In the spring of 1917, a new continent joined the Great War, so the world of the world war was complete. The USA tried to remain neutral in the first years of the war, however, anti-German sentiments of the American public came to the fore by 1917. The administration led by President Wilson even considered that a real say in the new world order could be achieved by participating in the war.
The tension between the US and the German Empire was also apparent from the reckoning of Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg at the end of February 1917 at the Imperial Assembly. As reported by Az Est: “He referenced President Wilson’s message to the Congress in the summer of 1913, during the Mexican disorders, where the President declared that the international habit of neutrality can be met best by not allowing to send guns and war material to Mexican parties fighting against each other. Since then, Wilson has changed his mind, and after our list of January 31, he abruptly severed all relations with us in a manner that has been unprecedented in history among great nations. He did not justify the break, and in his speech before the Congress, he allegedly said that Germany deliberately violated their solemn promises made in their previous list. He strongly resisted this. Germany made their promises conditional on certain conditions, and America did not meet them. What would have happened – the Chancellor asked –, if the Americans had found the smooth traffic of people and goods with Bremen and Hamburg as the one with London and Liverpool?”
So the speech mentioned the list of January 31, that declared the so-called. unlimited submarine warfare, i.e. the determination to consider all – including neutral – ships at the coasts of primarily England, but also its French and Italian allies as targets to be destroyed. The reason was also referred to by Bethmann-Hollweg as well: while the Entente could effectively block the supply routes – essential from military perspectives as well – of central powers thanks mainly to England, England did not suffer from similar disadvantages. He did not mention however another diplomatic message, sent on the same day, addressed to the government of Mexico. The offer, aimed to be confidential, was that Germany would support Mexico’s “territorial revision” against the USA if they would be willing to go to war against its Northern neighbour.
However, Hungarian readers could also learn about this German attempt at the beginning of March, since the Associated Press (AP) spread the news throughout the world with the approval of the American government. So the German government also had to come up with their own version, Zimmermann German Foreign Minister even made a statement to the AP, which was also published by Az Est. Of course, the interview itself could be made because the confidential, coded telegram came to light, and outraged the public of the USA, taking much care about the dominance over the American continent for a hundred years – since President Monroe. In the interview, the secretary of state emphasized that their offer to Mexico was only of defensive nature, and stressed the responsibility of USA for the deterioration of German-American relations.
After a few days, Az Est also reported on how the telegram, addressed to the German ambassador in Mexico, came to the attention of the State Department. Pursuant to this version, an American agent could approach a lower-ranking employee of the German embassy in Washington, who gave him accurate information even on the comings and goings of couriers. That’s how he learnt at the end of January that a courier is about to go to Mexico – with an important message. „He hired detectives to follow all steps of the courier with attention. Bernstorff’s [envoy] agent did take the train, but the American detectives boarded the same train immediately as well. On the way, the detectives suddenly stepped to the courier and forced him to hand over the briefcase.
Increasing tension was shown by the fact that the front page of Az Est displayed some material related to the USA and President Wilson almost every day in March. In the first days of the month, the main topic was the President’s fight against a 12-member anti-war group of the Senate. The group opposed the arming of American trade ships owing to German marine threats with obstructive persistence; they referenced an act from 1819, prohibiting it against neutral states, but by the middle of the month, Wilson managed to achieve his will.
The speech extract presented by Az Est on 11 Match, told by Wilson on the dinner of the national committee, primarily highlighted the aspect that the president and his camp was motivated by having a word in major questions of world politics: “This terrible war would not have broken out if each European state had just as a democratic government as of French and England. The most important condition of future world peace is ensuring that no national can be governed without its will and no government can impose its will upon the people. The United States shall have an important part in recovering world peace. America primarily participates in the world war to ensure that legitimate aspirations of the people are fulfilled.” However, next day the front page refuted this seemingly final decision, suggesting that there are ongoing negotiations with the USA and the open breakup can be avoided.
In the second half of March, news on the Russian revolution were the leading news among foreign policy reports. Afterwards, from March 23, the USA got back to the centre of attention, after the Congress convened. At the end of the month, Az Est – based on the Petit Journal – declared that the USA considered the state of war established with Germany, Wilson planned to deploy US troops in Europe, and news were received on the census of Germans (groups to be potentially interned), mobilization.
The lead article of Az Est on April 4, under the name of the horrors of the war, compared the Russian separate peace (desire for peace) treated as an option, with the – at that time, still non-final – entry aspirations of the US. The tone is at the same time pacifist, holding that anybody of sound mind is interested in ending the war and the people’s sufferings as soon as possible, which the US is about to prolong: “As if war was beautiful, good, manly, a noble sport, construction, worth of man. For God’s sake, before Wilson decides, why does not he visit Europe for only two days?! Why does not he takes a look at the trench, the dirty and exhausted inhabitant of this muddy pit; or the battlefield, such as the one just left by Hindenburg’s army?! Why does not he look at a dressing place on the battlefield, an aid station, the trains of the wounded, what a military hospital is like, how terrible the wounds hit by a bullet, torn by a grenade or struck by a bayonet are?! He should see a gas attack, the effects of burners, he should be led to see the shell holes full of water, mud, frogs and all kinds of water animals, where people lived for weeks while getting shelled. If this hell was revealed for him, even if only in his sleep, he would not gamble the happiness of his country and the integrity of its great people. Then America would shout out from the top of their lungs to ferocious Europe: Stop, you miserable, throw away your guilty weapon; hug your innocent neighbour to your heart…”
The USA’s entry into war was finally reported by Az Est on April 7. Censorship did not allow that day’s lead article. The lead article next day depicted the USA’s move as something that would put the – otherwise not – approaching end of war into an unpredictable distance: “Ineradicable optimism already pushed its snowdrop head in the souls, we almost started to forget what had happened, we already planned the future, when suddenly everything was confused again.” Moreover, editors of Az Est did not hide disagreeing with the Monarchy’s ending diplomatic relations with the US: “We have been informed of this great event as if it was the most insignificant episode. And, we, Hungarians do not share this view. One and a half million Hungarians live in America, therefore, and for the future, it would have been beneficial if the Hungarian Parliament had voted on or had been informed about this step. Wouldn’t it be good to hear from a competent place whether it had been possible to avoid the break-up? Because we do fear for the one and a half million Hungarians living there, who are perhaps not willing to identify themselves with the politics of Czernin [common foreign minister] and we fear that in this case this huge reserve would be partly lost for the country.”
A kancellár új nyilatkozatai a háborúról és a békéről = Az Est, 1917. március 1.
Németország szövetséget ajánlott Mexikónak Amerika ellen = Az Est, 1917. március 4.
Zimmermann államtitkár a Mexikónak tett ajánlatról = Az Est, 1917. március 5.
Wilson nem akar a kongresszus nélkül cselekedni = Az Est, 1917. március 9.
Wilson beszéde Amerikának a háborúban való részvételéről = Az Est, 1917. március 11.
Amerika még nem szakít a Monarchiával = Az Est, 1917. március 12.
Ma dönt az amerikai kongresszus a hadüzenetről = Az Est, 1917. március 23.
Wilson szeretne sereget küldeni a francia frontra = Az Est, 1917. március 29.
Már derült = Az Est, 1917. április 8.
Written by: Takács Róbert