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The Veracruz Occupation: A Mexican Perspective

by Jim Tuck

The World War I period saw America as self-righteous as she had ever been in her history. President Woodrow Wilson saw the countrys role not only as world policeman but as world moralist. Everything had to be black or white so its hardly surprising that civil liberties suffered. Criticizing the government could get you thrown in jail for sedition. In efforts to demonize anything German, the works of Wagner and Beethoven were banned, loyal Americans with German names suffered discrimination and sauerkraut was renamed liberty cabbage.
That explains why the public swallowed an official version put out by the government about the 1914 occupation of Veracruz. In their sanitized account, a tyrant (Victorano Huerta) who had overthrown idealistic President Madero now had the chutzpah to arrest nine U.S. sailors who were on liberty in Tampico. In addition, a vessel carrying German arms destined for Huerta was preparing to land in Veracruz. So the United States was completely justified in demanding an apology for the arrest and later occupying Veracruz so the German Kaiser would be prevented from propping up his fellow despot in Mexico. Moreover, the United States was aiding Mexican freedom fighters (Carranza, Villa and Obregon) attempting to overthrow the dictator.

The other side of the coin
Perceptive Mexican historians have since shredded this simplistic morality play version of what happened at Veracruz. So effectively have they done their job that today no serious American scholar swallows the official line propagated in 1914.
Far from being a clear-cut picture in black and white, the Veracruz tableau has so many shades of gray that it borders on kaleidoscopic. Yes, Huerta was a tyrant who overthrew Madero and engineered his assassination. But events at Tampico were vastly different from the scrubbed version presented to the U.S. public. First, the sailors were arrested for entering a restricted zone. Second, they were released almost immediately, and with profuse apologies. Third, U.S. Admiral Henry T. Mayo  a gunboat diplomat if there ever was one  insisted on a 21-gun salute by way of apology. Following complicated bickering, it was Wilson himself who refused the reasonable Mexican request that the salute be reciprocal.
Action then moved from Tampico to Veracruz. To intercept the German ship, U.S. forces seized the port on April 21-22. (The ship was diverted to another port and Huerta received the arms shipment after all.) The most heroic resistance was offered by citizen soldiers and cadets at the Veracruz naval academy. Casualties were suffered by both sides, but especially so by the Mexicans.
Wilsons objectives failed completely. Far from destabilizing Huerta, the Veracruz action unleashed a nationalistic fervor that may have actually prolonged his rule. Even Carranza, the U.S.-backed rebel leader, denounced the invasion. Pancho Villa, considered the most gringophobic of the revolutionists, was the only one who didnt condemn the seizure of Veracruz. Reason: his hatred of Huerta. During the 1911 campaign against the insurgent Pascual Orozco, Huerta wanted to shoot Villa for insubordination. Then there was another reason for Villas animus. Ever guided by his emotions, the teetotaling Villa disapproved of Huertas two-fisted drinking. So anything the gringos wanted to do in Veracruz was OK as long as it undermined that drunkard.
In the end, Huerta was overthrown in July, succeeded by Carranza. Veracruz was evacuated in November 1914, six months after the initial occupation.
More about the involvement of the landing party from the New Jersey:
Quirk, Robert. An Affair of Honour: Woodrow Wilson and the Occupation of Veracruz. University of Kentucky. 1962.
Eisenhower, John S.D. Intervention! The United States And The Mexican Revolution, 1913-1917. Norton. 1993
Sweetman, Jack. The Landing at Veracruz 1914. United States Naval Institute. 1968. O