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Mexico Table of Contents


The Mexican Military in World War II

General Manuel Ávila Camacho, who came to office in 1940 and was the last general elected president of Mexico, continued Cárdenas's and Obregón's efforts to institutionalize the army and remove the military from politics. In February 1942, soon after the Japanese attack on United States forces at Pearl Harbor, the Joint Mexican-United States Commission on Continental Defense was established. The commission coordinated planning for the defense of Mexico and the adjacent southwestern United States. The sinking of two Mexican tankers in the Gulf of Mexico by German submarines provoked Ávila Camacho to declare war on the Axis powers in May 1942. In response to the Mexican government's expressed desire to fight the Japanese, a Mexican air squadron was readied for duty in the Pacific theater. After a year's training in the United States, Squadron 201 of the Mexican Expeditionary Air Force arrived in the Philippines in April 1945. Flying P-47 Thunderbolt fighters, the Mexican pilots participated in bombing and strafing runs to support ground forces and in long-range reconnaissance missions over Taiwan. Of thirty-two pilots in the expeditionary squadron, seven were killed.

The immediate postwar years were a peak period of United States influence on the Mexican armed forces. The Mexican military reorganized, using the United States armed forces as a model. The military training program incorporated United States army field manuals. United States arms transferred to Mexico just after World War II were the country's last major acquisitions of military hardware for a period of three decades, however. In the mid-1970s, the government accepted the need for a larger, modernized army because of growing concerns over potential threats to its oil resources.

The Military in Civilian Politics

Despite the military's prominent role in the history of the country, the Mexican armed forces have steadily retreated from direct involvement in political matters since the 1940s. The typical Mexican officer is deliberately removed from political issues, and there has been a decline in military representation in government offices outside the armed services. Since World War II, the number of persons with military backgrounds serving in the cabinet, subcabinet, state governorships, and in the bureaucracy has steadily declined.

Mexican political observer Adolfo Aguilar Zinser believes there is little reason to expect the officer corps to change its deeply rooted loyalty to civil authority. Serious domestic turmoil might cause a conservative middle class and business interests to pressure the army to intervene in the government. As long as the military remains assured of the civilian leadership's ability to deal with any crisis threatening the established system, however, the military is unlikely to be drawn into political affairs.

Data as of June 1996