One hundred years ago next month, President Woodrow Wilson went before Congress and asked for a declaration of war against Imperial Germany. Six months earlier he campaigned for reelection by claiming he kept the country out of war. What had changed?
The first factor was Germany’s resumption of submarine warfare in the Atlantic. This threatened U.S. shipping to Europe, especially to Britain which faced isolation and potential starvation. A second factor was a revolution in Russia that forced the ouster of its czarist regime and ended its war with Germany. This permitted German armies to be sent to the Western front where French and British forces had suffered massive casualties in nearly three years of warfare.
A third and perhaps decisive factor in Wilson’s call for war was discovery of a secret German plan to enlist Mexico in its war effort by pledging to support Mexico’s hope to recover territories lost to the United States in the Mexican American War of 1848. This large territory included New Mexico, Arizona and California. Knowledge of the German plot caused Wilson to decide that Europe’s war vitally affected the U.S. homeland.
Anti-Americanism was endemic in Mexico in 1917. In that year, a revolution overthrew an entrenched system that included the aristocracy and Roman Catholic Church. Since then, Mexico has been governed by a constitutional system that includes a president limited to one six-year term, a legislature and courts. In reality, Mexican presidents have limited powers to act, and corruption in the society is massive by American standards. The current president, Enrique Pena Nieto, lacks public support at home, and he is challenged by a charismatic anti-American opposition leader, Andres Manuel Lopez…