How an ‘Imposter’ Journalist Changed the Course of World War I
By Mark Arsenault
via the Time Magazine web site
Three days after Christmas in 1915, a New York City taxi bounced over streetcar tracks and weaved among the horse buggies on its way out of the city to the 5th Street Pier in Hoboken, New Jersey, home of the Holland-America cruise line, as the grand Dutch ocean liner Rotterdam prepared for an Atlantic crossing to Europe. It carried a special fare: German diplomat Captain Karl Boy-Ed, a career military man and the German embassy’s naval attaché, one of the highest-ranking consular posts.
After nearly four years stationed in America, Boy-Ed was sailing home in disgrace. President Woodrow Wilson’s administration had ejected Boy-Ed from the United States, along with his colleague in the German diplomatic corps, military attaché Franz von Papen, due to a rising pile of evidence that the diplomats were engaged in sabotage and deceptive propaganda in brazen violation of America’s policy of neutrality in World War I.
The war had been raging in Europe for a little over a year. As a neutral nation, the United States maintained diplomatic relations with each of the major combatants: Germany and its ally Austria-Hungary on one side, and England, France, and Russia on the other. For Germany, the expulsion of Boy-Ed and Papen was a humiliating setback in international relations.
What made the day even worse for the intellectual and gentlemanly Boy-Ed was that he had been chased from America by a mysterious loudmouth who edited a small daily newspaper in, of all places, Providence, Rhode Island. Over the previous six months, the Providence Journal—led by its flamboyant editor John Revelstoke Rathom—had printed dozens of exclusive stories exposing alleged German intrigue in America. German diplomats in the United States were scandalized by the onslaught of articles, which blamed them for plots from passport fraud to propaganda, to undermining US industry and labor, to outright sabotage.
In Rathom’s most outrageous story, he had named Boy-Ed as the point man in a German conspiracy to return the exiled Mexican dictator Victoriano Huerta back to power in a coup, and to smuggle weapons to Huerta so that Mexico could attack the southwestern United States. It sounded too crazy to be true. Trying to goad the United States and Mexico into a shooting war? Boy-Ed denied every word of it. But the Germans understood that many people in the United States believed Rathom—too many. And if enough Americans came to see Germany as a menace, the United States might enter the war on the side of Britain and its allies.
Read the entire article on the Time Magazine web site.
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