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Pancho Villa's role in World War I


Bye-bye horses. Here come the tanks.
Unfortunately, during the last century, there were a lot of wars in which many people were slaughtered and killed. Luckily for us, none of these wars were fought on American soil. Millions of Americans died fighting in these wars but America itself was untouched by the bombs and destruction that left other parts of the world totally devastated. Although it hasn't happened yet, at the beginning of the last century, we came very close. This was a significant incident not only because it was an attack upon our nation, but because it may also have lead us into the first great war of the century, World War I

In the wee hours of the morning of March 9, 1916, 464 Mexicans crossed the border 3 miles into the United States and launched a surprise attack on the sleepy town of Columbus, New Mexico. The army was led by Pancho Villa, a Mexican revolutionary whose followers were called "Villistas." The Villistas rampaged through town, torching businesses and houses, and harassing people. The raid lasted until just after daylight when Villa's men retreated back into Mexico.

Villista bullets are still visible inside this original hotel building.
The Villa attack made instant headlines across the US. Newspapers and important businessmen were demanding that the president invade Mexico. The president decided instead to send 5000 men to hunt down Pancho Villa. Eleven months later the 5000 men left unable to locate Villa (they had walked past his cave hideout once). Though his attack on Columbus may have permanently weakened his power, it made a legend out of Pancho Villa on both sides of the border. He's alternately hated and loved, admired and despised. To some, he was an outlaw bandit (the equivalent to what we term a "terrorist" today). To others, he was an inspiring hero for the Mexican masses for daring to challenge the powerful "gringos."

The old railroad station which was attacked is now the town museum.
To this day, no one knows for sure why Pancho Villa decided to invade America, but there are a lot of opinions. According to some people the attack was supported by American businessmen. Apparently these businesses had a lot to gain if the US had invaded Mexico. Other people claim that Germany was responsible. World War I was going on, and the US and Germany were fighting against each other in Europe. Some people thought that Pancho Villa had been convinced by the Germans to attack. The most believable reason is the simplest. If the US had invaded Mexico, it would have united the Mexican people. Historians suggest that this is what Pancho Villa intended. He wanted to be the ruler of Mexico because he thought its current leaders were weak, and doing a bad job. If the country was at war and he emerged as a strong leader, then the people, united in war, would want him to be the new ruler.

All of this however might have gone away unremembered. Pancho Villa was never captured, but war between the two nations was avoided. It would have been part of the interesting history between Mexico and America. Would have, were it not for a telegram intercepted by the British. In the telegram, the Germans offered to support Mexico if they went to war against the US. This telegram is one of the reasons that America decided to enter into World War I.


Please email me at: irene@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Stephanie - Speak your mind and go to prison?
Neda - "Red Emma": Madwoman or inspiration?