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Kaiser Bill Redux, Redux

Over There is Over Here Now, You May Have Noticed

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, May 08, 2002.

Amidst all the turmoil in the news today comes the revelation that Kaiser William of Germany had invasion plans of the United States drawn up long before the First World War. For those of you graduating from the University of Colorado this week, especially you history majors, Germany is a powerful European country in Europe which is on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, roughly three thousand miles from New York and Boston where, rather unbelievably, the invasions were to take place. The incidents that provoked the All Highest, the last man to bear the title of Caesar in history, are too absurd for comment, then or now, but suffice it to say that it involved Samoa and the Kaiser's irritation that the United States didn't allow German naval vessels to colonize Pacific islands with impunity.

So, according to Die Zeit, a German weekly, detailed plans for an invasion of the United States were drawn up in the year 1900, after three years of thoughtful preparation. Apparently, the plans have been in the military archives in Freiburg all along. An army of one hundred thousand men was to cross the Atlantic in sixty ships and conquer New England, apparently unopposed by any naval units and with the citizenry of the United States fainting at the sight of an invading enemy. This was the Imperial United States of McKinley and of Theodore Roosevelt, I need remind you. There was a German intelligence network to sing about, eh?

Germany during this period and through the coming war fancied itself as osmotically able to absorb all that was worth knowing about the world from the most fragile acquaintance. A bureaucrat named Arthur Zimmerman took a train from San Francisco to New York, and years later this pleasant journey provided him with all he needed to know before he tried to inspire Mexico by telegraph to declare war on the United States in conjunction with Germany. Not only did Mexico, with impolite haste, nix the suggestion, Zimmerman's correspondence was intercepted and presented to the pacifist President Woodrow Wilson, who went ape.

This is important because the Zimmerman telegram was the straw that propelled Wilson to declare war against Germany. I am willing to bet you could poll all the graduates of the University of Colorado and virtually none of them could give us a coherent reason why the United States entered the First World War. And neither could most of you. Considering that we still deal with the war and its peace, it's an important tidbit we should all know.

It is also important because when United States troops arrived in France and announced to great fanfare and in payment of a questionable debt "Lafayette, we are here," the Monroe Doctrine ceased to have any meaning. Throughout the Cold War, the Monroe Doctrine, which denies to Europe any interference in the Western Hemisphere, was trotted out to defend United States actions in Cuba and Latin America. But the other half of the doctrine denied to the United States projection of power outside the Hemisphere, like in Europe. Why is the Monroe Doctrine discussed as if it were still in effect?

To be honest, any military worth its salt has war plans drawn up with all possible rivals. It should not be shocking if Canada and the United States actually had invasion plans against each other still in the vaults, given the United States has invaded north twice and been badly hammered for its efforts. And all governments will deny such plans exist. But they do. And when they are discovered a hundred years later, too much should not be made of them.

But neither should too little. Forgotten is that pro German and pro English elements in the United States leading up to August of 1914 waged and were the victims of propaganda from the home countries. England won that war with a powerful assist from an inept Germany, an error the Nazis recognized and tried to not repeat twenty years later. America's two largest resident immigrant populations were English and German, although during this period the Irish and Italians had surged to the fore. When war came, though, the Americans with German surnames did not fail.

Why in the world is this important? Because in France, in Europe, in the United States our largest resident immigrant populations are changing. Hispanics and Muslims may become the largest residues of immigration. The Palestinians and Israelis have fluid and effective propaganda machines. Is the United States any better able to flense through the garbage to fact today than before the First World War? I suppose that depends on whether we have learned anything in the interim. So you tell me: did you know why the United States entered the First World War? Can we agree that things entitled World Wars are important? Shouldn't we know this kind of stuff?