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The events that occurred in the 1910s had a significant effect on the world. It can be argued that, if specific events that occurred in this decade did not occur, the world would be far better than it is today. The most significant of these events was the sinking of the Lusitania after an attack by German U-boats, the Zimmerman telegraph that added insult to the injury caused to the U.S. by the sinking of the Lusitania, and the Versailles treaty which was, arguably, the greatest mistake of the decade. The sinking of the Lusitania and the Zimmerman telegram worked together to escalate the effects of World War I by inviting the United States to the war. The Versailles treaty was, on the other hand, responsible for the start of the Second World War as Germans were trying to fight the oppressive conditions it imposed on them. Thus the events of the 1910s had tremendous contributions to World War I and World War II.
The sinking of the Lusitania (May 1915)
The events that led to the invitation of America to the First World War were all engineered by the Germans. It all started in February 1915, when the unrestricted war on ships was started by Germans in the Atlantic. The motive of this was to ensure that no military equipment or military force was transported from the United States to aid the allied countries in the war. The Lusitania was one of those ships because it sailed the Atlantic transporting goods and people between America and Britain. Previously before the declaration of this unrestricted warfare on ships by the Germans, ships were just searched for military equipment and allowed to continue with their journey. The Germans, however, started carrying out unreasonable attacks on ships (Bryan 2009, p. 1).
The Lusitania, a large luxury ship, started its journey on the 1st day of May 1915 from New York destined for Britain. It had American citizens and British nationals on board. The Lusitania had 1907 people on board comprising 1257 passengers and a crew of 650. New York reporters had vehemently warned the passengers that the ship was subject to the risk of attack by German submarines in the European war zone but the ship was, nevertheless, crammed with passengers. Many passengers had even been secretly warned not to travel with the ship but the speed of the ship coupled with the fact that many prominent and influential people had boarded it, the passengers assumed that if the claims of attack on the ship were true, the influential passengers in the ship would have been informed and they would not have boarded it. Others had the argument that the luxury ship could, by no means, have military value to the Germans. By the end of the night of May 4th, the Lusitania had already traveled half its journey and was in proximity of the location of the German U-boats. By the time the Lusitania was at the Old Head of Kinsdale, approximately 15 U-boats were lurking at the European War Zone. The U20 was previously located at Emden and was heading towards the Atlantic attacking several ships that it met on its way. On the evening of 6th May, the Lusitania was warned of the presence of U-boats in the area but dawn came without incidences. The Lusitania reached a deserted coast on May 7th and the captain became worried due to the lack of protection in that kind of situation. At 13.40 the Lusitania came close to the Old Head of Kinsdale and the same could be seen from a distance. It was spotted by a U-boat. The first torpedo was fired at 14. 09 and led to a second explosion that caused damage so massive to the ship that it only took the ship eighteen minutes to sink. The victims of the Lusitania were 1,198 and out of these, 138 were Americans (Adams 2008, p. 1).
After this incident, the Germans were apologetic to the Americans and vowed to stop their unrestricted war in the waters. The Germans however argued that only one torpedo was fired and that the second explosion was caused by military equipment carried by the Lusitania. If this was false the Germans were just using the happenings after the firing of the torpedo to defend their actions. An explanation of the second explosion, in this case, will be that coal that was ejected by the first explosion also exploded. On the other hand, if this claim is true, the British went against the rules of the war and carried military equipment in the passenger ship. British authorities however rejected these claims. Americans condemned the actions of the Germans and thus Germans continued their unrestricted submarine warfare in February 1917. This acted as an official invitation of the Americans to the war who responded quickly to the resurrection of unrestricted submarine warfare by the Germans. In 2008, four million US-made Remington bullets were found by divers who examined the wreck of the Lusitania. This was proof that the claims by the Germans that passenger ships were being used to transport munitions and that the second explosion was caused by military equipment on board, was true (Bryan 2009, p. 1).
Zimmerman Telegram (January 1917)
By January 1917, World War I had torn a large part of Europe for approximate two and half years and its end did not seem to be near. A hundred of thousands of European young men were dead and the continent was being divided anew by the powerful governments of that time conquering Nations as much as they could. The German imperial government was specifically expanding its territory fast and it seemed as though it had no qualms in its active and unrestricted involvement in the war. On January 19, 1917, Arthur Zimmerman –German Foreign Minister- sent a telegram that was encrypted and sent through the US line. The US line as a means of the White House to promote peace by letting German diplomats use their communication line. The US did not intercept the message due to its intelligence and political establishment that was geared towards non-involvement in the affairs of other nations and specifically affairs that were related to the war. This is because the United States was neutral at the time. Some sources, however, claimed that the US intelligence was illegally monitoring communication through this channel. Either way, the US president at the time, Woodrow Wilson, got the note on 24th from British intelligence who had intercepted the telegram. The British cryptographers had been able to determine that the ciphered message was sent to the German Ambassador to Mexico, Von Eckhardt (Duffy 2008, p. 1).
The Zimmerman telegram was meant to initiate the involvement of Mexico in the anticipated war between the United States and Germany. Mexico was offered States in the United States should it aid the Germans in the war. These states included: Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico. British intelligence was careful in giving out the telegram to the US. It was concerned with protecting the detection of its operations and growing of the number of anti-German states and so it waited until the 24th day of February to present the Zimmerman telegram to American authorities. The American press published the Zimmerman telegram in their news on the 1st day of March and two days later, the author of the telegram, Arthur Zimmerman defended his actions explaining that the American states in questions were already enemies with Germany and that the message of the telegram would be executed if the United States involved itself in the war. This revelation by Zimmerman did not make much difference and on the 6th day of April; the United States formally announced its intention to be involved in the war against the Imperial Government of Germany and its allies. This telegram vivified the Hard feelings of the Americans towards the Germans that had been caused by the sinking of the Lusitania in which 138 Americans lost their lives. These events had a substantial contribution to the joining of World War 1 by the United States (Dattilo 2007, p. 1).
Apart from its invitation of the United States to the war, the Zimmerman telegram triggered several other reactions. The Mexican and Japanese governments made statements denying their involvement with the Germans and the proposals of the Zimmerman telegram. The Mexican president was also happy with the American government because Americans had withdrawn from his country and the imperial government of Germany had offered nothing more than supporting the Mexican government morally. The Germans claimed that the US government was interfering with secure peace networks but this was just a claim to draw attention from the mistakes they had made with the sinking of the Lusitania and the Zimmerman telegram (Wilde 2009, p. 1).
The Versailles Treaty (1919)
The treaty of Versailles was a peace agreement signed in 1919, after World War I at the Versailles palace that is between Germany and the Allies. The key participants in the signing of the treaty were the then president of the United States Woodrow Wilson, the prime minister of the United Kingdom at the time, David Lloyd George and a French statesman named Georges Clemenceau. On the negotiation table there also was Vittorio Orlando, an Italian representative whose contribution to the treaty was kept at minimum. This was primarily because Italy was passive in the war and her contribution to Central Europe was minimal. The UK, US and France, therefore, had the idea that Italy was playing safe in the war. The Versailles palace was chosen as the venue due to its large size since a large number of people were to be involved in the negotiation of the terms of the agreement. The First World War had had a devastating effect on all the countries that had participated in it and many of these nations blamed the imperial government of Germany for the woes they suffered in World War I. Thus most of the participants of the signing of the Versailles treaty wanted harsh provisions to be imposed on the German government. However some of them like the prime minister of the United Kingdom at the time were privately cautious; speculating the grave effect their decisions could have on the already realized peace among nations. He knew that communism could spread from Russia to Western Europe if certain oppressive conditions were imposed on the Germans. He also knew that communism could be more dangerous to the world than the government of Germany. These were good ideas but their public disclosure was politically suicidal. Thus, Lloyd George kept them to himself and introduced ideas related to the same with caution (Duffy 2009, p. 1).
The treaty negotiations begun in early 1919 and after several compromise-based negotiations that took approximately four months, it was complete. It comprised of 440 articles most of them oppressive to the countries which had lost the First World War. Germany was, in fact, the most oppressed by the Versailles treaty since as mentioned above, many countries and leaders blamed it for the massive destruction that the First World War made. The treaty was presented to the Germans on the 7th day of May 1919 and Germany was given three weeks to consider and respond to the treaty either in acceptance or rejection which meant invasion of the allies in German. Woodrow Wilson was of the idea of punishing the government of Germany in a way that would breed reconciliation and phase out possibilities of revenge. He wanted to reduce the involvement of the American government in European affairs and let America concentrate in developing itself despite his coming up with the concept of League of Nations (Trueman 2009, p. 1).
On June 28th 1919, some unknown German statesmen signed the Versailles treaty. Many Germans were angered by the terms of the treaty. The unfair terms ranged from territorially oppressive terms to others that were financially and economically unfair. The military force of the German government was also reduced substantially and some restrictive terms imposed. An example is the provision that Germany was not allowed to have an air force. These terms had a serious impact on the financial status of the Germans which in turn affected the pace of war recovery. Germany was also forced to hold itself fully responsible for the war and therefore she was supposed to pay war reparations to France and Belgium (Stephen 2005, p. 1).
These oppressive terms imposed on the Germans led to a lot of hate speeches in Germany and they had massive contribution to the rise of Nazism in Germany which in turn led to the most destructive war of all times (World War II). The treaty of Versailles had enormous contribution to the Holocaust that occurred two decades after the treaty was signed, and in which the German dictator, Adolf Hitler killed millions of Jews. This was part of World War II and it was meant to recover the rights that the Germans had been deprived by the Versailles treaty (Trueman 2009, p. 1).
The contribution of the sinking of the Lusitania and the Zimmerman telegram to the involvement of the United States in the First World War is indubitable. After provoking Americans with 138 deaths of Americans in the Luxury ship, the Germans went ahead to seek alliance with the Mexican government in conquering American states. The Americans joined the war after these two invitations. The treaty of Versailles on the other hand was very dictatorial and oppressive on the Germans and it made them react to it in a way that led to the start of the Second World War. If these events never occurred, the world would be a better place because the First World War would not have been as destructive as it was and the Second World War would not have taken place.
Adams, McMillan. “The Lusitania”, (Spartans Educational, 2008), Web.
Bryan, William. “Wilson’s First Lusitania Note to Germany”. World War I Archive. (Foreign Relations of the United States, 2009), Web.
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Dattilo, Matt. “The Zimmerman Telegram, January 19, 1917”, (Matt’s Today in History, 2007). Web.
Duffy, Michael. “The Zimmerman Telegram, 19 January 1917”. (Primary Documents, 2008), Web.
Duffy, Michael. “Treaty of Versailles, 28 June 1919”. (Primary Documents, 2009), Web.
Stephen, Hudson. “Signing the Treaty of Versailles, 1919”, (Eye Witness to History, 2005), Web.
Trueman, Chris. “The Treaty of Versailles”, (History Learning Site, 2009), Web.
Wilde, Robert. “The Zimmerman Telegram”, (New York Times, 2009), Web.