In my last post, I wrote about the Zimmermann Telegram and the role it played in convincing the United States to enter World War I. A couple of days later as I talked to a friend about the subject, I realized I had no idea how Mexico responded. It had never occurred to me to ask.* In fact, I didn’t know whether Mexico fought at all. Luckily, some answers aren’t hard to find if you think to ask the question.
In 1917, Mexico had enough on its hands. The country was in the throes of brutal civil war.** What began in 1910 as an uprising by urban intellectuals and liberals**** against the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz developed into full-scale revolution dominated by peasants and workers. The revolution quickly splintered into factions, the most prominent of which were led by Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata, and Venustiano Carranza. New regimes rose and fell. Rebel leaders had other rebel leaders assassinated. In 1917, Carranza, elected president for a second time, presided over the creation of a new constitution–a contradictory document which gave him dictatorial powers but confirmed many of the reforms the rebels had been fighting for.
In addition to fighting among themselves, the succession of Mexican governments also had to deal with political interference and occasional low-grade invasions from the United States.***** At one point, United States forces occupied the port of Veracruz for a period of six months–a preview of the kind of trouble Mexico could expect if it allied itself with Germany
Instead of accepting the Zimmermann offer, Carranza used the threat to negotiate for recognition of its new government by the United States in exchange for neutrality.
Question answered. Next?
*Another historical blind spot uncovered. Sigh.
**Known in history books as the Mexican Revolution. When you think about it, revolutions are by definition civil wars.*** At least, actual military revolutions. Not, say, the Scientific Revolution.
***Which leads me to another question I’ve never thought about: Are all civil wars revolutions? Hmmmm. I throw the question out for discussion by the Marginalia.
****Often the case with revolutions. You let them read and they get ideas. This is why dictatorial regimes try to control the press, ban books, etc. But I digress.
*****Wilson was prepared to be an isolationist when it came to war in Europe, but not when civil war next door threatened American business interests or led to violence across the border. If you’re interested in learning more about America’s interference in the Mexican revolution I strongly recommend Jack Beatty’s The Lost History of 1914: The Year the Great War Began.