Title Reviewed:
An Affair of Honor: Woodrow Wilson and the Occupation of Veracruz.

Author Reviewed:
Robert E. Quirk

Robert Ryal Miller


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 58, Issue 4, pp 391-392

Article Type:
Book Review

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An Affair of Honor: Woodrow Wilson and the Occupation of Veracruz. By Robert E. Quirk. ([Lexington]: University of Kentucky Press, for the Mississippi Valley Historical Association, 1962. Pp. vi, 184. Notes, essay on sources, index. $5.00.)

Beginning with an apt title and ending with a refreshing essay on sources, Professor Quirk's latest book is delightful to read. Furthermore it is a well-documented and interpretive historical account of a curious chapter in Mexican-American relations.

President Wilson's Mexican policy was both quixotic and enigmatic. His idealism led him to oppose armed intervention, yet he ordered occupation troops into Latin American nations more frequently than any other American president. And although Wilson, a former political science professor, would recognize only moral governments where the leaders ruled with the consent of the governed, he recognized Carranza, who gained power through revolution and held no elections at the time of his recognition. Quirk portrays Wilson and his secretary of state, William Jennings Bryan, as self-righteous, ignorant of foreign affairs, and distrustful of the career diplomats in the foreign service. Such a situation in Washington partially explains why a small incident in Mexico became a casus belli and led to the occupation of Veracruz by 7,000 United States soldiers and marines.

The incident at Tampico in April, 1914, where American sailors were briefly jailed then released after an apology by the Mexican commander, is well detailed in this book. Admiral Mayo, who subsequently demanded that the Mexicans fire a twenty-one gun salute to the United States flag, fares better here than in other accounts, in one of which he is relegated to the "age of Santa Anna and the Prince de Joinville." Quirk gives us fresh insight into the character of the American chargé d'affaires in Mexico City, Nelson J. O'Shaughnessy, who saw in the Tampico affair a chance to improve his position in the diplomatic corps. Effective use of the O'Shaughnessy papers, Department of State records, contemporary newspapers, and personal interviews enabled the author to unravel the maze of diplomatic maneuvering following the military ultimatum.

When diplomacy failed, the United States resorted to armed force. The two chapters on the invasion and occupation of Veracruz are a neat synthesis of a great amount of detailed information concerning military operations, health measures, and legal, financial, and administrative problems. The United State forces were evacuated some seven months after their entry into the Mexican port. Quirk's evaluation of the occupation is summed up in one sentence, "Within a few weeks it was difficult to tell that the Americans had ever occupied the city" (p. 171). He also points out that they left without having received the controversial flag salute, nor did the occupation achieve its purpose of preventing arms shipments to the unrecognized government of Huerta. Like the later abortive Pershing expedition, this invasion of Mexico was generally unsuccessful in achieving its goals, and it created a great deal of ill will in Latin America.

It is not difficult to see why the manuscript of this book earned Dr. Quirk the Mississippi Valley Historical Association's Prize Studies Award in 1961. The narrative is extremely clear, forceful, and well related to the larger scene of the Mexican Revolution and Wilson's foreign policy. It will be enjoyed by the layman as well as the specialist.

Robert Ryal Miller, New Mexico State University

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.