Add Columbus, N.M., to the roster of attacks on unwitting American civilians.
Americans of 1916 might have wondered why “they” hate us, too. As Welsome (The Plutonium Files, 1999) explains, Pancho Villa, leader of one of the contending armies in revolutionary Mexico, felt betrayed by the Wilson administration’s support of his enemies and was convinced “that the Americans would soon invade their beloved homeland.” He therefore resolved to take his war across the border. The dusty little town of Columbus held a small army garrison, a couple of stores and some needed supplies, so it seemed a promising target. Villa’s attack on it, though, turned out to be a costly tactical mistake, for, among other effects, it drew down a larger American force under the command of John J. Pershing and George Patton, neither of whom had much regard for Mexico’s national sovereignty, and forced Villa to live as an outlaw in his own country. Welsome’s account of the Columbus raid, in which 18 Americans died, is exciting. Her retelling of the Pershing expedition is also solid, a wild-goose-chase nightmare of confused intelligence and inhospitable elements in which Villistas, bandits, the Mexican army, the weather and disease all get a shot at the invading gringo force. Welsome sometimes strives too hard to inject local color into the narrative, and constructions such as “The melancholy cries of tamale women and scissors grinders dropped like birdsong into the somnolent quiet of late afternoons” and “The soldiers sprinted forward, eager to feel the wet mud between their dedos del pie” succeed only in making the reader’s cabeza hurt. Still, the events of 1916 on the border are too little known, as is the season of anti-Mexican reprisal that took place within the U.S. following the raid, culminating in the hanging of six Villistas.
A worthy chronicle. Read between the lines for parallels with events in other insurgent lands.