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The Military Phase of the Revolution, 1910-17

Opposition to Díaz grew during the later years of Díaz's rule, and liberal reformers rose against Díaz in 1910, following yet another fraudulent reelection. Using the United States as a base of operations, the liberal democratic opposition forces laid siege to the federal garrison at Ciudad Juárez. Díaz's liberal presidential opponent, Francisco I. Madero, issued a manifesto in San Antonio, Texas, declaring himself provisional president and creating the Army of Liberation, which later became the Constitutionalist Army (see The Revolution, 1910-20, ch. 1).

Regional caudillos, some of whom were little more than bandits, soon joined the movement. Rebels led by Pascual Orozco and Francisco (Pancho) Villa, armed with Winchester rifles smuggled from the United States, quickly gained the advantage over federal troops, who depended on long supply lines from the capital. As rebel successes mounted, government troops began deserting. Under pressure, Díaz resigned in 1911 and fled to exile in France.

The Madero government, which succeeded Díaz, was forced to deal with uprisings throughout the country. Rebel military leaders (most notably Orozco) were dissatisfied with the rewards that the new Madero government offered them for defeating the dictatorship. A coup ousted Madero in 1913 and set the Mexican Revolution on a bloody course that would last for the next four years.

Various rival factions struggled for supremacy in confused fighting. The principal leaders were Villa, Orozco, Emiliano Zapata, Venustiano Carranza, and Álvaro Obregón. Villa deliberately provoked United States intervention by launching cross-border raids. A 7,000-man expeditionary force under United States General John J. "Blackjack" Pershing was dispatched in 1916 but failed to capture Villa. In spite of the chaotic conditions, the military phase of the Mexican Revolution provided the Mexican armed forces with a unifying ideology. This new ideology stressed the military's peasant origins and established the military as the defender of the popular will. Drawing on this heritage, the modern Mexican military identifies itself as the "silent and anonymous guardian" that has provided the security essential to the subsequent development of the nation.

Professionalization of the Armed Forces, 1920-46

The first serious efforts at depoliticizing and professionalizing the military began in 1920 under the government of Obregón, himself a general who had been elected president with the support of the old revolutionary chiefs. Obregón saw the need to consolidate his political position by diminishing the power and influence of the regional caudillos. Military uprisings in 1923, 1927, and 1929 resulted in purges of large numbers of rebellious generals. The army was reduced by two-thirds, to 14,000 officers and 70,000 troops in 1921. The demobilization principally dismantled the excessive number of cavalry regiments. Pay and living conditions of the enlisted ranks were improved, and the military's share of the national budget was slashed from 61 percent in 1921 to 25 percent by 1926. Many officers and men were weeded out by new laws on competitive promotion and mandatory retirement ages. Nevertheless, unqualified revolutionary-era generals continued to be carried on the rolls. The Organic Law of 1926 provided the legal base for the army, defined its missions, and established regulations and formal procedures.

General Plutarco Elías Calles (president, 1924-28) continued Obregón's efforts to reduce the political influence of the military and ensure the army's loyalty to the central government. Calles's policies were carried out by General Joaquín Amaro, the secretary of war and navy. Amaro promoted education of officers and enlisted men in the belief that it would increase loyalty and obedience to civilian authorities. Officers were sent for professional training in the United States and Western Europe. The curriculum of the Heroic Military College, founded in 1823, was reformed, and the Superior War College, a command and general staff college for promising officers, was created. Schools providing specialized training in the various service branches also were established (see Education and Training, this ch.).

General Lázaro Cárdenas, who assumed the presidency in 1934, divided the Secretariat of War and the Navy into two autonomous defense ministries, the Secretariat of National Defense (Secretaría de Defensa Nacional), which controlled the army and air force, and the Secretariat of the Navy (Secretaría de Marina Armada). As the possibility of Mexican involvement in World War II increased, Cárdenas drafted the Law of National Military Service, which established, through a lottery system, compulsory basic military training for eighteen-year-old males.

Data as of June 1996

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Mexico Table of Contents