Decision for War, 1917: The Laconia Sinking and the Zimmermann Telegram as Key Factors in the Public Reaction against Germany

Decision for War, 1917: The Laconia Sinking and the Zimmermann Telegram as Key Factors in the Public Reaction against Germany

Decision for War, 1917: The Laconia Sinking and the Zimmermann Telegram as Key Factors in the Public Reaction against Germany

Decision for War, 1917: The Laconia Sinking and the Zimmermann Telegram as Key Factors in the Public Reaction against Germany

Excerpt

This inquiry proceeded from an interest in determining the "covert act" which precipitated the entrance of the United States into war with Germany in April, 1917. My investigation led me to the conclusion that while there was no "overt act" in the sense commonly understood, there were two particularly significant events in the progression toward war which exercised a profound and, indeed, decisive effect on the mind of the average citizen.

The first of these events, the sinking of the Cunard liner Laconia, has been almost completely forgotten. The second, the "Zimmermann Telegram" (usually referred to as the "Zimmermann Note"), has by no means escaped notice by historians, but the circumstances surrounding it and the reasons for its telling effect have never been fully understood. I have examined both of these incidents in considerable detail and have tried to suggest the nature of their impact on the average American of 1917.

Note the phrase "average American." It is my belief that the decision for war in 1917 was a national decision supported whole-heartedly, if reluctantly--and the two terms are not necessarily contradictory--by a majority of the people. Because I believe further that in declaring war Congress was accurately reflecting the national decision, I have been primarily concerned not with official Washington but with the man back home who made up his mind about the war from what he read in his morning paper and his weekly magazine. In leaning heavily on the press, I have tried carefully to avoid the facile assumption that press opinion can always be equated with public opinion. My principal interest was not . . .

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