Key military campaigns in the early 20th century include the Mexican Revolution and the Cristero War. These two conflicts, respectively, overthrew the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz and challenged the largely anticlerical nature of the post-Revolutionary governments. Mexico stood among the Allies of World War II and was one of two Latin American nations to send combat troops to serve in the Second World War.
Recent developments in the Mexican military include deployment of troops to the United Nations, a cooperation with the United States in terms of patrolling borders, and relief sent during Hurricane Katrina.
In flower wars the primary objective was to injure or capture the enemy, rather than killing as in Western warfare. Prisoners-of-war were ritually sacrificed to Aztec gods. Cannibalism was also a center feature to this type of warfare, as well. Historical accounts such as that of Juan Bautista de Pomar state that small pieces of meat were offered as gifts to important people in exchange for presents and slaves, but it was rarely eaten, since they considered it had no value; instead it was replaced by turkey, or just thrown away.
Perhaps the most famous of the Native Mexican states is the Aztec Empire. In the 13th and 14th centuries, around Lake Texcoco in the Anahuac Valley, the most powerful of these city states were Culhuacan to the south, and Azcapotzalco to the west. Between them, they controlled the whole Lake Texcoco area.
The Aztecs hired themselves out as mercenaries in wars between Nahuas, breaking the balance of power between city states. Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan formed a "Triple Alliance" that came to dominate the Valley of Mexico, and then extended its power beyond. Tenochtitlan, the traditional capital of the Aztec Empire, gradually became the dominant power in the alliance.
In 1519, the native civilizations of Mexico were invaded by Spain, and two years later in 1521, the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan was conquered. Francisco Hernández de Córdoba explored the shores of southeast Mexico in 1517, followed by Juan de Grijalva in 1518. The most important of the early Conquistadores was Hernán Cortés, who entered the country in 1519 from a native coastal town which he renamed "Puerto de la Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz" (today's Veracruz). In a series of wars and counter-rebellions over the next two centuries, Spain would expand and consolidate its Mexican territories.
The Aztecs, the dominant empire in Mexico, believed "that Quetzalcoatl would return on in 'Ce-Acatl' or one-reed year. The Pre-Columbian calendar was divided into 52 year periods or cycles. Every 52nd year was a Ce-Acatl year 1467 was such a year". On their arrival in the new world, the Aztecs thought the Spanish conquerors had been sent by the gods, so they initially offered little resistance to the advances of the conquerors. (Ironically, Cortés does not mention the alleged "god worship" episode in his letters to King Charles V of Spain.)
After a major battle in 1519, during which the Spanish forces were defeated and sent into retreat, the Spaniards regrouped outside the Valley of Mexico. After eight months they were back, this time with an even larger contingent of native allies. By then, Spanish smallpox had ravaged the Aztec population, drastically reducing the Aztec fighting forces. The Spaniards surrounded and laid siege to the inhabitants of Tenochtitlan, bringing about the Aztecs' total defeat in 1521. Despite their metal weapons, horses, cannons, and thousands of indigenous allies, the Spanish were unable to subdue the Mexica for seven full months. It was one of the longest continuous sieges in world history.
Three major factors contributed to Spanish victory. First, the Spanish had superior military technology, including firearms, the crossbow, iron and steel weapons, and the horse. The Spanish were further aided in their conquest by the Old World diseases (primarily smallpox) they brought with them, to which the natives had no immunity, and which became pandemic, killing large portions of the native population. Finally, the Spanish enlisted the help of various subject peoples in the Aztec Empire who saw the Spanish as a means to free themselves from Aztec rule, mainly the Tlaxcalans.
However, events in the late 18th and early 19th centuries may be best summed as to have caused the fight against the Spanish. The Criollos, or whites born in the Americas rather than in Spain, had been mistreated, while indigenous peoples and mestizos usually lived in dire poverty. Spain's debility at the start of the Napoleonic Wars, and an inability to control itself during its French occupation allowed several rebels to take advantage of the situation. Thus, leaders such as Simón Bolívar, José de San Martín and Antonio José de Sucre started revolutions throughout Latin America to attain independence. Mexico's War of Independence passed in a likewise manner and was acted out by founding father figures such as the priests Miguel Hidalgo and José María Morelos and the generals Vicente Guerrero, Guadalupe Victoria, and Agustín de Iturbide.
The war for independence lasted eleven years until the troops of the liberating army entered Mexico City in 1821. Thus although independence from Spain was first proclaimed in 1810, it was not formalized until 1821, under the Treaty of Córdoba, which was signed on september 16 in Córdoba, Veracruz, by the Spanish viceroy Juan de O'Donojú and Agustín de Iturbide, ratifying the Plan de Iguala.
In 1821 Agustín de Iturbide, a former Spanish general who switched sides to fight for Mexican independence, proclaimed himself emperor – officially as a temporary measure until a member of European royalty could be persuaded to become monarch of Mexico (see Mexican Empire for more information). A revolt against Iturbide in 1823 established the United Mexican States. In 1824 Guadalupe Victoria became the first president of the new country; his given name was actually Félix Fernández but he chose his new name for symbolic significance: Guadalupe to give thanks for the protection of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and Victoria, which means Victory.
In May 1822, using military riots and pressures, Iturbide had taken the power and designated himself Emperor, initiating his government in fight with the Congress. Later he dissolved Congress and ordered opposing deputies to jail.
Several insurrections arose in the provinces and were later crushed by the army. Veracruz was spared due to an agreement between Antonio López de Santa Anna and the rebel general Echávarri.
By agreement of both heads the Plan de Casa Mata was proclaimed on February 1, 1823. This plan did not recognize the Empire and requested the meeting of a new Constituent Congress. The insurrectionists sent their proposal to the provincial delegations and requested their adhesion to the plan. In the course of only six weeks the Plan de Casa Mata had arrived at remote places, like Texas, and almost all the provinces had been united to the plan.
The Texan struggle for independence marked the beginning of a conflict with the modern U.S. state of Texas, and its independence from Mexico and the state of Coahuila y Tejas. Battles associated with the conflict with Texas include the Alamo, where federal troops led by Antonio López de Santa Anna defeated the Texans, and the Battle of San Jacinto, which allowed secession to take place.
Revolts erupted throughout several states after Santa Anna’s rise to power. The revolution in Texas began in Gonzales, Texas, when Santa Anna ordered troops to go there and disarm the militia. The war leaned heavily in favor of the rebels after they had won the Battle of Gonzales, captured the fort La Bahía, and successfully captured San Antonio (commonly called Béxar at the time). The war ended in 1836 at the Battle of San Jacinto (about 20 miles east of modern day Houston) where General Sam Houston led the Texas army to victory over a portion of the Mexican Army led by Santa Anna, who was captured shortly after the battle. The conclusion of the war resulted in the creation of the Republic of Texas, a nation that teetered between collapse and invasion from Mexico until it was annexed by the United States of America in 1845.
The dominant figure of the second quarter of 19th century Mexico was the dictator Antonio López de Santa Anna. During this period, many of the territories in the north were lost to the United States. Santa Anna was the nation's leader during the conflict with Texas, which declared itself independent in 1836, and during the Mexican-American War (1846-48). One of the memorable battles of the U.S. invasion of 1847 was when a group of young Military College cadets (now considered national heroes) fought to the death against a large army of experienced soldiers in the Battle of Chapultepec (September 13, 1847). Ever since this war many Mexicans have resented the loss of much territory, some by means of coercion, and more territory sold cheaply by the dictator Santa Anna (allegedly) for personal profit.
After the declaration of war, U.S. forces invaded Mexican territory on several fronts. In the Pacific, the U.S. Navy sent John D. Sloat to occupy California and claim it for the U.S. because of concerns that Britain might also attempt to occupy the area. He linked up with Anglo colonists in Northern California controlled by the U.S. Army. Meanwhile, U.S. army troops under Stephen W. Kearny occupied Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Kearny led a small force to California where, after some initial reverses, he united with naval reinforcements under Robert F. Stockton to occupy San Diego and Los Angeles.
The main force led by Taylor continued across the Rio Grande, winning the Battle of Monterrey in September 1846. President Antonio López de Santa Anna personally marched north to fight Taylor but was defeated at the battle of Buena Vista on February 22, 1847. Meanwhile, rather than reinforce Taylor's army for a continued advance, President Polk sent a second army under U.S. general Winfield Scott in March, which was transported to the port of Veracruz by sea, to begin an invasion of the country's heartland. Scott won the Siege of Veracruz and marched toward Mexico City, winning the battles of Cerro Gordo and Chapultepec and occupying the capital.
The Treaty of Cahuenga, signed on January 13, 1847, ended the fighting in California. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed on February 2, 1848, ended the war and gave the USA undisputed control of Texas as well as California, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Wyoming. In return, Mexico received $18,250,000 or the equivalent of $627,482,629 in today's dollars, total for the cost of the war.
The Maya revolt reached its peak of success in the spring of 1848 by driving the Europeans from all the Yucatán Peninsula, with the exception of the walled cities of Campeche and Mérida and a stronghold between the road from Mérida and Sisal.
The Yucatecan governor Miguel Barbachano had prepared a decree for the evacuation of Mérida, but was apparently delayed in publishing it by the lack of suitable paper in the besieged capital. The decree became unnecessary when the republican troops suddenly broke the siege and took the offensive with major advances. The majority of the Maya troops, not realizing the unique strategic advantage of their situation, had left the lines to plant their crops, planning to return after planting.
Yucatán had considered itself an independent nation, but during the crisis of the revolt had offered sovereignty to any nation that would aid in defeating the Indians. The Mexican government was in a rare position of being cash rich from payment by the United States under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo for the territory taken in the Mexican-American War, and accepted Yucatán's offer. Yucatán was officially reunited with Mexico on 17 August, 1848. European Yucateco forces rallied, aided by fresh guns, money, and troops from Mexico, and pushed back the Maya from more than half of the state.
In the 1850s a stalemate developed, with the Yucatecan government in control of the north-west, and the Maya in control of the south-east, with a sparsely populated jungle frontier in between.
In 1850, the Maya of the south east were inspired to continue the struggle by the apparition of the "Talking Cross". This apparition, believed to be a way in which God communicated with the Maya, dictated that the War continue. Chan Santa Cruz (Small Holy Cross) became the religious and political center of the Maya resistance and the rebellion came to be infused with religious significance. Chan Santa Cruz also became the name of the largest of the independent Maya states, as well as the name of the capital town. The followers of the Cross were known as "Cruzob".
The government of Yucatán first declared the war over in 1855, but hopes for peace were premature. There were regular skirmishes, and occasional deadly major assaults into each other's territory, by both sides. The United Kingdom recognized the Chan Santa Cruz Maya as a de facto independent nation, in part because of the major trade between Chan Santa Cruz and British Honduras.
Negotiations in 1883 led to a treaty signed on 11 January, 1884 in Belize City by a Chan Santa Cruz general and the vice-Governor of Yucatán recognizing Mexican sovereignty over Chan Santa Cruz in exchange for Mexican recognition of Chan Santa Cruz leader Crescencio Poot as "Governor" of the "State" of Chan Santa Cruz, but the following year there was a coup d'état in Chan Santa Cruz, and the treaty was declared cancelled.
Events leading to conflict against the French in Mexico include debts Mexico owed to powerful European nations, especially Spain, Great Britain, and France. These nations supported European influence in Mexico as an economic, as well as a militaristic advantage. The United States had been engaged in its civil war and was therefore not able to attest to its Monroe Doctrine, in which such European intervention would be met by U.S. forces.
The presidential terms of Benito Juárez (1858-71) were interrupted by the Habsburg monarchy's rule of Mexico (1864-67). Conservatives tried to institute a monarchy when they helped to bring to Mexico an archduke from the Royal House of Austria, known as Maximilian of Habsburg (wife Carlota of Habsburg) with the military support of France, which was interested in exploiting the rich mines in the north-west of the country.
Although the French, then considered one of the most efficient armies of the world, suffered an initial defeat in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862 (now commemorated as the Cinco de Mayo holiday) they eventually defeated loyalist government forces led by General Ignacio Zaragoza and enthroned Maximilian as Emperor of Mexico. Maximilian of Habsburg favored the establishment of a limited monarchy sharing powers with a democratically elected congress. This was too liberal to please the Conservatives, while the liberals refused to accept a monarch, leaving Maximilian with few enthusiastic allies within Mexico. Maximilian was eventually captured and executed on the Cerro de las Campanas, Querétaro, by the forces loyal to President Benito Juárez, who kept the federal government functioning during the French intervention that put Maximilian in power. In 1867, the republic was restored, and a new constitution was written that, amongst other things, confiscated the vast landholdings of the Catholic church (which had been acting as landlord over half the country), established civil marriages and forbade the participation of priests in politics (separation of Church and State).
After the victory, there was resentment by Conservatives against President Juárez (who they thought concentrated too much power and wanted to be re-elected) so one of the army's generals, named Porfirio Díaz, rebelled against the government with the proclamation of the Plan de Tuxtepec in 1876.
Zaragoza is remembered chiefly as the winner of the Battle of Puebla. When the French forces of Napoleon III invaded, Zaragoza fought them, first engaging the French at Acultzingo on April 28, 1862, where he was forced to withdraw. Zaragoza understood the favorable defensive position outside of the city of Puebla, where, with a force that was smaller and not as well equipped as the French, he beat back repeated French assaults on May 5. General Zaragoza and his command of 4,000 men defeated 8,000 men of Napoleon III's army at Puebla. This defeat was a great morale booster for the liberal Mexican army in the civil war that engulfed the country. The French then retreated to Orizaba.
Benito Juárez began his military career as a liberal during the War of the Reform. He had opposed the French invasion at its start in 1861. Juárez later led opposition against the French puppet ruler, Maximilian I of Mexico, and refused a position of prime minister. Juárez was reinstated as president in 1867.
The Mexican Revolution came about as a protest against the tyrannic and aging Porfirio Díaz, and to quell social and economic injustices as found under his regime.
In 1910 the 80-year-old Díaz decided to hold an election to serve another term as president. He thought he had long since eliminated any serious opposition at home; however, Francisco I. Madero, an academic from a rich family, decided to run against him and quickly gathered popular support, despite Díaz's putting Madero in jail.
When the official election results were announced, it was declared that Díaz had won reelection almost unanimously, with Madero receiving only a few hundred votes in the entire country. This fraud by the Porfiriato was too blatant for the public to swallow, and riots broke out. Madero prepared a document known as the Plan de San Luis Potosí, in which he called the people to take their weapons and fight against the government of Porfirio Díaz on November 20, 1910.
The Plan of San Luis Potosí started what is known as the Mexican Revolution. Madero was incarcerated in San Antonio, Texas, in the United States, but his plan took effect in spite of him being in jail. The Federal Army was defeated by the revolutionary forces which were led by, amongst others, Emiliano Zapata in the south, Pancho Villa and Pascual Orozco in the north, and Venustiano Carranza. Porfirio Díaz resigned in 1911 for the "sake of the peace of the nation" and went to exile in France, where he died in 1915.
The revolutionary leaders had many different objectives; revolutionary figures varied from liberals such as Madero to radicals such as Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa. As a consequence, it proved very difficult to reach agreement on how to organize the government that emanated from the triumphant revolutionary groups. The result of this was a struggle for the control of the government in a conflict that lasted more than twenty years. This period of struggle is usually referred to as part of the Mexican Revolution, although it might also be looked on as a civil war. Presidents Francisco I. Madero (1911), Venustiano Carranza (1920), and former revolutionary leaders Emiliano Zapata (1919) and Pancho Villa (1923) were assassinated during this time, amongst many others.
Following the resignation of Díaz and a brief reactionary interlude, Madero was elected President in 1911. He was ousted and killed in 1913 by the usurper Victoriano Huerta, following which many of the revolutionary armies again took up arms. Venustiano Carranza, a former revolutionary general who became one of the several presidents during this turbulent period, convened a constitutional convention that promulgated a new Constitution on February 5, 1917. The Constitution of 1917 remains in force to date.
In 1920, Álvaro Obregón became president. He accommodated all elements of Mexican society except the most reactionary clergy and landlords, and successfully catalyzed social liberalization, particularly in curbing the role of the Catholic Church, improving education and taking steps toward instituting women's civil rights.
Today, references to "La Adelita" are made as a symbol of pride among Mexican women. La Adelita was the title of one of the most famous corridos (folk songs) to come out of the Revolution, in which an unnamed revolutionary sang of his undying love for the soldadera Adelita.
With the Revolution still being fought across the country, Mexico never declared war during the First World War. In addition to the internal conflict of the Revolution, it also experienced external pressures during the war, the most notable incidents being the Tampico Affair, the Pancho Villa Expedition, and the Zimmermann Telegram)
Tensions with the United States resulted in direct military conflict in several instances of varying severity. In addition, while Mexico rejected Germany's overtures to join in war on the United States, a telegram intercepted by the United Kingdom in 1917 hastened U.S. entry into World War I.
On April 9 1914, officials in the port of Tampico, Tamaulipas, arrested a group of U.S. sailors — including, crucially, at least one taken from on board a ship's boat flying the U.S. flag, and thus from U.S. territory. Mexico's failure to apologize in the terms demanded led to the U.S. navy's bombardment of the port of Veracruz and the occupation of that city for seven months.
In 1916, Pancho Villa crossed the U.S. border and attacked the town of Columbus, New Mexico; this was the sole invasion by a foreign armed corps of the continental U.S. in the 20th century. This raid led the U.S. to send a force under General John Pershing into Mexico, which spent 11 months unsuccessfully chasing him in the punitive Pancho Villa Expedition (March 1916 – February 1917).
The Zimmermann Telegram affair of January 1917, while it did not lead to direct U.S. intervention, also took place against the backdrop of the Constitutional Convention and exacerbated tensions between the USA and Mexico.
The struggle between church and state in Mexico broke out in armed conflict during the Cristero War (also known as the Cristiada) of 1926 to 1929. This was a popular uprising against the anti-clerical provisions of the Constitution of 1917. The Cristero War was brought about in response to the anticlerical laws of Plutarco Elías Calles.
After a period of peaceful resistance, a number of skirmishes took place in 1926. The formal rebellion began on January 1, 1927 with the rebels calling themselves Cristeros because they felt they were fighting for Christ himself. Just as the Cristeros began to hold their own against the federal forces, the rebellion was ended by diplomatic means, in large part due to the efforts of U.S. Ambassador Dwight Whitney Morrow.
The legacy of the Cristero War includes that of martyrdom, as several Cristeros, such as José Sánchez del Río and the Blessed Miguel Pro, were considered heroes for sacrificing their lives for the sake of the church.
Mexico declared war on the Axis Powers in support of the Allies on May 22 1942, following losses of oil ships in the Gulf to German submarine attacks. Although most American countries eventually entered the war on the Allies' side, Mexico and Brazil were the only Latin American nations that sent troops to fight overseas during World War II.
Perhaps the most famous fighting unit in the Mexican military was the Escuadrón 201, also known as the Aztec Eagles. This group consisted of more than 300 volunteers, where they had trained in the United States to fight against Japan, and also as the first Mexican military unit trained for overseas combat.
Recently, controversy has also sparked due to Mexico's involvement of sending troops to United Nations forces.
In recent times, the Mexican military has largely participated in efforts against drug trafficking. The Operaciones contra el narcotrafico (Operations against drug trafficking), for example, describes its purpose in regards to "the performance of the Mexican Army and Air Force in the permanent campaign against the drug trafficking is sustained properly in the faculties that the Executive of the Nation grants to him, the 89 Art. Fracc. VI of the Constitution of the Mexican United States, when indicating that it is faculty of the President of the Republic to have the totality of the permanent Armed Forces, that is of the terrestrial Army, Navy military and the Air Force for the inner and outer security of the federation."