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U.S. response to Mexican attacks 90 years ago to be topic of next NMSU colloquium

The next event in New Mexico State University's College of Arts and Sciences fall 2006 colloquia, "Rethinking Terrorism," is a presentation by two history professors emeriti. Charles Harris and Ray Sadler will discuss "Securing the Border: The United States Response to Mexican Attacks, 1915-1916."

loquium will take place at 4 p.m., Sept. 19, in Room 107 of the Science Hall on the NMSU campus and is open to the public.

In 1916, the National Guard was mobilized to protect the U.S.-Mexico border after a series of armed raids from Mexico, Harris said. The raids, part of the "Plan de San Diego," a revolutionary manifesto that originated in south Texas, called for a Hispanic liberation struggle and the secession of the American Southwest from the U.S.

"As a movement, it never had a chance, but it led to something close to a race war in south Texas, because its principle provision was the killing of all Anglo males over the age of 16. It produced a backlash of monumental proportions," Harris said.

He said the head of the Mexican government, Venustiano Carranza, sponsored the invasions.

"There's been a reluctance to accept that view," Harris said. "On the part of Anglo writers, there's underlying racism since the unspoken thought was that since Carranza was a Mexican, he wasn't that clever. Hispanic writers want to portray it as a glorious liberation movement. What we (Harris and Sadler) show is that Carranza used Hispanics as pawns to put pressure on the U.S. and achieve his goals, one of which was to secure American diplomatic recognition in 1915."

After Harris discusses Carranza and the "Plan de San Diego," Sadler will pick up the story with Pancho Villa's raid on Columbus, N.M., in March 1916. That raid set off a chain of incidents, eventually reviving the "Plan." A military expedition that was sent into Mexico to break up Villa's band penetrated 410 miles deep into Chihuahua, but this played into Villa's hands, Sadler said.

"Villa was delighted because he now could be portrayed as a defender of Mexican sovereignty," he said. "He put great pressure on Carranza, who revived the Plan de San Diego and sent raids back into the U.S."

Sadler said Carranza hated the U.S. because of the Mexican War, which former presidents Lincoln and Grant called "our most unjust war" and one in which the U.S. took half of Mexico's territory. These tense days convinced the U.S. it was about to go to war with Mexico, Sadler said, noting that the commander of the U.S. Army asked for permission to capture every bridge on the U.S.-Mexico border from Brownsville-Matamoros to Juarez-El Paso. Carranza backed down, but in 1919, another attempt was made to revive the Plan de San Diego.

Other little known facts about this period of American history are that Carranza tried to incite a black/white race war in the South in his efforts to create a black republic and that evidence has been discovered that Japanese army officers had helped the raiders, Sadler said.

Both professors say these incidents of nearly a century ago show the definition of "terrorist" and "freedom fighter" lies in the eye of the beholder.

"To militant Hispanics, these people were freedom fighters," Harris said. "To Anglo Texans, they were terrorists. It all depends on whose ox is getting gored."

Other presentations scheduled for this fall semester are:

"Between Insurgency and Democracy in Peru" - Iñigo García-Bryce, Department of History, Sept. 26
"Counterterrorism and U.S. Border Security Policy" - Jason Ackleson, Department of Government, Oct. 17
"Strategic Communication and Counterterrorism" - Ken Hacker, Department of Communication Studies, Oct. 24
"Religious Justification for Violence in America" - Keith Akins, Department of Criminal Justice, Oct. 31