ZAPATA by Roger Parkinson


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When the biographer of Clausewitz (1971) goes looking for the real Emiliano Zapata he finds a superior guerrilla strategist. Parkinson admires Zapata for stressing, apparently instinctively, the importance of the first stage of guerrilla activity--underground organization; for winning peasants to his side by restraining the excesses of his followers; even for dressing like a village mayor instead of a military man, thus identifying himself as simultaneously one of the people and a respected leader. Above all he traces Zapata's continued insistence on the need to coordinate military and political goals, thus underscoring the tactical acuity as well as the idealism of his allegiance to the agrarian reform demands of the Plan of Ayala. This political awareness brought Zapata into conflict with sometime allies like Madero and Carranza, and made him one of the few revolutionary leaders who never transformed himself into an instant dictator. Parkinson amply justifies his approach in his description of the counterinsurgency tactics used by General Robles, forerunners of the strategic hamlets and free-fire zones of Vietnam. Unfortunately there are only scattered hints here of the personal magnetism that made this small, taciturn horse trainer such a charismatic leader, though a few anecdotes do capture the Zapata fire--his indignation at the marble-floored stables of a rich employer; his meeting with teetotaler Pancho Villa which ended with the much bigger man embarrassed into downing a glass of cognac; his advice to the Convention which hoped to neutralize both him and his enemy Carranza--""have us both shot."" Also, the conclusion is too quick to assure us that Zapata's agrarian program was effected by the post-revolutionary government, which is the official mythology but in fact an exaggeration. Parkinson has a limited vision--both dramatically and politically, but he has a firm grasp of the military reality and of the shifting alignments. In scholarship and scope this can't challenge John Womack's landmark biography Zapata and the Mexican Revolution, but it does focus on Zapata as the guerrilla, for a wider readership than military history normally draws.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1975
Publisher: Stein & Day