Strategy, Security, and Spies: Mexico and the U.S. as Allies in World War II

By Kolb, Charles C. | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), Fall 1999 | Go to article overview

Strategy, Security, and Spies: Mexico and the U.S. as Allies in World War II


Kolb, Charles C., Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


Strategy, Security, and Spies: Mexico and the U.S. as Allies in World War II. Maria Emilia Paz. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997.

The Monroe Doctrine of 1823, John ("Black Jack") Pershing's attempt to capture Francisco ("Pancho") Villa, the infamous Zimmerman telegram of the First World War, and the Mexican government's expropriation of Anglo-Dutch-American oil companies' properties in 1938 are among the significant international events serving as precursors to the era documented in this volume. Likewise, Franklin Delano Roosevelt's concept of the Good Neighbor Policy; and the emerging threat of the Axis powers in Europe, northeast Africa, the Far East, and in Latin America, provide the dynamic historic backdrop for this compelling analysis by Maria Emilia Paz.

As the author notes, her research focuses on the security relations between Mexico and the United States from 1940 through 1945 and is not intended to be a comprehensive account of bilateral interactions during the Second World War. In terms of security arrangements, it was a period of intra- and inter-multinational military and diplomatic maneuverings, clandestine communications, propaganda, intelligence and counterintelligence operations, treason, sabotage, and other elements worthy of any film noir (The Third Man, for example). In the United States, the "war hysteria" of the early 1940s, the fall of France, the ongoing Battle of Britain, and a fear of Japanese attacks on American Pacific coast military and industrial targets set the psychological stage.

By 1940, the United States had begun to change its strategic policies toward Latin America, and in particular to its nearest neighbor, Mexico, as a result of external events during the period 1936-38-namely, the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, the Spanish Civil War, the escalation of the Sino-Japanese War, Nazi Germany's rearmament, and the "invasions" of Austria and Czechoslovakia. Until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, Mexico's attitude toward the United States on matters of hemispheric security was, as Paz states, "noncommittal," and Mexico openly exported.oil and other raw materials to both the United States and Japan. The "Day of Infamy" changed dramatically these relationships particularly on political, economic, and military issues.

Strategy, Security, and Spies is topically rather than chronologically organized and the focus of the book is on the pre-war and early years, 1940-43. The author contends correctly that Mexican historians have largely ignored the 1940s for ideological reasons associated with the "end" of the Mexican Revolution (see Brenner's 1943 classic [1]). Paz also asserts that scholars of the history of the United States have neglected this era probably because World War II and events in Europe and the Far East are appealing to researchers.

Paz summarizes briefly the political, economic, and psychological parameters of that era, the concern of the United States about the defense of the Panama Canal, the fear of Nazi and Japanese penetration into Latin America, and the disposition of French and Dutch colonies and warships in the Western Hemisphere. The U.S. War Department's RAINBOW military plans had been developed in 1919 and frequently revised since then, and included "Orange," devised to counter the Japanese, as well as "Green"a concept calling for the occupation of Mexico by U.S. forces because of an unstable Mexican political system (47-48). Paz makes clear the heavy Japanese involvement in the Mexican oil industry from 1938 to 1941.

After December 7, 1941, a new phase opened on bilateral hemispheric defense, resulting in the formation of the U.S.-Mexican Defense Command (modeled on the extant U.S.-Canadian plan). However, this command remained weak because of a failure by Washington politicians and the U. …

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