"Avoid the Use of the Word Intervention"

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at osu.edu
Sun Dec 15 23:35:45 MST 2002

"Avoid the Use of the Word Intervention": Wilson and Lansing on the
U.S. Invasion of Mexico

In 1916, Francisco Villa, leader of the peasant uprisings in northern
Mexico, raided Columbus, New Mexico, in an attempt to expose Mexican
government collaboration with the United States [Villa had once been
considered a friend of Americans, a number of whom had joined his
army, but the U.S. government had recognized the legitimacy of
Carranza's government, given it aid, and permitted to transport
Carranzistas by U.S. rail]. President Woodrow Wilson responded by
ordering an invasion of Mexico. Five years after the beginning of the
Mexican Revolution, which was characterized by hope for social change
as well as death, hunger, and violence, many Mexicans did not welcome
further involvement by the U.S. In the following correspondence,
Secretary of State Robert Lansing and President Wilson described the
need to carefully frame the invasion as a defense of U.S. borders
rather than interference in the Mexican Revolution. The resulting
invasion, led by General John Pershing, was a total fiasco. It failed
to locate Villa and increased anti-U.S. sentiment and Mexican
nationalist resolve.


 From Robert Lansing, with Enclosure

Personal and Confidential:

Washington June 21, 1916.

My dear Mr. President:

As there appears to be an increasing probability that the Mexican
situation may develop into a state of war I desire to make a
suggestion for your consideration. It seems to me that we should
avoid the use of the word "Intervention" and deny that any invasion
of Mexico is for the sake of intervention.

There are several reasons why this appears to me expedient:

First. We have all along denied any purpose to interfere in the
internal affairs of Mexico and the St. Louis platform declares
against it. Intervention conveys the idea of such interference.

Second. Intervention would be humiliating to many Mexicans whose
pride and sense of national honor would not resent severe terms of
peace in case of being defeated in a war.

Third. American intervention in Mexico is extremely distasteful to
all Latin America and might have a very bad effect upon our
Pan-American program.

Fourth. Intervention, which suggests a definite purpose to "clean up"
the country, would bind us to certain accomplishments which
circumstances might make extremely difficult or inadvisable, and, on
the other hand, it would impose conditions which might be found to be
serious restraints upon us as the situation develops.

Fifth. Intervention also implies that the war would be made primarily
in the interest of the Mexican people, while the fact is it would be
a war forced on us by the Mexican Government, and, if we term it
intervention, we will have considerable difficulty in explaining why
we had not intervened before but waited until attacked.

It seems to me that the real attitude is that the de facto Government
having attacked our forces engaged in a rightful enterprise or
invaded our borders (as the case may be) we had no recourse but to
defend ourselves and to do so it has become necessary to prevent
future attacks by forcing the Mexican Government to perform its
obligations. That is, it is simply a state of international war
without purpose on our part other than to end the conditions which
menace our national peace and the safety of our citizens, and that it
is not intervention with all that that word implies.

I offer the foregoing suggestion, because I feel that we should have
constantly in view the attitude we intend to take if worse comes to
worse, so that we may regulate our present policy and future
correspondence with Mexico and other American Republics with that

In case this suggestion meets with your approval I further suggest
that we send to each diplomatic representative of a Latin American
Republic in Washington a communication stating briefly our attitude
and denying any intention to intervene. I enclose a draft of such a
note. If this is to be done at all, it seems to me that it should be
done at once, otherwise we will lose the chief benefit, namely, a
right understanding by Latin America at the very outset.

Faithfully yours, Robert Lansing

TLS (SDR, RG 59, 812.00/l8533A, DNA).




June 21, 1916.

I enclose for your information a copy of this Government's note of
June 20th to the Secretary of Foreign Relations of the de facto
Government of Mexico on the subject of the presence of American
troops in Mexican territory. This communication states clearly the
critical relations existing between this Government and the de facto
Government of Mexico and the causes which have led up to the present

Should this situation eventuate into hostilities, which this
Government would deeply regret and will use every honorable effort to
avoid, I take this opportunity to inform you that this Government
would have for its object not intervention in Mexican affairs, with
all the regrettable consequences which might result from such a
policy, but the defense of American territory from further invasion
by bands of armed Mexicans, protection of American citizens and
property along the boundary from outrages committed by such bandits,
and the prevention of future depredations, by force of arms against
the marauders infesting this region and against a Government which is
encouraging and aiding them in their activities. Hostilities, in
short, would be simply a state of international war without purpose
on the part of the United States other than to end the conditions
which menace our national peace and the safety of our citizens.

T MS (SDR, RG 59, 8I2.00/I8533A, DNA).


To Robert Lansing

The White House. 21 June, 1916.

My dear Mr. Secretary,

I agree to all of this. I was myself about to say something to you to
the same effect, though I had not thought of making an occasion of
the sending of copies of our note to Mexico to the Latin American
representatives but had thought to wait until hostilities were
actually forced upon us. As I write this "extras" of the evening
paper are being cried on the Avenue which, if true, mean that
hostilities have begun. At any rate, my doubt upon that point (the
time for the notification you suggest) is so slight that I beg that
you will carry out the plan you suggest at once.

Faithfully Yours, W. W.

Source: Arthur S. Link, ed., The Papers of Woodrow Wilson (Princeton,
New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1981), 275-277.

See Also:

The United States and the Mexican Revolution: "A Danger for All Latin
American Countries," Letters from Venustiano Carranza [@
John Reed's "What About Mexico?": The United States and the Mexican
Revolution [@ <http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/4948/>]



* Calendar of Events in Columbus:
* Anti-War Activist Resources: <http://www.osu.edu/students/sif/activist.html>
* Student International Forum: <http://www.osu.edu/students/sif/>
* Committee for Justice in Palestine: <http://www.osu.edu/students/CJP/>

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