Friday, November 21, 2014

suppose they gave a war --

Jack Brock is correct.

In a comment to yesterday's essay, he warned me: " It is time you removed your rose colored glasses regarding the serious crime problem in Mexico. This morning I saw a large band of bandits marching down the middle of the street in your town of Barra de Navidad."

He was correct.  Yesterday afternoon, I saw a similar gang in Melaque.  Not your usual bandits, though.

Yesterday was Mexico's Day of the Revolution.  A chance to celebrate one of the bloodiest chapters in Mexican history where Mexicans killed Mexicans in exchange for an authoritarian one-party state.  A legacy that still haunts Mexico's return to democracy in the late 1990s.

But yesterday was all about fun and make-believe mayhem.  The type of celebrations that is a perfect match for the basic natures of little boys.  And they did not disappoint.

I am an amateur Mexican history buff.  When I started writing this essay, I wondered why 20 November was chosen as the day to celebrate the revolution. 

Historical dates often get a bit scrambled.  Even though Miguel Hidalgo gave his famous el grito exhortation on 16 September 1810, Mexico now celebrates the el grito on 15 September -- the birthday of the dictator Porfirio Diaz, the man who was toppled in the revolution.  (Mexicans have a great sense of historical irony.) 

But it is not ony Mexico that manipulates dates.  Congress declared American independence on 2 July -- not 4 July -- 1776.  But that does not stop Americans from celebrating the 4th.

It turns out that 20 November shares similar flaws.

You all know how the Mexican revolution came about.  The darling of the Mexican liberals, Porfirio Diaz, became President in 1877 (and with the exception of four years) served as president until 1911.  He promised not to run for re-election in 1910.  Francisco Madero took him at his word and started campaigning on the not-so-snappy slogan: "Effective Suffrage - No Re-election!"

Diaz changed his mind and "won" the election through effective ballot-stuffing -- believing that it was good to be president.  For good measure, he arrested Madero during the campaign and sent him to prison in San Luis Potosi -- along with thousands of supporters.

Mexico being the land were influence trumps persuasion, Madero's father posted a bond to allow his son the freedom to ride within the town during the day -- after all, that is what is expected of a man of his class.  And, like a man of his class, he skedaddled out of town at the first opportunity.

He headed north to San Antonio, Texas and issued his Plan of San Luis Potosi, written when he was incarcerated.  The plan was very simple.  He proclaimed the presidential election null and void and called for "violent direct action" by the people of Mexico.  The start date?  20 November 1910.

Madero showed up at the Mexican border on the 20th fully expecting he would be met by an enraged and emboldened populace.  What he encountered was the sound of crickets.  Or the revolutionary equivalent.  His uncle was supposed to show up with 400 men.  He brought ten.  That was not enough men to have a good fight at a wedding.

So, Madero did what many other Mexican exiles before him had done.  He headed to New Orleans to re-think his plans -- or Plan.

Eventually, the war began, and Madero became the thirty-third president of Mexico in November 1911.  And he then became a corpse on 22 February 1913 when one of his generals grabbed power through a coup.

The Revolution (now a petty civil war that centered on no greater question than which general would be president) would run its destructive course through the country for another seven years, and then break out in a series of secular-clerical battles that would not end until 1929.

Historians try to avoid "what if" games.  After all, what did not happen simply did not happen.  But it is interesting to ponder what would have happened if Madero had succumbed to the wiles of the Crescent City and never returned to Mexico? 

On 20 November 1910, we actually had a momentary answer to the question of "Suppose they gave a war and nobody came?"  Nothing, as it turns out.  Until everybody (or a lot of Mexicans) did come.  And then there was a terrible war -- a war that still affects the national psyche.  One million dead Mexicans is a wrong no one wants to suffer again.

But yesterday was not a day of not showing up.  Mexicans did show up to celebrate a very sanitized version of the revolution. 

But, isn't that what national myth-making is all about?

These three boys are representing men who would be dead before the revolution ran its bloody course.  Emiliano Zapata, President Venustiano Carranza, and President Francisco Madero.

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