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Myths of Demilitarization in Postrevolutionary Mexico, 1920-1960

Thomas G. Rath

Publication Year: 2013

Exposing the power of the Mexican army At the end of the Mexican Revolution in 1920, Mexico’s large, rebellious army dominated national politics. By the 1940s, Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was led by a civilian president and claimed to have depoliticized the army and achieved the bloodless pacification of the Mexican countryside through land reform, schooling, and ###indigenismo#. However, historian Thomas G. Rath argues, Mexico’s celebrated demilitarization was more protracted, conflict-ridden, and incomplete than most accounts assume. Civilian governments deployed troops as a police force, often aimed at political suppression, while officers meddled in provincial politics, engaged in corruption, and crafted official history, all against a backdrop of sustained popular protest and debate. Using newly available materials from military, intelligence, and diplomatic archives, Rath weaves together an analysis of national and regional politics, military education, conscription, veteran policy, and popular protest. In doing so, he challenges dominant interpretations of successful, top-down demilitarization and questions the image of the post-1940 PRI regime as strong, stable, and legitimate. Rath also shows how the army’s suppression of students and guerrillas in the 1960s and 1970s, and the more recent militarization of policing, have long roots in Mexican history. Thomas Rath is lecturer in the History of Latin America, University College London.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press


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pp. C-C

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

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pp. 1-12

On March 10, 1957, twenty soldiers drove into Cuauxocota, a small village in the foothills of the Sierra Norte de Puebla. After threatening to burn the village to the ground, the soldiers rounded up seventeen men, beating a few up in the process, and drove them to the jail in Teziutlán, the main town of the region. The lands around Cuauxocota were part of the numerous properties...

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CHAPTER ONE: Antimilitarism and Revolution in Mexico

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pp. 13-30

During the Mexican Revolution, it was risky to tell jokes about military officers. Nevertheless, at night in Mexico City’s cabarets and vaudeville theatres some did. Along with jibes about military leaders’ uncouthness and vanity, a particularly reliable theme was officers’ hypocritical embrace of antimilitarism— their tendency to repeat an elevated liberal democratic rhetoric that disavowed military influence, all the while ruthlessly pursuing political ...

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CHAPTER TWO: Cardenismo, Revolutionary Citizenship, and the Redefinition of Mexican Militarism, 1934–1940

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pp. 31-53

In 1939, two radical printmakers from Mexico City’s Popular Graphic Workshop, Leopoldo Méndez and Alfredo Zalce, made a new flyer to be pasted on the city’s walls and street corners. In the center of one panel stands a stern young army officer dressed in a smart but modest uniform. Standing behind him are a humble peasant couple and an industrial worker in overalls. At...

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CHAPTER THREE: Heaven Gave You a Soldier for Every Son: Conscription and Resistance in Mexico in the 1940s

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pp. 54-80

In December 1942, the Mexican government tried to implement an ambitious system of military conscription.¹ Conscription was, along with a national literacy program, one of the flagship projects of President Manuel Ávila Camacho. The project responded to concerns about national defense, but advocates assumed conscription would do a lot more than secure Mexico’s...

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CHAPTER FOUR: Civilianism and Its Discontents: Officers, Politics, and the PRI

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pp. 81-114

After he became president in 1946, the civilian Miguel Alemán received a peculiar anonymous letter from a group of army officers complaining about their new uniforms. During the Second World War, the army had designed unfussy, khaki uniforms to help express the idea of soldiering as a respectable but modest, practical profession.¹ The officers complained to Alemán...

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CHAPTER FIVE: Military Policing and Society in Mexico, 1940–1960

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pp. 115-143

In the previous chapter, we saw how a faction of military officers led by the Ávila Camacho brothers helped to build the cacicazgo Avilacamachista. The Avilacamachistas were generally successful in getting political allies or cooperative officers posted to the state. These officers were vital not only because they did not build competing political networks. They, and their soldiers, ...

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CHAPTER SIX: The Army, Veterans, and the Historical Memory of the Revolution

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pp. 144-166

In Mexico City’s Museo del Ejército, a curious pair of military documents sits mounted inside a glass case, sandwiched between showcases of military uniforms and racks of antiquated rifles. The first is a report from General Pablo González, military commander in Morelos in 1919, neatly typed under the letterhead of the Department of War. In it, González describes the Constitutionalist...

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pp. 167-172

In the 1970s and 1980s, it seemed to most observers that the single most important story that could be told about Mexico’s army was the country’s emancipation from the praetorian militarism that had dominated its nineteenthcentury history and remained so obviously potent in much of Latin America. A common metaphor likens the transformation of the army to the progressive...


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pp. 173-216


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pp. 217-236


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pp. 237-244

E-ISBN-13: 9781469608365
E-ISBN-10: 1469608367
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807839294
Print-ISBN-10: 0807839299

Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 843191920
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Myths of Demilitarization in Postrevolutionary Mexico, 1920-1960

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Subject Headings

  • Civil-military relations -- Mexico -- History -- 20th century.
  • Civil supremacy over the military -- Mexico -- History -- 20th century.
  • Mexico -- Armed Forces -- Political activity -- History -- 20th century.
  • Mexico. Ejército -- History -- 20th century.
  • Mexico -- Politics and government -- 1910-1946.
  • Mexico -- Politics and government -- 1946-1970.
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