United States Enters Into True World War

Zimmerman Telegram Prompts U. S. Response

In January 1917, the new British cryptanalysis office, Room 40, intercepted and decoded a diplomatic telegram from German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmerman.  The telegram informed the German ambassador in Mexico, Heinrich von Eckhardt, of a plan to resume unrestricted submarine warfare.  When the U.S. inevitably entered the war in response, Germany promised Mexico their former territories of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.

"It is a distressing and oppressive duty," President Woodrow Wilson told members of Congress, "which I have performed in thus addressing you... It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself seeming to be in balance.  But the right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts — for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free.  To such a task we can dedicate our lives and our fortunes, everything that we are and everything that we have...."

Colonial troops Colonial troops Colonial troops

Total War Involves Colonial Armies Around the World

Fololiyani Longwe of the King's African Rifles recalls scenes that are similar to those of any soldier fighting in Belgium or France, and yet many publications—and readers—gave the impression that the World War was a conflict between European countries, at least until the U.S. entered the war.

Think of lying on the ground where the hot sun is beating directly on your backs; think of yourself buried in a hole with only your head and hands outside, holding a gun. Imagine yourself facing this situation for several days, no food, no water, yet you don’t feel hungry; only death smelling all over the place. Listen to the sound of exploding bombs and machine guns, smoke all over and the vegetation burnt and of course deforested. Look at your relatives getting killed, crying and finally dead.

Recovery of voices like Longwe is important, as they remind us of the sacrifices made by those with little to gain.  More than 2 million Africans fought as part of armies under the control of European countries.  War for Europe meant war for the world.  As many as twenty percent of colonial armies died.

The majority of Africans who served were not soldiers at all but laborers.  Sub-Saharan Africa had few roads or railways, and tsetse flies caused huge losses of pack animals.  Human beings, therefore, carried supplies, and two or three carriers were needed for each soldier.

United States Enters Into True World War