Edward Haley is a political scientist turned historian who has discovered a cause. He makes clear in his preface (no pagination) that he wrote the book to teach the United States foreign policy makers a lesson. He is especially concerned with the grievous mistakes of Vietnam and seeks to “provide a study of America’s past responses to revolution abroad” and to “aid in understanding and formulating the nation’s present and future response.” He chose the Mexican Revolution “because the fierce regulation of private property and foreign investment in Mexico, the emphasis on social welfare, and the deemphasis of political freedom seemed to link it closely to the other major revolutions of the twentieth century.” All well and good. We ought to avoid past mistakes, and a thorough analysis of the Mexican Revolution from 1910 to the present and the American reaction to it could prove helpful. Does Edward Haley provide such an analysis? The answer is a resounding “No.”
Haley made his study at the Washington Center of Foreign Policy Research. If he used any language but English at the Center, the fact is not apparent in this book. One would have thought, or hoped, after the fine work of the Foreign Area Fellowship Program and other area programs around the country in the past decade, that the professors at the Center would have encouraged him to learn Spanish and to delve deeply into Mexican history in order to understand what was going on in that country. Instead, Haley seems to have read only two books to prepare himself for this project—those by Henry B. Parkes and Frank Tannenbaum. Though he dutifully cites Womack, Ross, and Cumberland in his footnotes, there is no evidence in the text to show that he ever read them. Almost all the information on events in Mexico comes from American State Department dispatches. No one can doubt that the reports of seasoned and intelligent diplomatic observers tell us much about the internal affairs of a country. But the people at the Center of Foreign Policy Research would be among the first to object, and rightly, if anyone tried to write a history of the Vietnam involvement based solely on Saigon embassy dispatches.
An account of foreign policy should be more than the stringing together of a series of dispatches that happened to end up in the National Archives or on microfilm rolls. If the diplomatic historian limits himself to the messages—“he said,” “they replied”—the cause of good history writing, if not advanced, is at least not torpedoed. But here in chapter 11 is an example of the real dangers involved in having only scanty knowledge of the events in the foreign country involved. Concerning Venustiano Carranza’s dealings with Woodrow Wilson, Haley writes (p. 266): “Again and again one marvels at the skill of Mexican diplomacy and at the depth of understanding of American politics it reflected.” Why? Because the Mexicans (p. 264) “cleverly” used the threat of a German alliance to gain advantages in their negotiations with the United States. According to Haley (pp. 248-249), “Carranza indicated a desire to cooperate with Germany and suggested through Heinrich von Eckhardt, German minister to Mexico, that the Carranza government would offer Germany submarine bases.”
In fact, there is no documentary information to substantiate this assertion. Others, including Arthur S. Link and Barbara Tuchman, have made the same point, and it is true that the German Foreign Minister, Arthur Zimmermann, reported such a proposal to the Reichstag Finance Committee (see H. P. Hanssen, Diary of a Dying Empire, pp. 175-179). But Zimmermann was trying to extricate himself from the embarrassing situation following the interception by the British and American governments of his ill-advised note to Mexico. Holger H. Herwig, in his excellent dissertation, “The German Naval Officer Corps. A Social and Political History, 1890-1918” (SUNY, Stony Brook, 1971), shows that German agents abroad proposed many harebrained schemes to the Naval Command, among them the construction of U-Boat bases in Hawaii and Baja California, and even along the American coast. German agents and diplomats told their superiors what the Kaiser’s government wanted to believe. The most that can be said concerning the alleged offer was that von Eckhardt cabled Berlin that Carranza’s Foreign Relations Minister, Cándido Aguilar, told him that Mexico would help German submarines “if necessary”—a far cry from a genuine proposal to give Germany permanent bases (see Friedrich Katz, Deutschland, Díaz und die Mexikanische Revolution, p. 355). No one will ever really know what Aguilar told the German minister, and least of all what Carranza told him to say.
Though Carranza ultimately got his way with the American government, it was certainly not due to the “brilliance” of his policies in contrast to those of Washington. Rather it was because he was stubborn, more so even than Woodrow Wilson. Also Wilson became distracted by the European war and the events that came to involve the United States in it. As a result, Carranza did not do what Wilson required of him, and the American president backed down. Carranza’s was a successful, but scarcely well-thought-out policy. If the Mexican Revolution does hold lessons for American policy-makers, we do not discover them in this book. Haley, by concentrating on the Taft and Wilson administrations, before the social revolution got under way, ignores the more important later years when events might have substantiated his thesis, when Calles and Cárdenas did have trouble with the United States because of their nationalistic policies.