Mexico - Preparing The Atmosphere
( Originally Published 1921 )
PUBLIC opinion on the Mexican outlook—such opinion as looks to established facts for its warranty—cannot truly be said to exist in the United States. The main factors of the situation as outlined in the foregoing pages are still unknown to the bulk of the nation, are indeed, one must reluctantly add, diligently concealed from it behind a tissue of fantastic notions woven by interested individuals and corporations for the purpose of working up a body of anti-Mexican sentiment sufficiently strong to enable them to carry their policy forward to a successful issue. The painful care thus taken to keep the truth from the great and generous people of the United States and to put it on the wrong track constitutes a high and well merited tribute to its innate sense of justice.
The public of the United States, known for its magnanimous impulses and its fellow-feeling for struggling peoples and in whose national life the spirit of fair play has grown to be one of the most potent elements, is being effectually deprived of the helpful guidance and check which its moral sympathies and political action would have drawn from a knowledge of the true facts. It is being blindfolded systematically by organised groups of industrial and political interests whose enormous influence is equalled only by the powerful temptation to employ it for ends which are anything but humanitarian. Their press propaganda is without parallel in history for subtlety, plausibility and efficacy. In this way the con-trolling and organising force in the conduct of the great Republic is kept in the hands of those few men, who being ex-posed to tremendous temptations and lacking the moral stamina to resist, are the least fitted to employ it. It is not necessary to stigmatise this mode of action as self-seeking or unscrupulous in order to discern the sinister consequences to the entire community with which it is fraught. One of these is the saddling of the people f the United States with political and moral responsibility for acts which are cardinally repugnant to its inner nature and which stain its history with indelible blots.
The average citizen f that great Republic and one or other of the professional moulders of "public opinion" as well, honestly believe that all the grave charges hurled against the Carranza régime are equally applicable to the Obregón administration. They hold that the long sequence of volcanic out-bursts which marked the revolutionary period to which General Obregón put an end is being still perpetuated and that nothing has changed save the stern determination of the Re-publican Administration to strike out a policy of militant righteousness and make the new Continent safe for the latter-day Saints. And it is difficult for them to think otherwise seeing that the sources of information are being systematically adjusted for the purpose of creating this belief. One of the most influential newspaper editors in the United States,—a man who prides himself on his painstaking accuracy and scrupulous fairness—gave vent to his amazement on learning that I was returning to Mexico with my family. "No lady is safe in that restless Republic," he informed me, "and no foreign man either. Your only hope and that of all humanely thinking people is that before the danger has become real, the United States troops will be on the spot to protect you." "Have you not heard then," I asked, "that the new President is an enlightened reformer, has inaugurated a policy friendly to foreigners, is busy meting out justice to all and that life and property are as safe there as here?" "I have heard of General Obregón but I understand that he is a second edition of Carranza and is moving along the same lines as his predecessor." "Then you have heard the reverse of the truth," I retorted, "and you would do well to inquire anew into the facts." "Well, may I begin my investigation by asking you a pointed question which is a touchstone of your exposé. You are acquainted with most of President Obregón's relatives. Tell me truly, how many of them has he appointed to lucrative posts in the Government?" "Not one," I answered. "None of them has ever occupied any position in his or any other administration. They are earning their livelihood by dint of hard work and living the modest lives to which they have been accustomed. One of his brothers did present himself for election to the governorship of his native State a few years ago when General Obregón, being War Minister, might have used his influence to turn the balance in his favour but steadfastly declined to give him the least support, whereupon his brother's antagonist won the election." "Is that really so ?" "It is." "Well, I never would have believed it had you not told me. It certainly runs counter to everything I have heard about him." I expressed my pleasure at having nailed one falsehood to the counter and my friend who derives most of his information about Mexico from the interested corporations terminated the conversation with the characteristic remark : "You have convinced me that there is at least one honest man in Mexico and that, no doubt, is something but it is not very much."
More interesting was a talk which I had with one of the foremost lawyers of the United States—a man who stands well with members of the Harding Administration and also with those of the Democratic party. He accepted what I told him of the new era in Mexico and displayed a keen and sympathetic interest in President Obregón. In fact he grew hopeful of the Southern Republic. But one day after having spent nearly a week in Washington he approached me with a solemn face and said : "You must be very careful when you go back to that country. Obregón is all right of course, but he is not alone. He has a curious set of people around him who stick at nothing and they would make short work of you, if they once conceived a dislike for you. Listen now to what happened to one of your own countrymen this very year. I got the story in Washington and from an excellent source.
"There was an Englishman in Mexico City, I forget his name but it was something like Danall or Dalinn. He was invited to travel with General Obregón and became a staunch friend of his. The two were often together and Obregón thought a great deal of the Englishman. But some f the other members of the Administration took a dislike to him. Well, one day the foreign guest was invited to partake of their hospitality, I cannot say whether it was dinner or lunch, but it turned out to be the last meal on God's earth which the unsuspecting stranger took. The poor fellow died of poisoning a few hours later. Be warned in time therefore. By the way, did you ever meet that Englishman or hear of him?" "Yes," I answered, "I did, and curiously enough I received the news of his death from Warsaw and from Paris a fortnight ago through a Russian Princess here. The details, as is natural, were slightly at variance with those which you have just narrated—the Englishman after the meal dropped dead in the University Club, in Mexico City. His name too was a little different—it was Dr. E. J. Dillon. So, as you see, the story has gone the round of two Continents already and has reached me, the principal dramatis persona, from both sources." "Do you really mean it ?" "I do, and the lady in question will bear me out. It was through her that I got a glimpse of the letters that conveyed the news. Don't you now think that your kind admonition to be careful in Mexico may be useful to yourself in Washington?" "Well, indeed you surprise me," the honest lawyer added.
One fine June evening at a dinner table in New York at which some of the most influential and wealthy representatives of the foreign companies in Mexico were assembled, the conversation turned naturally upon the condition of Mexico at present. I gave it as my opinion that everything there had undergone a radical change since the day of the triumph of the revolution over the Carranza régime and that much of what had been true of the Republic down to that date was wholly false today. Thereupon one of the magnates assured us all that I was speaking as an optimistic foreigner, mistaking wishes for realities and that the country was at that moment on the verge of a revolution which would sweep away Obregón and his régime as thoroughly as he had swept away his predecessor. I insisted that the era of revolutions is closed but only two of the individuals present paid heed to my statement and afterwards requested me to give them further particulars. One of the others said: "Well but you who know the President personally must surely be aware that he is a doomed man. He is as you know suffering from an incurable disease which will carry him off very shortly." "No. I do not know anything of the kind. Neither does his physician who is a close friend of mine. General Obregón is strong and active and hard-working and looks as though he might outlive your children," I replied. "Well, but I understand that his doctor says the contrary. At least I have heard so."
In New York one morning towards the end of June, a professional gentleman whose work lies almost entirely in the world of journalism and letters came to see me and inquired : "Who in your opinion will be President Obregón's successor? I have been asked the question and I am very anxious to answer it but cannot. You are more likely to know than any of my acquaintances. Who is it ?" "But the question is not actual yet," I replied, "nor is it likely to become so for three years and in the meanwhile the bases for an answer may change many times. Why should your friends look so far ahead?" "Oh then you have not heard that President Obregón's doctors have given him less than four months to live, four calendar months? That explains the actuality of the query and the curiosity f those Americans who are interested in Mexico." "Well then tell them from me that that story is stale enough to have died of old age last year. It was circulating in Mexico City in July, 1920. Bets were made by foreign residents, some of whom I know personally, that Obregón would never take possession of the Presidency and those bets were maintained to my knowledge down to the very night on which he swore fidelity to the Constitution. Yet he is still alive and hearty."
Among the passengers of the steamer on which I travelled from New York to Vera Cruz last July (1921) were some Mexican families on their way back to their native land. In conversation with my secretary they confided to her their grave apprehensions about the future. "We thought," one lady lamented, "that we had done with civil war and revolutions. But alas! we now have to face those horrors once more and I am in fear and trembling for what awaits us." "But why should you be afraid," inquired my secretary; "what is happening to frighten you?" "I do not know what is actually happening. I only know that in New York where we have been staying for the last few months all the Americans assured us that Mexico is on the verge of civil war, that a revolution is about to break out and that we ought to put off our journey until peace has been established by American troops. And surely they must know."
The lady was not far astray : they were the people who had foretold the previous revolutions and they were right on those occasions. They now expected a new one about June in Tampico among the troops of General Pelaez, and she believed them. As a matter of fact arrangements had been made for overturning the Obregón Administration and General Pelaez publicly accused the oil corporations of being implicated in the matter, but so far he has not substantiated the charge by producing evidence which he promised to publish.
In a word, the plain truth would seem to be that an atmosphere is being carefully created and poured round the unsuspecting American people,—an atmosphere favourable to unwarranted action of a kind which it would never countenance could it pierce the veil and see things as they are. And of all the relevant facts the most decisive are the advent to power of President Obregón and the far-ranging changes which that event has brought in its train.
In a series of articles which appeared in the Saturday Evening Post I endeavoured to show how completely the issue between the Mexican Republic and foreign States has been transformed by those two changes in the Presidency and in the policy of the country, and to convey to the public an idea of the character, abilities and experience of Mexico's new leader. They were biographical sketches calculated to rid Obregón of his spurious character and to reconstruct the broken image reflected in the ruffled waters of revolution, and to depict him as he is. I was preparing others in which I set forth his policy and sought to prove that it is a rounded system of thought to be embodied in a graduated course of action and legislation.
But to my surprise those articles were sharply criticised in private and I learned that however indisputable the data might be, their publication was deemed to be injurious at once to the political and the material interests of those groups of American workers who had been endeavouring to influence by sharpening the Mexican policy of the actual Administration of the United States. I was further apprised that what the American people needed to have brought home to them was the hopeless condition of things in Mexico as painted in Mr. Fall's report to the Senate, as though the sun and the moon had been standing still since the days of Madero, Victoriano Huerta and Carranza. To kindle emotion and arouse antagonistic sentiment, rather than to spread accurate knowledge, appeared to be most urgently needed in those high latitudes where the threads of what might become Mexico's destinies were being diligently spun. The factors of the problem might have under-gone a radical alteration. The truths of yesterday might have become the falsehoods of to-day. But all that was to be treated as esoteric knowledge and the public was not to be in-formed of the transmutation; it was to have the misdeeds which had passed into history kept steadily before its gaze until fascinated by the spectacle it should work itself into a fury of passion and call upon the expectant "cleaners up" to exorcise the demons of bolshevism and anarchy.
That was one of the most noteworthy characteristics of the phenomena which came within my ken in connection with the deliberate and purposeful moulding of public opinion in the United States by groups of influential individuals who call and mayhap believe themselves to be friends of the Mexican people.
Ever since the accession of General Obregón to power all kinds of reports calculated to depict Mexican conditions as hopeless have been appearing and reappearing with the forceful iteration of an advertisement and their hypnotising effect on the average reader is supremely mischievous. A number of daily papers kept publishing articles on Obregón, Calles and other ministers by the journalist Mr. Stephen Bonsai and others whose zeal outruns their knowledge. A pressman named Albert W. Fox who lives in Washington and sketches Mexico from there published articles of a like alarming character. Here are the headlines of one: "Obregón losing hold. Reports indicate overturn in Mexico within six months. Bad influences gaining. Premier and Calles and other Leaders now listed as Bolsheviks.' In these ways Mexico is being discredited. A bad name is all that is needed. "I will not shed thy blood," cried the Quaker to the barking dog, "but I will give thee a bad name," whereupon he shouted : "Beware of the mad dog" and the passers-by did the rest.
Six months at the very outside—the more probable term being three—were thus accorded by a Washington journalist to President Obregón. This determination of the date is significant in many respects. Within' six calendar months from March, 1921, political forces were certain, according to this remarkable forecast, to overthrow the First Chief and his Government just as throughout the summer and autumn of 1920 unnamed forces were to have hindered him from surviving long enough to take possession of his office, and bets were given and taken to that effect in Mexico City by foreign residents. General Calles and other leaders were listed as Bolsheviks—and their own protests ignored. Surely the American public desires and deserves a nearer approach to the truth than those pressmen seem capable of offering them.
The revenue of the Republic is being squandered, the American people was assured, and squandered ruthlessly. "No one appears able to find out how much money goes into the Mexican treasury and what becomes of it. . . . The nearest approach to a definite statement on this score was obtained by an American (the Mexicans invariably choose indiscreet Americans to whom to make damaging confessions) within the past few weeks who was informed on one particular occasion that two-thirds of the money received would be expended legitimately by the Government." How can foreigners be expected to invest capital in such a country or to object to the advent of the professional "cleaners up" !
What naïve people these Mexican rulers are who thus blurt out damaging truths to the wide-awake foreigner! They select an American as their confidant and tell him with engaging frankness : "Two-thirds of this money received will be expended legitimately," and the scandalised American forthwith has the unedifying piece of information blazoned abroad for the guidance of the people of the United States. "The Foreign diplomatists in Mexico City," we read again, "estimate that there will be a new Government within ninety days or six months at the outside. Obregón," it is added, "fully realises that he is powerless to bring about the restoration f his country."3 The President presumably must have chosen another good-natured American to whom he confided his despair, so that the United States people should get timely wind of the matter! He fully realises and frankly confesses his powerlessness in private and announces the opposite in public! He deceives his own people and confides the painful truth to hungry outsiders! What a President, or what a system of propaganda!
The same influential organ informs the American people of the terrible turn recently taken by the economic and financial affairs of the Southern Republic. "Mexico almost bankrupt, labouring under severe economic depression, has been approaching a political crisis for weeks. The call of Congress in special session, with the ensuing disturbances in the Chamber and radical outbreaks in various centres, has brought it to a head. . . . Mr. Stephen Bonsai writing in the Evening Post of March 29th said that the Republic was on the eve of a severe political upheaval."
All this may be excellent propaganda but it is superlatively unsatisfactory as historical narrative. Undoubtedly the Mexican Republic is passing through a period of severe economic depression, but it is largely the consequence f the financial boycott to which she is being subjected by the United States. But is there any country on the globe which can be said to be exempted from economic depression? Is it France, or Germany, or England, or even the United States? The entire civilised world is suffering from the consequences of an iniquitous war which should never have been begun and which ought to have been stopped before it had reached its catastrophic finale. And of all the nations now undergoing those consequences there is probably none better able to endure it than the Mexican. On the one hand its people have been inured to want, and on the other hand, Mexico and the United States are still among the very few countries whose finances are on a gold basis. The national debt per capita of the population is very much lower than in most States of the world. The potential natural wealth of the country is considerably greater. And the future of the people is in the hands of a statesman who, unlike so many of his foreign compeers, is neither a moralising amateur nor a decorative figurehead but a safe guide and a man of sterling character.
Propaganda—one of the most deadly of the scourges fostered if not created by the war which like militarism and imperialism has survived into the present—deals as disingenuously with reputations as with economic and political conditions. Thus Mr. Stephen Bonsai, we read, describes ex-President de la Huerta, "as a dangerous intriguer and declares that his followers openly call him President designate." General Calles, as we saw, is spoken of as a bolshevik, and so on to the end of the chapter.
Surely the most effective way to bring about friendly relations between the great English-speaking Republic and its Latin-American neighbour is not for writers in the press of the former country to pay it a flying visit, set up as friends of the nation, enjoy its hospitality and then give its ruler sixty days to remain in power and publicly announce a revolution against him as imminent. If the object pursued were to key the minds of the American people to intervention, this would no doubt be the proper procedure to adopt. And if we join this with the endeavours made to keep open-minded Americans from visiting Mexico and from judging its condition for themselves, we have the two expedients which constitute the tactics of the militant movement now going forward in the United States.
In European countries there used to be a class of men who gathered gold coins, filed and scraped them and without obviously defacing them obtained a considerable quantity of gold by the process. They were known to the tribunals as "coin-clippers." In the less refined political controversies of some countries to-day a certain class of propagandists practise an analogous method and when facts and arguments fail them, as they usually do, proceed to clip the honour of those whom they are unable to injure in any other way. This expedient, at all times repulsive, is especially odious when used as a weapon by the champions of people whom circumstance has made neighbours and who are impelled by interest no less than by duty to live in peace and amity.
And no Mexican public men have suffered so much from reputation-clippers as the Mexican President and his fellow-workers. They have been roundly charged with almost every offence punishable by the criminal code. I myself was completely misled on the subject of General Obregón and others before I had the advantage of meeting them.
I had heard much about the former from eminent Americans—experts all of them on Mexican affairs—to whom the principal sources of information, public and private, were easily accessible. And the portrait which I drew from the data thus liberally supplied was the reverse of attractive. Later on when I came to know him as he is, I perceived that the data were fabrications and the portrait a sorry caricature.
I should like, were it feasible, to ascribe the circumstantial and false information volunteered to me by my informants to what Goethe termed the dangerous ease with which a great man's contemporaries usually go astray about him. "That which is uncommon in the individual bewilders them," he adds, "life's headstrong current distorts their angle of vision and keeps them from knowing such men and appreciating them." But it is to be feared that in the case of the great Mexican President the true explanation lies elsewhere.
My first visit to Obregón took place while I still believed that he was one of the least reputable types of the class ridiculed in the United States as the Mexican General. Primed with this idea, I called on him one afternoon at his hotel in Mexico City. His ante-chamber was filled with typical representatives of the despised masses with whom he was hail-fellow-well-met,-of the ninety per cent set by nature in a stream of wealth which like Tantalus of old they are forbidden to enjoy. He inquired what he could do for me. I answered: "I merely wish to know how you intend to deal with the problems of recognition, of Mexico's debts, of foreign claims for losses and kindred matters when, as now appears certain, you will have entered upon the duties of President." "My answer is simple," he playfully replied, "Mexico will pay her debts and satisfy the just claims of foreigners. As for recognition, I cannot admit that it is a Mexican problem. Foreign states will recognise the lawful government of the Republic in accordance with the laws of nations. That is all. You would not suggest, would you, that any of them will make a new departure?" I arose, said that I would not trespass further on his time, thanked him for his reply, wished him good afternoon and left.
Next day a friend of his informed me that the General would be pleased to see me again, to have a more satisfactory talk with him, adding that he had been under the impression that I was one of the numerous callers whose aim was to ply him with futile questions and then to comment adversely on his answers. He intended to start in two days for his home in Nogales and would gladly receive me any time before his departure. I said that I would not trouble the General further now but might possibly be in Nogales myself in a few weeks when I would take the liberty to call on him. The next day I received an invitation to accompany him on his journey to Nogales which after a few hours deliberation I accepted.
On that journey and on our many subsequent travels, I had a rare opportunity to study General Obregón in the various lights shed by changing situations, by adventures pleasant and unpleasant, exhilarating and depressing. I saw him in his native place surrounded by his family and his kindred and neither in real life nor in fiction could one find a more perfect realisation of ideal family life than in the modest home at Nogales or the little house beside the Castle of Chapultepec. In that large family circle where representatives of three generations live and work in harmony the best traditions of old Castile are cultivated together with all that is most helpful in the modern way of interpreting life. The children are taught to be themselves, original, unaffected, modest, truthful and considerate of others withal. The parents guide mainly by example almost without perceptible effort and the inter-course between the two is natural and easy. In a word, there is a soothing and yet stimulating atmosphere of peace and happiness in the domestic circle which is felt and appreciated even by the casual visitor.
In the State of Sonora I met and conversed with General Obregón's earliest teachers and his schoolmates. I accompanied him on his electoral tour and listened to over a hundred of his improvised addresses, always with a keen sense of aesthetic enjoyment and at times with admiration for his fairness and generosity as an antagonist. He is a magnanimous enemy, free from spite and meanness. To my knowledge he possessed documents which if published would have debarred certain of his adversaries from ever again appearing on the public stage. But he declined to make use of them during the elections or indeed later unless the behaviour of the authors should oblige him to make known their misdeeds. Since then the authors have been fomenting a rebellion and the documents have set an indelible mark on both.
Obregón is one of the very few men I have met—Venizelos is another—on whom power and rank have no further effect than that of sharpening their sense of responsibility. In all other respects he is as he was. Most men can bear adversity, few can support greatness. To weak heads great heights are dangerous. Never in her history has Mexico had the good fortune to possess a leader whose message appealed with such irresistible force alike to the heart and the intelligence of a whole people, revealing their needs and expressing their hopes and uplifting their souls. Neither has any public leader ever before appeared among the Mexicans whose ideas met so many of the pressing wants of the population and fitted in so completely with the unprecedented conditions of the epoch and the country. For the conditions have no parallel in history and if the theory according to which Providence raises up men of destiny for each great crisis were aught more than a pious desire one could not discover any more striking corroboration of it than the personality and the message of General Obregón.
It is well nigh impossible for the bulk of the American people to correct by such concrete tests the misstatements about Mexico scattered broadcast for a definite purpose by professional propagandists. And therein lies the danger to peace and the fair name of the people of the United States who together with their Southern neighbours are the victims of this deplorable campaign.
Thousands of American excursionists—mostly business men interested in buying from and selling to Mexico raw materials and manufactured goods—visited the country in response to a hospitable invitation given to them by :President Obregón. Many of them were able to converse with the people, exchange views with members of the Government and to keep an open eye for traces of the abuses spread over a decade of civil strife the records of which were gathered up in a bulky volume and presented by Mr. Fall to the world as a mirror of Mexico as it is today. And those people returned home satisfied in mind with the ample guarantees for life and property which the Obregón Administration has provided for foreigners who visit or reside in the land.
One would think that this personal contact was desirable be-cause illuminating, educational and humanising. But it was found by the propagandists in the United States to have one overwhelming disadvantage, and on this account they set their faces against it : it tended to bring the two peoples together, to dissipate the misconceptions on both sides, to discredit the mischief-makers and thus to destroy the case for intervention. Every expedient that promised success was accordingly employed to put a stop to these excursions. One of the most singular of these efforts took the form of a letter publicly ad-dressed to the American Chamber of Commerce which had arranged to visit Mexico City last June to take part in the International Congress of Merchants there. The appeal to decline the invitation was issued by the American Association of Mexico, and the argument employed was that these excursions form "part of a program to render futile any protests against acts and legislations of the Mexican Government, which pro-gramme if successful would render permanent the handicaps imposed upon American citizens under the so-called Constitution (!) of 1917.... No form of propaganda could be more effective than this." None indeed. For when Americans have seen Mexican conditions for themselves they be-come proof against falsehoods and half-truths which are often more poisonous than falsehoods.
Now there is but one conceivable motive for objecting to this mode of investigation and it need neither be qualified nor even named.
The Americans most conversant with what is happening in Mexico are the inhabitants of the border states, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and they are profoundly struck with the vast and beneficent changes already realised in the Republic and with the admirable reforms outlined by President Obregón as part of his political programme. Having come to the conclusion that after years of floundering in the quagmire of internecine strife the Republic is at last on the high road to progress and prosperity they are anxious to see removed those formidable barriers to advancement which have been raised by professional politicians among their own countrymen and by a group of companies working hand in hand with these. Friendly co-operation and peaceful emulation are their ideals.
And the views of those near neighbours are the more worthy of note that they represent the convictions of the people who a couple of years back clamoured for armed intervention and persisted in the demand until they beheld and grasped the significance of the change inaugurated by General Obregón. Their Chambers of Commerce contain a considerable number of individuals who are thoroughly versed in Mexican affairs, are acquainted with the country, the people and the language, are impatient of revolutionary methods, eager to do business and shrewd enough to know when the lives and properties of their countrymen in Mexico are adequately protected.
And those are some of the people who now call upon their Government in Washington to end the costly and irritating boycott entailed by the refusal of recognition to Obregón's Government and to enable the Mexican people to help themselves and profit by the guidance of a leader the like of whom they have never had the good fortune to follow even when the President's name was Benito Juarez.
What impresses all those competent American observers whose judgment is most favourable to the present administration in Mexico are the many unmistakable tokens of radical betterment which have of late originated inside the Republic. They are especially struck with the decisive innovation that its policy—in so far as it was anti-American—has been reversed and is now directed by an exceptionally fine type of statesman who displays capacity for basic reform and glowing sympathies with the higher aspirations of humanity. They appreciate the extent to which his endeavours have already contributed to raise the level of thought and feeling in the community. They further dwell with satisfaction upon the decisive circumstance that General Obregón, buoyed up by the respect of political adversaries and cautious friends, regards it as his life task to evolve order out of that welter of chaos and inaugurate a series of beneficent internal reforms, after having first complied with all the just demands of foreign governments. They rejoice to see that now at last the Southern Republic has a President whose settled purpose is the substitution of morality for politics and who is effectually stemming the tide of insubordination with a solid breakwater of order and justice. They know that he has quenched the flames of civil war, scattered its embers to the four winds of heaven and bestowed surcease of bloodshed and terror upon the sorely tried population. And they regard these achievements as a pledge of still greater feats to come.
Why then, they ask, should we not assume that the new spirit of which he is the incarnation will usher in a new era of domestic peace and international amity?
Here is the gist of the answer given by the other group of corporations and politicians whose conceptions are simple, whose methods are primitive and who rely wholly upon external measures of a drastic character, leaving nothing to Nature's healing processes : "Because we cannot build upon the present until we have cleared away the consequences of the past; be-cause Mexico having forgotten her obligations, it behooves the United States to enforce its rights; because the shadows of the bloody past warn us of the perils of the future; because there is no hope for the nation from within; because socially and politically Mexico is an Augean stable and it is incumbent upon her neighbour to perform the friendly service of cleaning it up as it has done so thoroughly in Cuba. The United States," they add, "has been imitating Nature too closely and has given a needlessly long credit to its frail neighbour. It has unwisely refrained from dishonouring her overdraft and now at last feels constrained to square accounts in the interests of all concerned, even though the innocent should fare no better than the guilty. One should be just before being generous. The Mexicans whom Obregón is leading differ hardly at all from those who were misgoverned by his immediate predecessor. They are tainted by the same vices. His ordering of things political has not fulfilled the hopes which his friends entertained. He is but a chip of the old block. Hence the salutary chastisement which the Republic has long since deserved at the hands of the United States should be administered forthwith irrespective of who is President and what his policy happens to be and of the consequences which would accrue to their own country from this energetic action." In a word, in order to escape the smoke they are ready to jump into the fire and take their country with them.
Mexicans are pained to hear such maxims of the primacy of might propounded seriously. For they know that if acted upon, their country's lines would indeed fall in unpleasant places. They are grieved to think that their too quiescent people having been victimised for years by bands of domestic miscreants and exploited by grasping foreigners may now be further penalised by fanatical crusaders of oily "righteousness" for having patiently endured these calamities. And the edge of Fate's irony would be sharpened by the circumstance that at the time when insatiable blood thirst and anarchist frenzy ran riot in Mexico, when brigandage usurped the place of military discipline, graft superseded justice and the furtherance of sordid aims was substituted for statesmanship, Carranza and his confederates, who were in a large measure answerable for that travesty of government, were treated by the United States of America as petted children, their misdeeds winked at and their power to go on perpetrating them strengthened, whereas the strong man now in the presidential chair, who is able and eager to heal the nation's wounds and impress the stamp of his creative genius on the history of his country, is to be denied not only recognition and credit but even the time requisite for the fulfilment of his solemn promises.
Mexican affairs then have entered upon a stage respecting which foreign political thought—in so far as it is interested in them at all—ranges itself either in the category of manly trust-fulness or in that of swift aggressive action. Those who favour the latter course are scanning the Mexican horizon for a suitable champion of their ideas and they wistfully yearn for the rule of Diaz which they contemplate athwart the medium of foreign interests, forgetting that that highly gifted leader brandished the bludgeon of the upstart Dictator whereas Obregón wields the wand of Moses, although unlike the Hebrew leader he may for the moment lack the support of an Aaron and a Hur against the enemies of his people.
The unbiased observer will symapthise with General Obregón who has taken over a heavily encumbered legacy and is grappling with vast liabilities which would have dismayed the world's most famous statesmen. For it is a struggle on wholly unequal terms and against overwhelming odds. It might aptly be likened to that of a Mexican David who is without his sling facing the American giant Goliath armed from head to foot. It is painfully true that time has long stood still for Obregón's countrymen,—the time that brings experience, increased knowledge and provides the motive power of progress. In the onward march of peoples the Southern Republic has persistently lagged behind among primitive cultures and exploded ideas and is now about to undergo an ordeal from which it cannot emerge unscathed except by dint of those very advantages which it has neglected to acquire.
While in this helpless condition it is being virtually summoned by a small group of foreign citizens of the nation which holds the foremost place in the ranks of progressive races to enter upon a contest for the possession of its own material resources and to prepare the most favourable strategical conditions for its mighty rival. The published terms of the challenge are naturally couched in less crude language but this is the light in which the summons is envisaged by responsible Mexican politicians and by many impartial outsiders. The ideal as presented to the American people, which has no hankering after territorial aggrandisement, is that of a fair and free competition of all the forces of science, organisation, capital and technical skill backed by political experience and military power. And this has an attractive ring which will it is hoped disarm criticism. But as Mexico is deficient in them all, is even dependent upon her competitor for her weapons and sees her case grossly misrepresented to the American public, the outcome of the contest may well seem a foregone conclusion.
For the hapless state of the Mexican people the fatuous policy of the Carranza administration is only partially to blame. Foreign exploitation of their natural resources was the root-cause. But it cannot be gainsaid that that President acted on the maxim that his country must be in standing antagonism to the United States, or that he set up the doctrine that all Latin-American republics should do likewise. The inevitable result of his efforts in this direction was to throw Mexico into the arms of her powerful neighbour without whose co-operation it must now continue to languish in darkness and misery. To-day all its domestic problems present some delicate inter-national aspect which perplexes the native reformer. At every hand's turn he must apprehend a protest from the great north-ern Republic. Every revolution against crying abuses is struck barren by outside interposition. The levy of a new tax or the increase of one already in vigour may call forth a sharp diplomatic representation on the ground that it impairs the interests or infringes the rights of the citizens of the United States. The expropriation of private land and the breaking up of large haciendas which is an imperative necessity is found to interfere with the conditions deemed indispensable to the foreign pioneers and forthwith oral or written expostulations are presented. The Constitution, in which a germ of confiscation is said to lie embedded, must be not merely amended but scrapped. A dispute between employers and workmen is described as a sinister quarrel between foreigners and natives into which the poison of racial bitterness is speedily infused--a poison of which the weaker party invariably receives the larger dose. What in other countries would be an ordinary strike is made to assume on the opposite bank of the Rio Grande the formidable character of a bolshevist manifestation which cannot long be brooked by the law-abiding neighbour. Foreign agitators help create the very troubles which are relied upon to discredit the Republic. Revolutions against the Obregón administration are publicly said to be encouraged by Mexico's foreign "friends." In short, one of the consequences of Carranza's insensate doctrine of aloofness on the one hand and of foreign machinations on the other hand has been to interweave almost every fibre of the national organism with foreign rights and interests so closely, so inextricably, as almost to defy the most dexterous diplomatist to sunder them.
More ominous for the moment than aught else, however, is the circumstance that the road to domestic reforms is effectually and deliberately blocked by international issues. And until and unless they are satisfactorily disposed of, no serious and lasting betterment can be achieved in the politico-social sphere at home. Every jeer at Obregón's slowness is in truth a scoff at foreign obstructionism which is mainly answerable for it. The most genial reformer is paralysed by the American boycott. For instance, Mexico needs rail, carriage and water ways as sorely as the parched wheat needs rain, but without large credits there can be no important extension of the network of iron ways, no draining of rivers, no building of causeways. And the great financial houses of the United States have resolved to refuse financial succour until their Government notifies them that they may safely accord it. If a Cavour or a Bismarck were President of Mexico to-day he would be as powerless for good as a new-born babe, so long as the international boycott has not been raised by the United States. The foreign politicians operate with economic means of pressure and the foreign industrials with political. And in this way they have contrived to place the ill-starred Southern Republic between the hammer and the anvil.
In a word, the events of the past ten years have released potent forces on this side of the Rio Grande the perpetuation of which may thrust back the Mexican people into the ooze of chaos from which they have just emerged. That is the manifest and only possible outcome of further persistence in the political, financial, economic and journalistic campaign which is now being conducted against the Southern Republic. But the effects of the catastrophe, should it come, will not, cannot be, circumscribed at will either within geographical frontiers or class interests. When Samson dislocated the pillars of the temple and caused the death of numerous Philistines he paid a high price for his success. But at least he had reason to consider it a patriotic feat. Is this equally true of the foreign saviours of Mexico?
THE WHITE MAN'S PRECIOUS BURDEN
SINCE the historic days of the First Chief a noteworthy change has, as we saw, come over the international situation. To-day Mexico is on her trial. She is about to undergo an examination which will qualify or disentitle her to take over the rôle which she has been exerting herself to play since she cut her moorings from Spain a hundred years ago and even to retain the place which she still occupies in the society of nations. And the test is uncommonly searching. Happily the Republic is personified by a man whose State-building capacity is unquestioned, who would fain steer a plain course through the bewildering maze of international intrigue, and who is prepared to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's while keeping for Mexico the things that are Mexico's, unless force majeure prevents him.
This lucky coincidence which the superstitious might ascribe to Providence gives the country a much better chance to maintain its independence than it would have had under any other leadership. None the less, this is Mexico's last opportunity and the work of reconstruction, by which it alone can be fructified, is being undertaken with painful consciousness of the prize at stake and of the unsurpassed difficulty of the circumstances. A decade of destructive civil war during which the Mexican Republic stood at anchor in the stream of time while other nations moved constantly forward, has dislocated various State institutions and demoralised many of the former administrators. Hence the difficulty of finding competent helpers. And yet President Obregon, in spite of his comprehensive knowledge of mankind, is an optimist, possibly because the field of international politics has not yet been covered by his varied experience. He honestly believes that in the long run one of the achievements of foreign diplomacy will be to cause the deep-rooted ethical forces of modern society to prevail on the side of humanity over the impulse towards greed and rancour. In fact he has made this assumption the pivot of his policy which he framed in a spirit of justice that borders on generosity and is pursuing with courage and constancy. It is no doubt meet that his heart should thus charitably assume the innate goodness of the great money-making corporations of to-day but one feels that his eye should be none the less sharp-sighted in seeking for proofs of its concrete existence. Underlying almost every great political movement, however noble, whether confined to diplomacy or extended to the battle-field, the scrutinising observer will perceive a more or less sordid economic interest which is almost always kept in the background and is often unsuspected. If this was a common phenomenon in the past it is certain to be equally common in the present and the future, seeing that the struggle for existence—racial, national and individual—is become sterner and more ruthless than heretofore, so that ethics and even religion have been laid under tribute in order to provide a decent vesture for sordid politics.
In this age of spurious virtues and law-made vices, the prevalent incongruous mixture of cupidity and altruism is at times bewildering. There is a marked tendency to render nations as well as individuals righteous by statute law and it now threatens to creep into international relations. In fact it is beginning already to become operative as a force. On the one hand the State is endeavouring to discharge certain functions of the Church within its own borders, and on the other the leading races are being assured by their ambitious public men that they are providentially destined to act as guardians to their semi-civilised neighbours and to deal with these, their "natural wards," as they are dealing with their own citizens.
It is a new and more mischievous form of the doctrine of divine right and the grace of God. The main innovation is that it is applied to privileged races instead of to privileged individuals. Hence morality of a far-shining kind has become a lucrative policy and is being cultivated accordingly. Anglo-Saxon statecraft has instinctively borrowed and is quietly colouring for the use of its wards certain of the maxims which hitherto belonged exclusively to the religious domain and whole peoples are being rescued from "vice" by the "secular arm" almost as in medieval times. Whether one approves or deprecates this new line of action in world polity, no statesmen among the unprivileged nations can afford to ignore it. For it is being tentatively experimented with on the Old Continent and is about to be proclaimed a political dogma or a regional doctrine on the New. The maxims ascribed to those innovating Governments being in the nature of a justification for a resolve already taken on other grounds represent at bottom concrete aims rather than general principles. None the less, a special pleader might summarise the available arguments somewhat as follows.
Progress is a law of life which operates with constancy and rigour, necessitating competition and resulting in the selection of the fittest. It actuates not merely the individuals of a race or a State but likewise the larger organised entities which constitute the international family of civilised peoples. Race thus competes with race, nation with nation and State with State. And whenever this competition ceases the result is stagnation which means retrogression. Now during the past ten years of fitful volcanic outbursts and indeed for a much longer period, Mexico had given up this pacific struggle and seemingly disqualified herself ever to resume it.) Plans were accordingly woven to save her from herself and it is a grievous disappointment to the weavers to learn that they will not be needed. It is this all important fact that is at the bottom of the present and future relations between the Republic of the South and the United States. The politicians, who have been joined by the oil interests, intent upon applying their specific, maintain that the Mexican people is devoid of the elements essential to reconstruction and indeed to a fully independent nation and further contend that even if it possessed them, the Constitution of 1917 would effectually hinder their exercise. There-fore the constructive outlanders should be allowed to have their innings.
Isolation, it is further urged,—political isolation grounded on potential self-sufficiency-was the policy struck out by Carranza and it is falsely alleged that it will be followed voluntarily or involuntarily by Obregón. Now such a train of thought as a motive for political action is stigmatised by the progressive races of to-day as pernicious and not to be tolerated. Contact and competition with other peoples are rightly held to be indispensable and the ultimate disappearance of the weaker unities in vying with the stronger and more quick-pulsed is one of the dominant and salutary features in cultural and economic advancement. And it is desired that it should have free play. The quality which tells most advantageously and decisively in favour of each competing people is the subjection of the interests of the individual to those of the social organism. And in this the Mexicans are admittedly lacking. They havé never yet displayed enough of that cohesiveness which is the cement of every social system. Hence they are bound to fall into a state of dependence upon their successful rival. And just as the interests and strivings of individual competitors in the process of natural selection are far from being identical with each other, nay are often mutually antagonistic, so the interests and aims of the advancing section of human kind as a whole are generally incompatible with those of the backward organisms. In the long run therefore the latter are doomed to go down before the former. Now one of the mainsprings of that social cohesiveness on which the victory depends is, we are told, the altruistic spirit infused ages ago by supernatural religion, some form of which quickens every type of civilisation. The more fully developed and the more deeply ingrained is this super-rational influence, the more readily will individual and group inspirations be subordinated and sacrificed to the requirements of the higher unit. Communities which like Mexico are the most deficient in this upbuilding power are the most likely to champ the bit and ignore the sanction for altruistic sacrifice. Hence the up-shot of the struggle between the English-speaking and the Spanish-speaking populations of the new world is a foregone conclusion.
Mexico, it is added, is the most conspicuous as well as the richest of those defective countries. Individual ambitions run wild there. They are unchecked by human or divine law. Even Church influence is only skin-deep. The State is devoid of organs indispensable to normal growth. The best of them are rudimentary. Chaotic phenomena usurp the place of order and render progress impossible. The Mexican people, however great their potential innate aptitudes, have never yet made any valuable contributions to the common stock of civilisation. They have conceived no great idea, have associated their name with no helpful discovery, have in fact enriched the world with nothing but the gold, silver, oil and other forms of natural wealth which were there before their advent and some of which might still be unutilised had not English-speaking pioneers discovered and exploited them. But ever since the fall of Diaz the Mexicans have been playing the part of the dog in the manger to these enterprising foreigners. And this mischievous obstruction will no longer be tolerated. The time has come to break it.
Furthermore the world war and its consequences have, it is asserted, confronted the United States as well as other progressive countries with a dilemma, from the alternatives of which no mere theory of sovereign rights however plausible can deliver them. It is this : Either the progress of the world must be stayed out of deference to a group of purblind politicians who refuse to allow the resources provided by Nature for the good of mankind to be made accessible to those who are willing and able to use them to the best advantage of all, or else friendly enterprising foreigners endowed' with these wealth-creating qualities must take them over by force and exploit them unhampered. The human race having increased and multiplied to an unprecedented extent, has need of all the available mineral and agricultural wealth to meet demands which cannot be evaded without a universal catastrophe. If these resources should be kept sealed indefinitely, whether by deliberate intent or inability to create and maintain conditions favourable to their development, it is inconceivable that the nations which alone wield the power to utilise them should sit still and wait for something to turn up. To do so would be to be forgetful alike of their high ethical mission and their extensive economic interests.
In the meanwhile, the argument proceeds, an example worth taking to heart has been given by Great Britain, whose policy whatever may be urged against it by strenuous competitors is admittedly far-seeing. At the present conjuncture when mineral oil fuel is taking the place of coal on land and sea and when according to trustworthy account all available petroleum in the United States will be exhausted within a relatively brief period at the current rate of consumption which exceeds production by more than fifty million barrels a year,' the Government of Great Britain is very properly—and, it is added, successfully—endeavouring to obtain control of the most abundant supplies on the globe. And on the outcome of this fraternal competition may depend the rôles which each of these kindred peoples will play in the further material development of the race. The force of this appeal to Britain's example was somewhat impaired by a number of assertions which turned out on inquiry to be false. Secretary Fall alleged, for example, that King George's Government controlled one of the principal oil companies operating in Mexico and he received in dignified immobility and silence the courteous and emphatic contradiction which was issued by Great Britain.
The history of progress throughout the globe, it is further urged, has been the story of the forcible seizure of the material means of advancement by those who could employ them to the best advantage against the will of the races which would have let them lie dormant. Although the methods employed in this struggle have been rough and blameworthy the lofty principle underlying them has never been repudiated. It is an instinct rather than a principle and it is at the bottom of the revised version of the Monroe Doctrine. It inspired English-speaking Americans in their attitude towards the Colonial strivings of European Powers; it engendered the long-visioned policy of Great Britain, and now furnishes Japan with a telling argument in favour of her mission in the Far East. And, spirited politicians hold, no flimsy altruistic theories should blind the United States to the advantage of applying that principle to its own pressing wants. The backward peoples who happen to reside in a country which contains the necessaries or the luxuries of the chosen races who form the vanguard of civilisation must no longer be permitted to render them inaccessible. Progress requires the distribution of labour and opportunity among all classes, individuals, nations and races ac-cording to their qualifications and the imposition of the rough work upon those inferior races and individuals who are fitted for no other. In the international domain the first step in this direction is the recognition of the hallowed custom of compelling backward peoples to allow the qualified pioneers access to their natural wealth and to adopt or accept such a code of laws as may appear to the latter conducive to their humanitarian ends.
Those are the premises from which the trend of the present political current may fairly be deduced. Gauging the aptitudes and aspirations of the Mexican population by these lofty standards, North American politicians affirm that they have been weighed carefully and found wanting. The two-fold root of Mexico's troubles, internal and external, ever since her independence, has been a complete lack of politico-social cohesiveness together with that deep distrust of strangers which characterises the various elements of her population. The former defect has proved an active bar to the establishment of a settled and rational type of government and unless it be speedily displaced will bring about the extinction of Mexico's independence; while the latter is answerable for the long sequence of misunderstandings, serious troubles and sinister quarrels which have marked, the Republic's intercourse with foreign States. The country has always needed human leaven from abroad. It is the very breath of its economic existence. And yet throughout its history the foreigner has seldom been treated fairly and never consistently.
That whole train of reasoning when scrutinised in the dry light of experience will be found to be little more than a strong scaffolding behind which a structure is being raised without any of the ideal features of which it is so suggestive. There will always be differences in degree and in form among the viable types of civilisation, however marked the tendency may become to substitute uniformity for variety. And whatever may be thought of the innate qualities of the Mexican peoples which, like the Russian, are still in flux, it will not be gainsaid by those who know them best that some of the innate elements of their mind and character, their hereditary faculties and aptitudes bid fair under adequate educational training and higher social bonds to harmonise with what is best in the economic, political and spiritual conditions of the new era. They nearly all display a highly developed sense of the spiritual which often fringes upon mysticism, are marked by that attractive note of meditation and introspection which in the more cultural among them generates enthusiasm and inspires heroic self-sacrifice. It is only fair to add, however, that these re-marks should not be qualified with the limitation that generalisations on matters Mexican are well nigh always conducive to error. Another of their noteworthy traits is their power of assimilation. ' Gradually the foreign races are becoming merged with the Indians and the blend is said to be excellent.
It should further be borne in mind that those who put forward the plea of the primacy of the needs of mankind over the rights of the lesser peoples, especially when the latter follow a dog-in-the-manger policy, are arguing on false assumptions. They have not been forbidden to develop the resources of the country. On the contrary, they have been and are being encouraged to go on with the work. All that the present Mexican Government is striving for is that the stream of riches which from the outset has been continuously flowing away from the country should be allowed to reach and benefit those who own it. As the President forcibly put the matter in his telegram to the New York World : "Mexico has well been called the treasure house of the world. In our mountains, plains and valleys there is incalculable wealth. Given scientific methods in agriculture and in irrigation, and our arable acreage will be able to sustain a population of 1000,000, We have iron, coal and water power sufficient to turn the wheels of the world. Our oil fields give promise of producing a billion barrels annually and our great stretches of pine and hardwoods are virtually untouched.
"The same condition obtains with respect to metals. As for gold and silver there is no exact record of the millions sent annually to Spain during the three hundred years of vice-regal rule. In the last twenty years, however, even with revolutionary disturbances, our mines have produced more than a billion dollars in net value.
"Consider these facts and then consider the horror of poverty in which ninety per cent of the Mexican people have lived, a people endowed by nature with every blessing necessary to comfort and happiness, yet compelled to suffer and die from sheer lack of the necessities of life. Common humanity dictated a change, and it is this change that Mexico has made. We stand to-day on the principle that the natural resources of a nation belong to the nation. Never again will the people of Mexico tolerate a Government that does not support this principle. By no means does this imply a hermit nation policy. Mexico is not so foolish as to think that she can live alone or work alone, nor is any such wish in her heart ; but what Mexico will ask in the future is a fair partnership in development. We are through forever with the policy of gift, graft and surrender."
It is not denied that serious encroachments upon life and property were among the phenomena that characterised the various revolutions or that crime and vice were rampant during that long drawn out period of wild orgies. But such compensation as is possible for reparable losses is being provided for, abuses are being remedied, and guarantees given for the future. The internal Mexican situation has therefore changed radically. The militant attitude of the foreign groups has remained without modification. It is also an unquestioned fact that the oil companies in especial which are now clamouring for drastic pressure to be put upon Mexico contrived to carry on their work during the darkest days of the Revolution. The talk about the needs of humanity, the white man's burden and the sacred duty of the more advanced nation to act as the keeper and mentor of the more backward is one of the least respectable survivals of the world war when clap-trap of the most specious kind usurped the functions of sound common sense and fiction was substituted for fact. Cuba which went through the mill which is now being prepared for Mexico became materially prosperous under the tutelage of the United States but for the time being lost her national soul.