
expressions of goodwill could possibly have done. The Japanese people
were glad that such an answer had been sent by their government. In
fact, the Japanese Ambassador in this country, in speaking of the
matter said, "We cannot condemn the plot too strongly. Our Foreign
Minister and Premier have expressed the feeling of the Japanese
Government and the Japanese people. And it is not alone the government;
but the people are back of the government in denouncing the intrigue.
In one way it is unfortunate, because we do not feel flattered at the
thought of being approached for such an object; but the incident, on
the other hand, is certain to have the good effect of putting us in a
true light before the world, and of binding our friendship with
America. We have a treaty alliance with Great Britain, and owe
allegiance to the Allied cause. In Japan we place above everything else
our national honor, which involves faithfulness to our treaties."
Germany never supposed that she would be the means by which Japan and
the United States, instead of being thrust further apart, would be
drawn closer together. Germany dreamed a different sort of dream.
Judging other nations by herself, she did not expect England to come to
the aid of Belgium and France, and now she had made another mistake.
She had set both Japan and Mexico down as the natural foes of the
United States, waiting only for a favorable opportunity to strike.
The answer from Mexico was not so satisfactory as that from Japan.
Villa, the famous Mexican bandit chief, when he conferred on the border
with Major-General Scott as to the firing at Naco, it is said, had
whispered to the American General a story of Japanese conspiracy in
Mexico City. He claimed that the captain of a Japanese vessel in a
Mexican port had spoken of the natural ties of friendship that should
exist between Mexico and Japan, and had also spoken of the United
States as the natural enemy to both countries. Villa had boasted loudly
that, if war came between Japan and the United States, Mexico would be
found fighting for her American neighbor. But later, when the United
States recognized Carranza as ruler of Mexico and turned against Villa,
the bandit chief hastened to seek aid against his "neighbor," from
Tokio. Needless to say, he failed.
General Huerta's effort to start a new revolution in Mexico, after he
returned to the United States from Spain, has been traced directly to
the Germans. He, too, looked hopefully for aid from Japan, but was
Before the United States had recognized the Carranza government, the
Carranza officials displayed great affection for the Japanese Minister
who had been sent to their country, and for Japan. But the government
at Tokio knew that the display was merely made for American eyes, and
carefully avoided any warm response. Thus has Zimmermann's scheme come
to be called his "back-stairs policy" and "the plot that failed."
Thanks to the discovery of the Zimmermann plot, Japan and the United
States understand each other better, and are growing more and more
friendly. Mexico is keeping her troubles to herself and has all she can
do in straightening out her own affairs. The boys and girls in America
will hope, if baseball and football will teach the Mexicans to play
fair, that these games and others like them will become as popular
there as they are in the United States.
* * * * *
A man is a father, a brother, a German, a Roman, an American; but
beneath all these relations, he is a man. The end of his human destiny
is not to be the best German, or the best Roman, or the best father,
but the best man he can be....
Though darkness sometimes shadows our national sky, though confusion
comes from error, and success breeds corruption, yet will the storm
pass in God's good time; and in clearer sky and purer atmosphere, our
national life grow stronger and nobler, sanctified more and more,
consecrated to God and liberty by the martyrs who fall in the strife
for the just and true.
GEORGE WILLIAM CURTIS.