Magazine article The Spectator

Joint Heroes Who Only Met Once

Magazine article The Spectator

Joint Heroes Who Only Met Once

Article excerpt

Simon Courtauld VILLA AND ZAPATA by Frank McLynn Cape, L20, pp. 405

The Mexican Revolution (1910-20) was not like others: it did not derive from defeat in war, and it did not result in a great socio-economic upheaval. But, like most prolonged revolutions, it succeeded in consuming its own. Three of Mexico's first four revolutionary presidents were assassinated; one of them (Venustiano Carranza) was complicit in the death of Emiliano Zapata, another (Alvaro Obregon) was responsible for the murder of Pancho Villa.

Frank McLynn is surely right to have decided that a biography of the revolution is best written through the lives of its two heroes, whose names have lived on while those of its first four presidents are, at best, difficult to recall. (Today the Zapatista Army of National Liberation controls parts of Chiapas.) He has produced an admirably clear account of the chaos of the revolution, its rivalries and bloody struggles, and particularly of those appalling 18 months of anarchy and civil war after Victoriano Huerta had been forced into exile. It was during this time, at the end of 1914, that Villa and Zapata had their one meeting, in Mexico City, which was supposed to lead to an alliance between north and south. But it never got off the ground.

Almost the only thing they had in common was their devotion to women or, rather, to womanising. Both of them contracted bogus 'marriages' with a variety of mistresses and sired numerous children. The youngest of Villa's sons, born shortly after he was shot dead (while visiting a mistress), would be in his seventies today. But there was no meeting of minds between the Centaur of the North and the Attila of the South over revolutionary strategy. Part of the problem was that Villa was always happier in his native Chihuahua, and Zapata never looked beyond his home state of Morelos. From Mexico City the two together could probably have delivered a knockout blow to Carranza, then lurking in Veracruz, but instead Villa headed north, while Zapata was concerned, in McLynn's words, only with 'achieving peasant Utopia in his beloved Morelos'.

Unlike the other major participants, Zapata was a true revolutionary, but he had no national vision. Villa was not a socialist: land reform to him meant taking it from the old hacendados and giving it to his followers. …

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