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Mexico and the World Wars

The History of Germany’s Efforts to Involve Mexico in World War I and World War II
Narrated by: Daniel Houle
Length: 1 hr and 52 mins
Categories: History, Military

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Publisher's Summary

Otto von Bismarck, the leading German statesman of the 19th century, once joked, “There is a Providence that protects idiots, drunkards, children, and the US of America”. He said this not because the Americans were a great concern for him - his main interest in the US was trade -, but as the architect of the first unified German state, he was setting the tone for what two generations of German nationals would feel about America’s apparent invulnerability. It would always be better, thus, to keep America away from Germany's business.

Nonetheless, during the two major wars of the 20th century, America and Germany did indeed clash against each other, and in both cases, American entry into the war was a decisive factor in the defeat of the Germans. Germany had a good reason for desiring the non-interference of the American colossus: with a declining British Empire, and the rest of Europe mired in a diplomatic labyrinth, America seemed to be the only nation with the capacity to tip the scales in a major war.

Germany respected and feared American power as much as the US marveled at Germany's impetus and its ability to mobilize an entire nation. Indeed, in both wars, the US waited until it believed it had no choice but to declare war and engage in a conflict that was taking place on the other side of the world. In World War I, it was the discovery of a German plan to attack the US through Mexico that overturned public opinion against neutrality, and in World War II, it wasn't until Pearl Harbor.

Of course, this is not to say that America was not active in the war efforts before its official entry. Germany always tried to stay a step ahead and weaken the US where it least expected it: its own neighborhood. Thus, Germany placed great emphasis on luring Mexico into its sphere of influence. Operating in Canada was out of the question, not only because of the difficult access from the North Atlantic, but also because greater historical and cultural ties united the two neighbors. This was not the case with Mexico, and by taking advantage of the historical hostility and longstanding resentment of the Mexicans, Germany organized a secret operation against the US, a conspiracy of colossal proportions, a move so risky that, had it succeeded, it would have changed the face of Western hemisphere forever.

On both occasions, Germany hoped to wage a proxy war against an undeclared enemy. In World War I, Germany planned an invasion from Mexico not once but on several occasions, one of them with a formal invitation to the president of Mexico to lead it. This would have been a German-Mexican coalition that, if successful, would have rewarded Mexico with part of the territories lost in 1847, namely Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. To be sure, the Kaiser knew that Mexico had no chance of winning that war, even with German aid, nor of regaining its lost territory, but the German Empire did not really care about Mexico, nor was expecting a Mexican victory. Germany only needed to buy more time, enough to defeat America’s European allies so that when the US succeeded in subduing the Mexicans, it would have to negotiate with a victorious Germany.

Though these efforts remain mostly unknown except for brief mentions of the Zimmermann Telegram, Germany did not hesitate to make use of the weak, unprepared Mexico, and operate against the US in order to fulfill its own objectives. In fact, "sacrificing" Mexico was seen as inevitable collateral damage. For the Kaiser in the First World War and the Führer in the Second World War, utilizing Mexico as a strategic base to importune and hold back the US was a priority in the Americas.

©2019 Charles River Editors (P)2020 Charles River Editors

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