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The War That The Great War Helped Us Avoid

New York Times (Public Domain) / Wikimedia Commons

While Europe teetered on the brink of war during the summer of 1914, the threat of escalating violence and warfare with Mexico consumed Americans’ attentions.

The relationship between the United States and Mexico began to sour in 1910 as Mexico fell into a decade-long civil war. Until 1914, the U.S. warned Mexico that it would only get involved if the fighting threatened the lives or property of Americans living in Mexico. Twice, President Taft sent troops to the border as a warning, but did not allow them to intervene in the conflict.

Taft’s successor, Woodrow Wilson, took a more aggressive approach. In April 1914, he learned that Germany had sent a ship carrying arms to aid Mexican President Huerta. Wilson did not support Huerta’s presidency, and responded by sending troops to take the port of Veracruz and stop the ship from docking.

Two days later, tensions escalated when Mexican officials boarded an American ship and arrested the sailors at the port of Tampico. These back and forth skirmishes continued over the next two years.

By 1916, Wilson, contemplating declaring war on Mexico, began mobilizing the National Guard and the Army along the southern border. This march toward war only stopped in February 1917 when Wilson believed that the situation in Europe warranted American involvement.

When the United States officially entered World War I in April 1917, Wilson restored diplomatic relations between Mexico and the United States and removed all troops from the border, leaving the memory of this near-war to be dwarfed by the carnage of the coming years.

Dr. Robin C. Henry holds a Ph.D. in U.S. history from Indiana University and is an associate professor in the history department at Wichita State University. Her research examines the intersections among sexuality, law, and regional identity in the 19th- and early 20th-century United States.