On Sext and Empires

By Jay Holmes

Okay, folks. Fess up. Did you “sext” anyone last week for Valentine’s Day?

For those of you who are older than Congressman Anthony Wiener and don’t read scandal sheets, let me explain “sexting.” It’s basically a text with a sexually explicit message or picture. It has superseded the old-fashioned, tried-and-true misguided email as the current best way to get yourself fired, divorced, or found by the US Marshall’s office. No more waiting for someone to check their email. Now, you can enjoy the instant calamity of text trouble.

So fess up. Did you “sext” last week?

Anthony Weiner with his flag up. image by Thomas Good, wikimedia

Anthony Weiner with his flag up.
image by Thomas Good, wikimedia

For those of you not familiar with Congressman Weiner—his parents gave him that name, not me—let me explain the short version of his sexting scandal. He was a congressman. Weiner liked texting. He also liked Facebook. Weiner got stupid, or perhaps just let his stupidity rise to the surface, and he sent a mild sext message to a 21-year-old college student. Somewhere in his sexting adventures, he sent a link to a picture of himself in boxer shorts while he was . . . saluting. If you want clarification, you’ll have to google that image for yourself. I’m not about to look.

The press found out and made it a huge story. To hell with minor insignificant details like billions of dollars and thousands of lives being spent on wars, mortgage corporations and banks destroying the economy, trillions of bogus taxpayer financed bailouts, or skyrocketing unemployment. But an excited congressman in boxers? That’s the important news, right? Weiner resigned. I don’t know what his wife said or did to him but I’m mot going to ask him. As long as he doesn’t send me any pictures of himself naked, I’m perfectly content to leave him alone.

So many of you will remember Weiner and his . . . well, you know. But I’d like to take a moment to remember another indiscrete message that did more than tumble a young congressman from power. One bad little message that got shared with an entire country and helped bring down an empire.

So what sort of wild, kinky message could bring down an empire? If you would like to read the actual message you will find it in US State Department file number 302022, group number 59. You’ll discover that it’s not all that “kinky,” but it is pretty wild.

In the winter of 1917, World War One raged in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Millions of Africans, Austrians, Belgians, Croatians, English, French, Germans, Hungarians, Italians, Luxembourgers, Portuguese, Russians, Serbians, and Turks were already killed or mutilated, and the war had settled into a bloody and expensive stalemate. The US had thus far maintained its anti-war neutral stance. Woodrow Wilson had, in fact, won re-election in 1916 on a simple “He Kept us Out of the War” campaign.

In desperation to counter the Royal Navy’s effective blockade of Germany and Austria, Germany repudiated the restrictions on submarine warfare that it had agreed to. This meant that neutral ships, including US ships, were now at risk.

Many of us were taught in grammar school that the German submarine attack on and sinking of the British passenger liner Lusitania was a major factor in the US joining the war on the allied side. It wasn’t. The Lusitania was sunk in 1915. In the winter of 1917, the US still had not joined the war.

In January of 1917, the German government realized that lifting restrictions on U-Boat targets might possibly incite the US to join the war. They were worried that an influx of more American material and military strength would tip the balance against the Axis Powers (Austria-Hungary and Germany). At this time, the Germans were already supporting communist revolutionaries in Russia to collapse the Russian Army on the Eastern Front. They eventually succeeded. In late 1916, the Germans devised a slick plan to prevent the US from sending troops to aid the allies on the Western Front.

On January 16, 1917, German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann made the biggest mistake of his life. Trusting in the strength of the German diplomatic cypher system, he sent a coded Western Union Telegram to Germany’s Ambassador to Mexico Heinrich von Ekardt. It instructed Ekardt to negotiate a war alliance with Mexico against the US. Once the US declared war on Germany, Mexico would invade the US with Germany’s help. Mexico would in turn receive back Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. It was a nice little plan that relied on precise timing and the enthusiasm of Mexico. Mexico was not enthused.

Zimmermann Telegram, 1917National Archives and Records Administration

Zimmermann Telegram, 1917
National Archives and Records Administration

As expected, Great Britain intercepted the message. As was not expected, the British deciphered it. In January, when Germany announced a return to unrestricted submarine warfare, the US broke diplomatic ties with that country.

On February 24, 1917, Great Britain presented copies of the original and the deciphered messages to the US.

On March 1 of that year, US newspapers ran the story. With many Americans already angry at Germany’s renewed policy of unrestricted submarine warfare, the message threw gasoline on the flames of American opinion.

On April 6, the US declared war on Germany. The anticipated help from the US was slow to arrive, but eventually, my grandfather and several of his Marine pals, along with some American soldiers and pilots, showed up to the Western Front in time to help tip the balance against the exhausted Germans.

Clearly, Zimmermann would have been better off sending a sext message to some young Mexican Señorita. His wife might have found out and done a “Brunhilda Gotterdammerung” special on him, but Germany might have been able to sign a more favorable peace with the allies, and could have possibly avoided Hitler’s rise to power on the backs of starving, embittered German veterans, widows, and orphans.

So, whatever your worst ever text, email, or phone message indiscretion was this Valentine’s Day, you can share it with us. You could not possibly have done anything worse than Zimmermann did so go ahead and fess up. Though we can’t speak for your significant other or your employer, we’ll still love you.

31 comments on “On Sext and Empires

  1. Great piece, Jay! But will you still love me when I say that the generally Democratic press originally tried to downplay the story (naturally). After it became too big to deny, they jumped on it for its ratings value, as is the manner of most TV news, left and right wing both… to their continuing shame. Don’t criticize just one side; it was and continues to be both in this regard.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Chiming in here, Perry. You are absolutely correct. I know I speak for Holmes, too, when I say both sides are equally guilty of muckraking and hack journalism. Neither of us puts any stock in the media, and the first assumption is that it’s been spun for their audience, regardless of that audience persuasion. 🙂

  2. No sexting. That wouldn’t be prudent. Besides, I am such a wing-nut, I’d probably end up sending it to everyone in my contacts’ list.


    We did go to a fabulous bed and breakfast on Friday night with another couple: old friends we’ve known for over 20 years. Upon checking in, I said we had a room reserved — for 4. You should have seen the clerk’s face. 😉

    • Piper Bayard says:

      From Holmes: “Hi Renee. You teachers love to play fast with word selections. I’m sorry that you have no exciting text stories to share with us. Oh well, prudence is it’s own reward.”

      • tomwisk says:

        Piper, Holmes a heads up. They all lie. Everyone of the responders to your query have sexted, sent suggestive photos or racy emails. The reason they won’t fess up is someone spread the unfounded rumor that anything sent through the net is forever. We know that’s not true. Heh,heh,hehh.

  3. Jay, do you have a twitter handle?

  4. Diana Beebe says:

    No sexting here. That the telegram survived all these years as evidence, which makes me wonder what letters I may (or may not) have written in my early college days. I can only hope those things (if they existed at all) were thrown out or destroyed after that breakup.

    Thanks for the history lesson, and many thanks for your grandfather’s service!

  5. mairedubhtx says:

    No, no sexting. Didn’t have anyone to “sext” to. How sad. It wouldn’t have been that great anyhow. I’m an older lady. Not that great a turn-on. I need a bigger ass, I’ve come to that conclusion.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      From Holmes: “Hi Marie. Congratulations on being one of those few remaining Americans in need of a bigger ass. Mine is still in the ok range but the rest of me could use a little remodeling.”

  6. No sexting here either. And um, Weiner was/is a Democrat, not a Republican. Enjoyed the post, though.

  7. Andrew says:

    Yeah the whole Zimmerman thing…yeesh, haha. One small problem with this article: Weiner was a Democrat. Sure the whole business with his, well, business was silly, but it wasn’t a case of ‘liberal’ media singling out a Republican (usually THOSE sex scandals involve another man in an airport bathroom). He was a young up and comer who made a mistake, and the media pounced, as they’re wont to do. It’s rough out there, and people don’t really give you second chances. Although I did see where he might have a shot at a mayoral race in New York, so there is a chance at a come back. Hopefully he learned his lesson. Plus, I find his last name hilarious so seeing it in the news again would at least give me occasion to snicker, which doesn’t happen often as a result of news these days haha

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Thank you, Andrew! Major SNAFU on our part. We apologize. And his name definitely does lend itself to plenty of snickers. I think the media, no matter what their bias, would have to jump on a guy named “Weiner” who was caught sexting. 🙂

  8. susielindau says:

    I am not the sexting type. I don’t want to be saddled with blowing up the internet if that horrendous picture got into the wrong hands.
    I am still amazed at the trust leaders had in sending coded messages….

  9. tomwisk says:

    As a country we wobble between being isolationist and provocateur. Woodrow “He kept us out of the war” Wilson was an academic and probably one good, logical argument by a kindly general from sending “advisors”. We know where that leads. Germany was thinking early 1800’s. Mexico would be really happy to get old territory back. Wrong. Mexico wanted the land back but didn’t want the pissed off Americans that came with it. Plus the a repeat of previous “encounters” times ten. Germany made some stupid moves and the generals got their war, never a good idea because they don’t die the line troops do. As for Anthony Weiner he’s an a**hole. We get what we deserve.

  10. One small step for man, one giant weiner for mankind. I didn’t sext on Valentine’s Day. I didn’t sext on any day. I did NOT have sexual relations with that woman. Sext me, already, would ya? Wait, please don’t. But if you must, where would 1-800-sext-mee go to? Don’t ask, don’t tell. I have not begun to relate tired cliches! This has been a public service announcement from the Canadian Broadcorping Castration.

  11. Julie Glover says:

    I did not sext my husband. But I will share my one odd texting experience in this regard. I once sent a text to my sister about having, um, “been with” my husband (IYKWIM), and while of course I did not include details, I was a bit tongue-in-cheek with the wording. I soon received a reply that said, “This is __ [her husband!]. I borrowed your sis’s phone today.”

    I nearly died!!! Could I ever look him in the face again?! It was several minutes before my sister finally texted and said she was yanking my chain. She got me good. I learned my lesson, though, and became very careful about what messages I sent via phone.

  12. If they’d had text instead of telegram in 1917, the Zimmerman telegram might not have been so long, and got Germany into less trouble…:-)

  13. Hi Jay

    I like that, a text message to a Mexican Señorita might have prevented WW2. There’s a lot of what-ifs that could have changed the world, but that’s a good one.

    Since it hasn’t broke in the newspapers, I’m going to pass on my valentine’s day adventures and leave the world guessing, or at least not embarrass myself in front of it.


  14. Jay Holmes says:

    Gosh NIgel. it would just be between us few friends here….

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