If the Zimmermann telegram was an absurd intrusion and diplomatic own-goal, it was not in itself, cause for war. If the German decision to revert to all-out submarine warfare in the Atlantic was unquestionably aggressive, it had hardly dented the overwhelming power of the American merchant marine’s massed fleets before President Wilson made his decisive move. Both actions, take together, certainly edged the United States towards the precipice because these issues were whipped up into a frenzy by a highly controlled and organised pro-British press. What matters here is; who was pulling the proverbial strings?

American newspaper editors and owners played a critical role in fomenting public opinion for war in 1917, similar to that of Lord Northcliffe in pre-war Britain. Indeed control of the press in the United States was even more calculated and orchestrated than its British equivalent. Congressman Oscar Calloway of Texas exposed the machinations of the money power as it expanded its influence over the fourth estate in order to swing public opinion towards a ‘necessary’ war. On 9 February 1917 he placed the following statement on the Congressional Record:

‘In March 1915 J.P. Morgan interests, the steel, shipbuilding and powder interests and their subsidiary organisations got together 12 men high up in the newspaper world and employed them to select the most influential newspapermen in the United States and sufficient number of them to control generally the policy of the daily press of the United States’ [1]

Congressman Oscar Calloway of Texas

Congressman Calloway revealed that Morgan’s twelve chosen men assessed the worth of over 170 newspapers across America and came to the conclusion that by purchasing twenty-five of the most famous titles, they could literally control the policies and direction of public opinion. An agreement was quietly reached through which monthly payments were paid to them through the House of Morgan. A compliant editor was placed in each paper to supervise and edit the ‘news’. Questions of American preparedness for war were raised in the context of alleged German aggression and Mexican duplicity. The governments’s financial policy came under fire as did ‘other things of national and international nature considered vital to the interests of the purchasers.’ [2] Be certain; J.P. Morgan and his associates sat in the driving seat and carried American public opinion towards the slaughterhouse of a world war … in order to protect their obscene profiteering and future intentions. Taking America to war was not a forgone conclusion even although the Germans had given up any hope of equal-handed neutrality. The people had to be manipulated.

The crucial factor lay at the heart of Wall Street where the money power decided that the time to abandon the illusion of neutrality had come. America had to go to war or their combined losses would have broken the back of the economy. Though fact, it has been vehemently denied ever since. Typical of this attitude is the claim from the American historian Charles Tansill: [3]

‘There is not the slightest evidence that during the hundred days that preceded America’s entry to the World War the President gave any heed to the demands from ‘big business’ that America intervene in order to save investments that were threatened by possible Allied defeat.’ [4]

What nonsense. America’s economy was inextricably linked to an Allied victory. Had the British and French been forced to come to terms with Germany after 1917, potential losses would have been catastrophic. And in April 1917, Wall Street was aware that the balance of forces in Europe had suddenly swung in favour of the Kaiser when his cousin the Czar, was deposed.

Thomas W Lamont, close associate and friend of JP Morgan

Thomas W Lamont, of Morgan Bank, estimated that half a million Americans, many from the wealthy and influential east coast establishment, had invested in loans to the Allies.[5] Consider these words;  half a million wealthy influential people had a vested interest in an Allied victory. Do you imagine that they sat quietly waiting to see how their investment fared as Britain and France haemorrhaged their youth in the slaughter-filled stalemate on the Western Front which could only get worse after the Czar had been deposed and Russia opted out of a hopeless war? This was but the tip of the iceberg of vested interest.

Allegedly, Woodrow Wilson tried to the last to bring about peace, but failed. But how genuine were his intentions?

If President Wilson had hoped to convince the banks that they should stop extending credit to the warring nations to give him time to coax them towards peace, he was deluded. Too many financial opportunities presented themselves which allowed New York to corner the market while competitors were crippled by war. [6] American banks had been building great stores of foreign securities as well as lending directly to London and Paris. National banks in America held around $15.6 million dollars of foreign securities in 1914. Within two years that sum had multiplied tenfold to $158.5. By September 1916 the total amount of foreign securities stood at almost $240 million which naturally thrust Wall Street into a pre-eminent global position from where it could fund the massive increase in its domestic war industries. [7] With such a formidable war-chest to hand, could the money-power really have contemplated anything other than a victorious war? No.

The Stockton Record's front coverage of Wilson's decision to break with Germany. Note the mention of one American ship reported sunk.

One immediate consequence of the German decision to embark on its unrestricted U-Boat campaign in 1917 was the immediate panic it caused to traders along the busy eastern seaboard. American shipowners refused to send their vessels into the Atlantic war zone and goods purchased in the United States by the Morgan banks sat idle on the wharves. Profit was threatened; the American economy, intimidated. Morgan asserted his influence with the White House. Jack Morgan was shameless. On 4 April 1917 he wrote a letter to the President pledging his support and reminding Wilson of his connections:

‘We are most heartily in accord with you as to the necessity of the United States assisting the allies in the matter of supplies of materials and of credits. To these matters we have been devoting our whole time and thought for the past two years. I write to assure you again that the knowledge we have gained in those two years of close association with the allies in these matters are entirely at the disposal of the United States government at any time…’[8]

What he omitted to say was that he had devoted his ‘time and thought’ over the last two years to making a fortune from the war. His position of sole supplier and agent for the British government brought him immense wealth and prestige. This reminder could hardly have been better timed. It was almost as if he was saying to the President, you know I can handle the money supply…just get on with the war. Two days later when war was declared, the House of Morgan held the reins of real monetary power in the United States. Through his connections with ‘Colonel’ Mandell House and President Wilson, J P Morgan took effective control of the major international loans emanating from the USA once all previous restrictions had been removed.

President WilsonJ P Morgan

On 24 April 1917, President Wilson signed a war finance bill which opened the Federal Reserve’s floodgates and removed any possible liability from Morgan’s banks. Every which way was profit on the Midas scale. $200 million was loaned to Britain immediately. All formal banking technicalities were removed. The New York Times reported that in order to speed matters up the American Treasury would not even wait until British bonds arrived in New York. Subscribers were given four months to pay in instalments as ‘had been suggested by banking interests and others to Treasury Secretary McAdoo with strong endorsement’. Of course they gave Secretary McAdoo their full endorsement. It was their idea; Christmas and Thanksgiving rolled into one. What joy. As the New York Times added, ‘ Little if any of the sum would be spent abroad. Virtually the entire loan to the Allies will be spent in this country for foodstuffs, munitions and supplies.’ [9] Subscriptions from American banks exceeded the initial sum of $200 million by 10.AM on the day of issue, and Secretary McAdoo increased the first limit to $250 million.

Consider what had happened. J.P. Morgan spent the first two years of the war using his banking and financial associates to sell British securities on the American market and spend the money on the weapons of war and all its accessories in America. His agents controlled the orders for steel and armaments, for cotton, wheat and meat, for the transportation of these goods across the Americas and the maritime fleets that crossed the oceans. A single example of what this actually meant can be gleaned from the post-war investigation set up under Congressional Investigation into the munitions industry in 1934. The Du Pont company admitted that J P Morgan & Co. acted as agents, under sales contracts aggregating $351,259, 813 . 28, which accounted for almost 72% of the total military business carried out for the British and French governments during the war. At a mere 1% commission, Morgan made a profit of $3,512,598, from that alone. [10]

Once America abandoned its sham neutrality, Morgan became the prime agent for Wilson’s government at war. Loans which he had issued and underwritten on behalf of the Allies were guaranteed by the State. It was impossible for his banks to lose money. The American economy continued to flourish. The British and French tax-payer would eventually be required to repay their debts. It was as if he was a Rothschild. Indeed. The reader might well ask: where were the Rothschilds?

Let the record show that the Rothschilds remained where they always were; at the centre of the money-power, though not necessarily under their own name. J.P. Morgan’s personal affiliation with the House of Rothschild dated back to 1899, from which point he represented Rothschild interests in the United States. [11] The first telegrams of the war sent to Morgan & Co. in New York, were from Rothschild Freres in Paris as early as 3 August 1914. That is before Britain had even declared war on Germany. The French government, anticipating some of the problems ahead, had approached both Rothschild and Morgan, Harjes & Co. (their French bank) for a loan of $10,000,000, but initially the Americans could not circumvent their own government’s insistence that such a loan was ‘inconsistent with the true spirit of neutrality.’ [12]  It was Lord Nathaniel Rothschild in London who personally advised Lloyd George as Chancellor of the Exchequer [13] before J.P. Morgan was chosen as the sole purchasing agent for Britain.

While the financial autocrats pulled the strings behind the scenes, Woodrow Wilson was also driven by personal ambition. As America’s president, his place on the world stage had an immediacy which demanded he exercise power before his time had passed. He looked to the future in the belief that victory would place America at the centre of a new world order and boost his chance of a third term in office. His pronouncements had a touch of papal authority, or might have had, if his new allies accepted his naive declarations. But we will come to the Fourteen Points in due course and wonder at their meaning.

Ray Standard Baker was also Wilson's press secretary at Versailles

The final word on the impact of the financial – industrial – munitions lobby which unquestionably pushed America into war should come from President Wilson’s close friend and biographer, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and historian, Ray Standard Baker. He believed that the die was cast from the outset, observing;  ‘…by the end of 1914 the traffic in war materiel with the Allies had become deeply entrenched in America’s economic organisation and the possibility of keeping out of the war by the diplomacy of neutrality no matter how skilfully conducted, had reached vanishing point. By October, possibly earlier, our case was lost.’ [14] It was only a matter of time, of when America would go to war, not whether America would become actively involved. The occasion of war might well have been unrestricted submarine warfare but the cause was lay in Wall Street. The American economy faced wipe-out if the Allies failed to win the terrible war of attrition. Neither could be allowed.

1. Congressional Record, 64th Congress of the United States, February 9 1917, p. 2947. Reported in the New York Times on 14 February 1917.
2. Ibid.
3. Charles Tansill was Professor of History at the American University. He prepared the official volume on World War I responsibility for Congress and in 1927 edited another volume for the Library of Congress entitled “Documents on the Formation of the American Union.” His America Goes to War was considered the officially accepted view.
4. Charles Cannon Tansill, America Goes to War, p. 657.
5. Bailey, A Diplomatic History, p. 644.
6. Nomi Prins, All The President’s Bankers, p. 47.
7. Ibid.
8. letter from JP Morgan to President Wilson April 4, 1917, Wilson Papers vol. 41.
9. New York Times, 25 April 1917.
10. Hearings before the Special Committee Investigating the Munitions Industry, US Senate S.Res. 206.
11. W. G. Carr, Pawns in the Game, p. 60.
12. Hearings before the Special Committee Investigating the Munitions Industry, US Senate S.Res. 206. exhibit 2040, p. 7505.
13. David Lloyd George, War Memoirs, p. 70.
14. Ray Standard Baker, The Life & Letters of Woodrow Wilson, p.181. This was cited in evidence against J P Morgan in Hearings before the Special Committee Investigating the Munitions Industry, US Senate S.Res. 206, p. 7566.