For years I have blogged on the Mexican Revolution and the First World War. Between 60,000 and 140,000 of you are reading these little articles every week. I thank you for the interest and for buying my books. Yet, I ask myself, why are so many of you interested in this? Here is my interpretation - and you are welcome to add to or dispute it:

Francisco I. Madero

Francisco I. Madero

The Mexican Revolution is incredibly timely compared to what is happening all around us. The parallels are uncanny, and we are all looking for answers about where the world is going, what the role of my country in this world is, how the world affects me, my job, my family, my future, the future of my kids? Since we cannot look into the future, and the present is riddled with propaganda and subjectivity, studying the past might provide the best answers. I am with you!

In 1910, seemingly out of the blue, the Mexican Revolution sprung up in a movement for democracy and economic justice. It was not meant to last for ten years or cost one million lives. But it did. Ripping the existing power structure apart creates a vacuum. There is no security in an outcome because whoever fills this vacuum is not pre-described in a revolution. 

A few years ago, the world watched in amazement as the Arab Spring tore down dictators in several countries. Immediately new governments took the place of the old (compare to De La Barra/Madero). In the west, we heralded these governments, as imperfect as they may have been, as standard bearers of liberal democracy, economic justice, and a predictable and fair justice system. Syria, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Jordan remained dictatorships. Assad in Syria became a criminal in the western press. He fought the "democratic" opposition and killed civilians. And, by the way, Syria traditionally had sided with the Soviet sphere. That is bad. Iran also remained a villain, since they had a successful revolution (in the sense that the revolutionaries captured power, solidified it, and are still there after 35 years), which we do not like the outcome of. In fact, in our western view of how things should develop, we wish a Persian Spring on them and tried to help create it. The other four dictatorships support "western democracy," just not in their own countries (in the sense of shipping oil and providing limited support for Israel). These are the "good" dictators.

Now comes ISIL, the Kurdish Peshmerga, the Assyrian defense force, and a few more. For months we heard suppressed calls from Syrian President Bashar Al'Assad, that he was in fact fighting large terrorist (whatever that means) rebels within Syria. He compared them to Al Quaeda to see if someone would call off the western "regime change" forces. He was ridiculed. We know now, he was right. Suddenly, out of the blue (except for some analysts somewhere deep in the cellars of western clandestine services) the carefully trained and armed Iraqi army dropped its weapons, including heavy armaments and munitions depots, and ran. ISIL suddenly dominated half of Iraq and half of Syria. The only viable force to stand up against them initially were the Kurdish Peshmerga.

The course of the Mexican Revolution has incredible parallels to what is happening right now. When Madero overthrew Diaz, Mexico was the largest oil producing country in the world. Ships, trains, automobiles sprung up everywhere and formed the basis of the modern economies. England, Germany, and France (the "superpowers" of the time) clung to the old regime, supported the Cientificos, and made no effort to financially support Madero's movement. The United States as well, not a "superpower," but close enough to Mexico to have huge economic and financial interests, supported the anti-Madero forces. In part because of the lack of support, in part because of his inability to consolidate power and maintain broad based popular support, the first democratically elected president of Mexico died in a coup. Here is the vacuum.

For a little over one year the putschists under Huerta filled it but, but in reality new forces with broad popular support (within their regions) filled the power vacuum. With every defeat of the "federals," revolutionaries gained supplies, ability, and ground. Pancho Villa might represent the Kurdish Peshmerga. Who would have thought in the spring of 1913, when he crossed into Mexico with a handful of fighters, that one year later he commanded the largest army in Mexico and controlled half of the country. He had some support from the U.S., he had regional popular support, he was able to finance his movement. Carranza had no fighting force, but led the publicity campaign to get support. In the Arab revolution, Carranza seems to be missing. However, Obregon, with regional support from Sonora, might be found in the Sunni leadership in Iraq. The United States occupied Veracruz (air strikes to support the Kurds) to influence the outcome, created munitions import embargoes but did not enforce them against the factions of Villa, Zapata, and Carranza. We do not understand, how all these heavy weapons get into the region, but Turkey's borders and places with U.S. presence (Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Afghanistan) are all candidates. In the 1910s one could only use rail, horse and ship to transport. Today, the air transport is the main means of transportation.

Execution of Villistas in Cd. Juarez in 1916

Execution of Villistas in Cd. Juarez in 1916

Thousands of federal officers, captured opposition fighters, and civilians died at the hands of these revolutionary factions. Just like today, when we gasp with horror as ISIL fighters execute "enemies," Villa, Obregon, Zapata all lined up hundreds of captured enemies after every battle and executed them, often in front of American reporters. The purpose might have been slightly different, but one aspect certainly was to create horror among the civilian population, recruit, and draw larger powers into the conflict. This is also not to say, that the federals did not execute their captured. Assad (the "federals") certainly is not a nice guy, neither was Huerta.

So, can we can accept that the Arab region represents Mexico in the early 1900s? Mexico was then the largest oil producer. Regional revolutionary chieftains  in Mexico now stand for the radical Islamists, as well as powerful regional tribes and factions. Western powers had a hand in creating the huge unemployment, political disenfranchisement, and economic suffering of large Arab populations. In Mexico the rallying cry was land reform. What is it in Arabia? A share in the oil wealth? Jobs? Liberty? Indeginismo and Islamist fundamentalism are both ideologies that search for a new social contract in a glorious, "better" past. Make no mistake, the Arab Spring is a social revolution just like the French, Mexican, and Russian revolutions.  

Arms and supplies for the old regimes (then the Cientificos, today the "friendly" Arab dictators that control oil) exacerbated the initial, limited reform movement, and created revolutions all over the Arab world. Support from powerful defense lobbies in the western world for this or that faction then and now kept both sides well equipped, making money for the arms producers and dealers, while extending the conflict. The success of ISIL, the Kurdish Peshmerga, the Assyrian defense, and tribal opposition rests on popular support that the other factions fighting them, such as the Iraqi army, do not have. If we accept all that, where are we in this conflict? Can we predict or influence the next phase in the Arab revolution? Do we really have to go through a ten year period of violence, an attack on the United States (Columbus 1916)? I predict, that a successful Kurdish Peshmerga will claim a democratic Kurdish republic in most of the area now controlled by ISIL. In return for recognition, they will stop the secession in Turkish Kurdistan. 

The worst parallel of all, if we accept that the Arab revolution is now where the Mexican Revolution was in 1914, are we sliding towards another world conflict? In a world as tense and unpredictable as we have today, where is the spark that sets it on fire? Ukraine? I believe, reading up on what happened 100 years ago might be something we all, but especially our leaders should do. Join me in preventing the mistakes of the future from duplicating the one's of our past!

1 Comment