Late into the first world war, top level German officer Arthur Zimmerman wanted to assert Germany dominance with a major offensive move. He wanted to start unrestricted U-Boat Warfare. He knew that a potential outcome of this would be the United States entering a war. His plan for combatting thisEthical was an alliance with Mexico. If the Americans entered the war, Mexico would ally with Germany and, using funds from the Germans, invade America to reclaim Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. Zimmerman sent this message as a telegram that was intercepted by the British. This message was then quickly deciphered enough to crack its basic message, but not completely deciphered, and brought to British Admiral Hall. To the cryptographers’ surprise, Hall did nothing with the message. He believed that it was not worth it to convey these messages to the Americans because there could be vital information in the non-deciphered parts and because if America started reacting to Germany’s plans, it would be revealed that Germany’s encryption had been broken, compromising the Biriths’s intelligence position. It is important to wonder whether hall did the ethical thing in this situation. I believe that Hall’s actions were ethical if he intended to do the most good for the most amount of people.
I look at ethics in a utilitarian way. If an action is intended to accomplish the most good possible for the most amount of people possible it is ethical. However, if an action is intended to benefit a small party but be harmful to the larger group, it is unethical. Hall’s position could have been unethical. By not sending America the decipher telegram, he was basically allowing America to be provoked by unrestricted U-Boat Warfare. Essentially, that means he was going to allow a deadly attack to happen for America to come into the war. If Hall was doing this just because he didn’t want to have to deal with Germany knowing that Britain had broken their encryption, this would be unethical.
However, the argument could be made that Hall actually was doing the most good for the most amount of people. It is possible that the British being able to decipher German messages was actually leading to lives being saved on a daily basis. It is possible that, had Germany stopped using their encryption because Britain could decipher it, more lives would be lost than in one unrestricted U-Boat attack. Additionally, Hall chose to hold the message rather than send it to the Americans because he thought that there may be vital information in the parts that hadn’t been deciphered. He did this on January 16th, leaving plenty of time for the whole code to be cracked before February 1st, when the U-boat attacks would begin. In this case, it seems that Hall is making sure everyone is safe and acting in the interests of the public. Therefore, I would argue that when Hall made this seemingly harmful decision, he was probably acting ethically by drying to do the most good for the most amount of people.