USBP History, Part 6
But again, Villa attacked on March 9, 1916 and
within seven days America's military was on the move.
In seven days General “Blackjack” Pershing mounted what was to
be the largest unified cavalry force in all of American history.
It was also to be the very last massed cavalry action in the history
of the United States Army.
This Villista attack of 1916 was but the largest
of hundreds if not thousands of such attacks against the United
States since the start of Mexico’s revolution of 1910. This revolution
would continue until 1920. More than a million Mexicans died in
that civil war ( about ten percent of Mexico's population). The
utter tragedy of that period in Mexican history can only be understood
when we consider that most of these million deaths were at the
hands of other Mexicans who killed their brothers not with guns
but with farm implements. An accurate count of American deaths
— as this civil war coursed back and forth across our southern
border — is impossible to determine.
was America's first use of motorized machines in war. Here we
have National Guardsmen even on motorcycles deep in Mexico.
This Villista attack forever changed America's
attitude toward Mexico. Mexico suddenly was no longer the
"Land of Enchantment" but instead a safe haven for bandits and
This is not to say that America did not have
a morbid fascination for these goings on, we did. As the Rwandan-like
catastrophe of Mexico continued, various America film companies
tried to capitalize on it. Just between 1913 and 1916 there were
a dozen fictional movies made of the banditry and five fairly
good movie documentaries. Mutual Films Corporation (a decade later
to become part of RKO) paid Pancho Villa $25,000 to be allowed
to film the violence he brought upon people. Part of their contract
was that he should attack "in daylight if possible".
The costs of this banditry and violence to the
United States were tremendous. The Panama Canal had just been
completed and the nearest large harbor in the United States to
support that miracle of technology was in San Diego, Californa.
There were great hopes that San Diego -- having one of the finest
harbors in the world -- would gain vast wealth from canal traffic.
There was even a Panama Exposition in San Diego celebrating the
opening of the canal.
In fact, the threat of bandits, Mexican Army
invasions, and worse, were so real to America that San Diego's
natural harbor was ignored. The new harbor to support
the Panama canal was built a safe 100 miles to the north in Los
Angeles. But Los Angles did not have a harbor. To protect
America's future commerce from the continued violence, a harbor
was built off a barren beach. It cost the equivalent of 10 % of
the entire net worth of Los Angeles county and fifty years to
build their harbor.
The machinations of the politicians to get this
accomplished make the Los Angeles water authority (celebrated
in the movie Chinatown)
look like kindergarten schemes. You can see the result today on
any Los Angeles city road map. Los Angeles harbor is part of the
city of Los Angeles and is connected to the city 14 miles away
by a single thread of "city land" sometimes not even
50 yards wide.