Useful Notes: The Mexican Revolution

aka: Mexican Revolution
Pancho Villa with soldiers from his Revolutionary Army.

The Mexican Revolution was a conflict that raged (obviously) over Mexico during all of the 1910 decade, and it's considered the most bloody conflict ever fought on Mexican soil (or, if you take the number of displaced, exiled, and disappeared people into the equation, the bloodiest fought on North American soil), with over one million casualties. And it was the first social revolution of the 20th century. All of this war can be summed up in the following phases:

The Causes

The causes of the war can be summed up as the people being angry with how the aging president Porfirio Díaz was managing the country. In his early years as President, he was considered a very capable one, handling the economy and industrialization of the country in such a way that Mexico managed to make up for all those years of civil strife in a decade, but at the expense of screwing the lower social classes and making it very hard to the middle class to go up in the social pyramid, creating a huge wealth gap between higher and lower classes. And then, at the second half of his presidential years, everything started to change for the worse, as the political scene started to stagnate and foreign industrialists in Mexico were given a lot of privileges. To sum it up, he violently put down several revolts of Yaqui and Mayo indians in Sonora, and deported the survivors to plantations at Yucatán, where they were worked to death. Peasants were indebted to their landowners, and had all basic human rights stripped from them. There was no freedom of speech (though the clandestine press was quite big) though to make up for it, Díaz organized several "Democratic clubs" where people could rant about how much he sucked, under strict vigilance. And also, many foreign companies and landowners were allowed to run their lands like feudal kingdoms, able to screw their employees in every way they wanted — sometimes literally. And also, he was always committing electoral fraud on every election (though, his perennial challenger, Nicolás Zúñiga y Miranda, was a bit odd, and never made much of an impact on the rest of the country).

When finally, in 1908, Porfirio Díaz announced to the American reporter James Creelman that he was going to hold elections in 1910, the people rejoiced. Francisco Ignacio Madero González, an upper class politician from Coahuila, decided to run for presidency to avenge his brother, who was killed during a democratic revolt in Monterrey, Nuevo León. He founded the Partido Antirreeleccionista (Anti-Reelectionist Party) after selling a lot of his possessions. He was regarded as a Messiah of democracy by the people, who had grown tired of the constant political bullying by Díaz and his cronies. There were also some other Diaz's cronies who wanted to get in the presidential chair, but they weren't as popular as Madero himself.

When the elections rolled around, Díaz again commited electoral fraud, and blatantly rigged the elections. And to make matters worse, he threw Madero into jail, where he started to hatch a plan to reclaim power.

Overthrowing Díaz

On November 20th, 1910, Francisco I. Madero called all Mexicans to arms against Díaz's illegal government. This was taken to heart by many factions who were against Díaz's increasingly erratic government policies. The whole conflict against Díaz ended quickly, as no one really wanted him there. At the end, Díaz exiled himself to France (ironically, the country he fought against with such fervour 50 years before), And There Was Much Rejoicing.

Madero's Presidency

People rejoiced when Madero became president, as his youthful image and his charisma managed to bring a lot of the former people who worked for Diaz under his administration. However, due to his ideas being quite erred towards the ills of the time in the country, his presidency sucked. The whole mess wasn't helped due to the fact that these people who worked under Diaz were disliked by many of his fellow revolutionaries, who felt he wasn't putting in the effort to help the country.

Eventually, this made a group of conservative generals plot against him under the auspices of then-Ambassador of the US, Henry Lane Wilson. The original plan was to have Victoriano Huerta, who changed sides to his convenience, and Félix Díaz (former pres. Porfirio Díaz's nephew) make a coup against Madero, then Huerta making elections and making Díaz win.

Decena Trágica (The Ten Tragic Days)

This is the moment when the shit hits the fan in Madero's presidency.

In February 9, several Army detachments revolted in Mexico City, all of them trying to oust Madero from power. However, during the coup, a loyalist Army officer saw many soldiers bringing machine guns into the city, and gave out the alarm to the National Palace. Then, all hell broke loose on Mexico City, as every side went paranoid and shot at everything that moved. Mexico City dissolved into anarchy as Victoriano Huerta played off both sides to his own gains, even allowing the rebels to resupply themselves.

At the end, in February 19 at Midnight, Madero and the staff remaining loyal to him were caught after an ill-conceived plan to flee, and most of them got jailed or executed unceremoniously, with Madero's brother suffering a particularly gruesome death. This resulted in the beginning of the government of general Victoriano Huerta, thanks to Pedro Lascuráin, a foreign minister that was jammed into the presidency, only to appoint Huerta as Vice President and resign. He was president for 45 minutes. After that, Huerta eventually said "screw this" and did not make new elections so he got to be in power.

Restart of hostilities

The rest of the revolutionary leaders were pissed off by the fact that a democratically elected president was killed by a coward, so the battles started against Huerta. From one side there was Doroteo Arango A.K.A. Francisco "Pancho" Villa in the north, Emiliano Zapata in the south, Álvaro Obregón in the east and Venustiano Carranza in the northwest. After sending Huerta in exile the revolutionary leaders made a convention in the city of Aguascalientes to settle things. However, there was much tension between Villa and Carranza (the latter even made a "legal" government in Mexico City and called himself supreme commander). Since the convention only managed to appoint a president and not make a common plan that pleased all sides, the revolutionary leaders started battles against each other on 2 sides: Villa-Zapata (on the "Conventionalist" side, who were fond on educating the people and returning the land to its owners) and Obregón-Carranza (On the "Constitutionalist" side, who were more conservative and the latter even named his army the "Constitutionalist Army"). Eventually, Huerta exiled himself in July 1914 when he realized that he was facing an unwinnable scenario and his allies (like former revolutionary Pascual Orozco in the north, who revolted against Madero) were offed, exiled or captured. Then, while things seemed to be going fine, Pancho Villa had a falling out with his fellow revolutionaries and the U.S. suppliers, and in an act of desperation, he took up arms against all of them.

After the Constitution

The whole war more or less died down after 1917, when a new constitution got drafted to the provisional congress led by Venustiano Carranza, since most factions agreed that their demands had been satisfied. However, a few people were not too happy about being excluded from the whole deal, namely Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa.

Those two eventually started to make campaigns against the Government, and Félix Díaz joined the fray once again. All of these campaigns failed, with Villa eventually retiring in 1920, only to get assassinated Gangland-style while on his way to a wedding, Zapata murdered during a False Flag Operation by the Mexican Government, and Félix Díaz being more of a nuisance until he went back into exile in 1920.

The aftershocks of the revolution were quite strong back in the first half of the 20th century. Depending on who you ask, the conflict ended after the drafting of the Constitution of 1917, in 1924 when Plutarco Elías Calles entered power, a few years later when the Cristero war ended, or until 1936, when then-president Lázaro Cárdenas repossessed all of the foreign oil companies to fund PEMEX, the state petrol company.

Tropes applied to the Mexican Revolution:

  • Amazon Brigade: Wives, daughters, and females alike fought hand-in-hand with their male compatriots. Wearing bandoliers over their dresses and armed with rifles, these women were known as "las soldaderas" or "Las Adelitas" after a martyr for the cause.
  • And There Was Much Rejoicing: When Díaz got toppled as a president.
    • Subverted when Victoriano Huerta did his coup d'etat. The American diplomatic staff in Mexico (mentioned below), the Germans (who saw Huerta as a convenient buffer on which they could wage war against the U.S. if the situation demanded) and several conservative politicians were the ones happy, but it pissed off every living person in Mexico (and the American government, due to its ambassador's intervention), in spite of how much Madero's presidency sucked.
  • Ass in Ambassador: Henry Lane Wilson, the United States ambassador. However, once Woodrow Wilson found out what he was up to, he was fired.
  • Badass Army: Villa's División del Norte started out as this, and did much of the heavy lifting that eventually destroyed Huerta's army and toppled him from power. However, they suffered considerable Badass Decay when their tactics became obsolete. Obregon's Constitutionalists fit the mold far better, since they actually studied modern military technology and unlike the others were not in a situation conductive to prolonged stalemate. Arguably even moreso than the former two but more tangentially involved: Fucking with the US military tended to be a fatal mistake for anybody.
  • Badass Mustache: I dare you to find a single important leader who didn't have one. After all, this is Mexico we're talking about.
    • Badass Beard: Venustiano Carranza had one in addition to his mustache.
  • Beam Me Up, Scotty!: Pancho Villa is often depicted as a testosterone-poisoned warlord and a trigger happy drunkard. He wasn't nearly as brutal as people thought he was, and he was a teetotaler— watching drunk people was actually one of the easiest way to make him angry —and not to mention that he was a patron of education during his stint as Governor of Chihuahua.
    • His last words weren't "Don't let it end like this! Tell them I said something!". He was ambushed in Parral in his car and it was riddled with over 100 bullet holes, which killed him and all of his accompanies. No one recorded what were his true last words, though it is said he "liked Parral so much I like it even to die in it" ["Parral me gusta hasta 'pa morirme"].
  • Big Lipped Alligator Moment: The Flores Magón brothers' filibuster invasion of Baja California. It was a pointless invasion to start up an anarchist state in the Baja California Peninsula, and it didn't add anything to the other war theatres, only serving to increase paranoia in the population about an American stealth takeover. And also, it ended with said mercenaries fleeing back to San Diego after a botched attempt at taking Tijuana, and refusing to go back.
  • Blood Knight: Victoriano Huerta. For bonus points, he was nicknamed "The Jackal" for his atrocities.
  • Bomb-Throwing Anarchists: The Flores Magón brothers, though they were less on the "bomb throwing" and more on the "anarchist".
  • Bumbling Sidekick: Félix Díaz. His superiors disrespected him, Huerta sent him to Japan as an ambassador just to get rid of him, only to end up in Europe by mistake, his attempts at rebelling against the Constitutionalists failed spectacularly, and he wasn't able to do anything right.
  • The Chessmaster: Victoriano Huerta, who played all of the factions during the Decena Trágica to his own ends.
  • Child Soldiers: Fielded by all sides.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Victoriano Huerta, who changed sides more often than he changed uniforms.
    • Almost every major player in the revolution, actually.
    • Mêlée à Trois probably describes the situation better.
  • Church Militant: The Cristeros during the latter half of the 1920's, who fought against Plutarco Elías Calles' government.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: At some points, the United States got involved. None of the Mexican forces ever stood a chance against them; see the invasion of Veracruz and the Pancho Villa Expedition.
    • The Battle of Zacatecas, where Pancho Villa's forces fought with the Mexican Army. Mexican Army gets trapped in a pincer move. Half their forces are killed. Victoriano Huerta resigns not long after.
  • Depopulation Bomb: Mexico had a population of around 13 million people before the war. Due to the whole mess, the next census could be only done in 1921, by which time the population had fallen to 12 million. The whole thing was so violent that many towns ended up deserted, the Mexican industry was almost destroyed, and the Mexican state of Morelos (Emiliano Zapata's birthplace and where he conducted his campaigns) lost a third of its population. Add to that the steadily rising deaths caused by the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, and diminishing food supplies due to the peasants heading to war instead of toiling the fields, and you can guess the rest.
  • Dirty Communists: Subverted. Some of the post-1917 politicians leaned to communism, due to another external event and later Trotskyist influence in the 30s (obviously). For example, Tomás Garrido Canabal, whose acts look like a Commie comic villain caricature. This, however, doesn't mean that post-revolutionary Mexico was a communist nation at all. The constitution was referred as the first one in the world to have a social content (not socialist content). This didn't stop the party from kicking out its most left-leaning members in the 40s, control worker unions via corrupt leaders and having ties with the CIA.
    • False Flag Operation / Pragmatic Villainy: It is said that Tomás Garrido Canabal used to torch churches. This is not true — burning them would have been a waste of a building that was perfectly good for being taken by force and used as a government facility.
  • Ending Fatigue: The Cristero War, the Escobarista rebellion, the Mexican Synarchist movementnote , and the Oil Expropiation came to be due to how inconclusive the conflict got and how many things were unresolved in the 1917 Constitution.
  • Expository Theme Tune: The many, many Corridos dedicated to the combatants.
  • Gray and Grey Morality: While by all means Díaz was a bad president on his late years, in his early periods he was surprisingly efficient, as he destroyed the brigands that plagued Mexico's roads, and set up the country's infrastructure so that it would benefit the country for years to come; his later years sucked due to him being senile and Surrounded by Idiots and yes-men. And many of the factions commited a lot of atrocities to their fellow countrymen for any whimsical reason (or sometimes, without one).
  • Idiot Ball: Gustavo Madero discovered that Huerta was plotting against his brother and adviced Francisco not to trust him. Francisco Madero had a meeting with Huerta, who assured him that he would "put an end to everything in 24 hours". In the following 24 hours, Francisco Madero was arrested.
    • Gustavo Madero later confronted Huerta. Huerta invited him to have breakfast together. As Huerta's men arrested Francisco, Huerta got a call to go somewhere, leaving Gustavo Madero alone. Huerta, unarmed, asked Gustavo for his pistol and he gave it willingly to him. When Madero exited the restaurant, he was immediatly arrested by Huerta's soldiers.
  • Invaded States of America: A minor example, but Pancho Villa's raid on Columbus, New Mexico to gather supplies stands out. It led to the US' Punitive Expedition to invade Mexico and capture Villa.
  • Man Behind the Man: Plutarco Elías Calles.
  • Mexico Called; They Want Texas Back: The infamous Zimmermann telegram. Subverted since it was the Germans who pitched the proposal.
    • Huerta also attempted to convince a German officer to put him back into power in exchange for waging war against the U.S., but the whole scheme fell apart when the German officer realized there was nothing to win out of it.
  • Mighty Gringo: Many American mercenaries ended up serving any of the factions, most of them with Pancho Villa. An example of this can be seen in the film And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself.
    • Porfirio Diaz himself was a subversion of a Mighty Whitey (he was actually a mestizo and powdered his face to look white), being the ruler of Mexico for lots of years.
  • Moral Event Horizon: La Decena Trágica.
    • General Guajardo's False Flag Operation to convince Villa that he would be loyal to him, by ordering a segment of his own men to die in an incredibly obvious ambush set up by the rest of his batallion.
  • Put on a Bus: Félix Díaz.
  • Rasputinian Death: Gustavo Adolfo Madero (president Francisco's brother). His death is too brutal, so it will be spoilerized: Among pushes and shouts of profanity, filled with shame and shock, including a diabolical chorus of jeers and blasphemies, the first victim fell to the place of final torment. Ninety or a hundred fell upon the helpless prisoner". "They took him kicking, slapping and clubbing him, to the patio where the statue of Morelos was... dripping blood, his face broken by blows, with hair disheveled and torn clothes... He clung with both hands to the door frame and offered money, he begged their fierce perpetrators not to kill him, he remembered his wife and children... his brother, candidate scaffold... " "the ciudadelos laughed and called him a coward every sentence. One gave the example, a deserter from the 29th battalion surname Melgarejo, his bayonet stuck his one eye he had. Don Gustavo was turned blind and launched a painful cry of terror and despair. He shrugged, violently springing, and then he went mute... They mocked him, "Coward!" -they shouted -"One-eye!" (anti-maderism nicknamed Gustavo as such because who was one-eyed ) "Cry-baby!" -And they poked tips of their swords, daggers and bayonets. They threw him into the yard and he, mad with pain, ran staggering, with hands in his face, and made a bloody heap. Behind him a mob of murderers launched after him... Among them were boys of seventeen or eighteen, students from military school , corrupted by the aristocratic scoundrel, transformed into criminals by their bosses and teachers... Mondragón, pleased, looked at the picture, without taking part in it... As he stumbled (Gustavo), could still walk a short distance on the dirt courtyard of blood and mud... Finally , he stumbled against the statue of Morelos and fell at the monument as he bled... Over twenty mouths of rifles fired their missiles on Gustavo. Don Juan B. Izabal, who accounted these scenes came to see the fallen's face with a lantern, "saw that he was dead... One of the murderers made ​​a new shot on the corpse, saying that 'it was the coup de grace' ... ". " Then they mutilated him, ripping some vital organs and covering the wounds with soil and manure..." "The body was there, abandoned, until dawn, when they buried him in a hole made ​​in the same courtyard..." Upon receiving the death, his body had thirty-seven wounds. Immediately, the soldiers threw themselves on the corpse to strip him of his belongings: $63 (pesos), three letters of his wife Carolina dated in Monterrey and a notebook that ended with the phrase , "All is lost . The soldiers do not want to fight."
  • Real Men Wear Pink: Pancho Villa loved strawberry milkshakes.
  • Semper Fi: U.S. Marines fought in Veracruz against the Huerta government. It only managed to piss off both sides, but they took the city either way.
  • Shaggy Dog Story: Too many to list, but here's a few:
    • Zapata's uprising after the drafting of the constitution was rendered moot when his land law proposals went through. But he died before he could see the results when he got ambushed in an hacienda. If he had stayed put, he could have probably seen it.
    • The Punitive Expedition against Pancho Villa by John Pershing and George Smith Patton (yes, that very same Patton). It was a complete waste of time, since they could not find him anywhere. However, the Americans did get to kill two of Villa's lieutenants in an unrelated incident.
      • YMMV. It *did* fail to find, much less kill or capture Villa. It did *not*, however, fail to find his military, and the ensuing Curb Stomp Campaign certainly heavily weakened him and paved the way for his final terminal decline starting at Celaya.
  • Smug Snake: Félix Díaz and U.S. Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson. The first one "got better", and became a minor nuisance prone to Epic Fail in whatever he could. The latter (fortunately) got sacked of his post when U.S. president Woodrow Wilson found out of his meddling in Mexican Politics.
  • Stupid Good: Francisco I. Madero during his presidency years. He allowed Porfiristas (who were mostly a bunch of yes-men with dubious loyalty) to be his Chiefs of Staff. This came to bite him in the ass during the Decena Trágica.
  • The Teetotaler: Pancho Villa.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: Many different factions, all first vying to take down Porfirio Díaz, and then at each other's throats due to petty differences on how their ideas were to be carried out.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Porfirio Díaz in his late years, and almost everyone who got into the presidential chair by force. Lampshaded by Emiliano Zapata (the only one who refused to take power, and was horrified when he was asked to sit on the presidential chair for a photograph) in the following quote:
    "La silla presidencial está embrujada, cualquier persona buena que se sienta en ella, se convierte en mala".
    The presidential chair is accursed! Any good men that sit on it becomes evil.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: While he was seen as a freedom fighter by many in both Mexico and the US, the latter turned against him when Villa raided Columbus, New Mexico. Cue the Punitive Expedition and Villa's troops (despite him not being encountered) getting royally wrecked by the United States Cavalry.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: The Cristeros. While some people, especially hard-line Catholics and right-wing conservatives will praise them as freedom fighters, they were pretty much the Catholic version of the Taliban. Hundreds of teachers had their ears sliced off by Cristeros; they also engaged in dispoportionate retribution against those viewed as pro-Government. YMMV on which side was more brutal.
  • Zerg Rush: Villa's strategy consisted of throwing cavalry charges at everything. It was effective the first few years, when the Federal armies were undersupplied, overstretched and low on morale, but when the Constitutionalists started to field machine guns...

The Mexican Revolution in the media:

  • And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself (2004): A story about the filming of "The Life of General Villa", the first movie about the Mexican Revolution, starred by Pancho Villanote .
  • Zapata: El Sueño del Héroe (2004): A film about Emiliano Zapata. Massively hyped due to having several famous actors from Televisa and because it promised to deliver a new perspective on the hero. It bombed quite badly, thanks to the fact that its director, Alfonso Arau, assaulted historical accuracy (which was what the audience expected) to present a quasi-mythological and larger-than-life Zapata, and terrible special effects. On the other hand, the scenes that didn't involved the samed ruined hacienda were gorgeous.
  • The Professionals
  • A Fistful of Dynamite features an "idealised" (read: Artistic License – History) version.
  • ¡Three Amigos!! takes place in this period, with a German agent as The Dragon to a Pancho Villa Expy.
  • The Wild Bunch is about a group of American bandits trying to take advantage of the chaos.
  • Viva Villa! is a biopic about Pancho Villa.
  • For Greater Glory, taking place during the Cristero War.

Live Action Television
  • The Adventures Of Young Indiana Jones have an Episode set during that time, where he encounters Pancho Villa.
    • To which he confirms with Mutt Williams in Crystal Skull while in Peru looking for Oxley.

Soap Operas
  • Senda de Gloria (Path of Glory) (1987): The first soap opera that featured the aftershocks of the 1917 constitution as they were, and the events played out, and it was Televisa's first superproduction, and it shows. It plays out the chaotic years after the 1917 constitution and the early years of the then-ruling political party Partido Revolucionario Institucional, from the perspective of a family that sided with Carranza. However, due to Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas' split from the PRI (who is the son of Lázaro Cárdenas, a historical person glorified in that series' last 30 episodes), the soap's last 30 episodes got shafted by orders of the government.
  • El Vuelo Del Águila (The flight of the Eagle) (1994): Another historical soap opera from Televisa, about the whole presidency of Porfirio Díaz, told from his perspective. The last half was about the first years of the Mexican Revolution, and the toll it took on him.
  • El Encanto del Águila (The Eagle's Charm) (2011): Yet another historical soap opera by Televisa, this time as a mini-series about the Mexican Revolution itself between the years 1910 (when the first uprising began and Madero called for an insurgency) and 1928 (ending when Plutarco Elías Calles elected his successor, Emilio Portes Gil) dealing with the most important parts of the Revolution, its key characters (some appearing later than they should) and how it affected Mexico.


Alternative Title(s):

Mexican Revolution