U.S. Mobilizes Troops, Vows to Pacify Border

Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 240th installment in the series.

June 18-21, 1916: U.S. Mobilizes Troops, Vows to Pacify Border

Following the murder of dozen of Americans by Pancho Villa’s troops at Santa Ysabel, Mexico in January 1916 and Columbus, New Mexico in March, President Woodrow Wilson dispatched a Punitive Expeditionary Force of around 6,000 U.S. Army troops under General John “Black Jack” Pershing into northern Mexico to hunt down the bandit. The Mexican government, unable to stop Villa itself, reluctantly allowed this violation of its sovereignty with a limited agreement temporarily giving both sides the right of “hot pursuit” across the Mexican border.

By April 8, 1916, elements of the Punitive Expedition had advanced about 300 miles into northern Mexico in pursuit of Villa, killing or capturing a good number of his troops at San Geronimo and Aguascalientes, but never apprehending the elusive bandit leader himself. Meanwhile the Mexican government was having second thoughts, especially following a bloody clash between U.S. cavalry and loyal Mexican forces, perhaps resulting from mistaken identity, at Parral on April 12 (over 500 miles from the U.S. border, Parral marked the furthest advance of the U.S. troops during the Punitive Expedition). 

On April 16, Mexican President Venustiano Carranza, alarmed by the widening scope of the Punitive Expedition, reversed course and demanded that U.S. troops withdraw from the country. The U.S. agreed to withdraw its troops once Villa was captured, but Carranza rejected this idea on May 5, demanding a fixed date for their withdrawal. That same day Villa’s irregulars raided the towns of Glenn Springs and Boquillas, Texas, and on May 9 Villa himself led a raid by around 1,000 rebels on Douglas, Arizona, further inflaming American public opinion. Wilson responded by mobilizing more U.S. Army troops as well as National Guardsmen in Texas, Arizona and New Mexico to guard the border.

The tension between the U.S. and Mexican governments was clearly escalating, but there appeared to be no solution as long as Villa remained at liberty. On May 22, 1916 Carranza repeated his demand that American troops withdraw from northern Mexico, but once again got the brush-off. Then on June 15, 1916, Mexican irregulars (apparently unaffiliated with Villa) ratcheted the tension up a notch with an attack against a border patrol at San Ygnacio, Texas; the following day the Mexican government warned that any further advances by U.S. troops would be resisted by force.

With war looming, on June 18, 1916, Wilson mobilized around 135,000 U.S. Army and National Guard troops from across the U.S. to the Mexican border, to guard the frontier and reinforce Pershing’s hunt for Villa. Two days later, the U.S. stated that the troops in northern Mexico wouldn’t be withdrawn until the border region was pacified, in a clear rebuff to Carranza.

It wasn’t long before U.S. and Mexican forces clashed again: on June 21, 1916, U.S. cavalry searching for Villa at Carrizal, Mexico instead found themselves confronting a larger force of Mexican government cavalry, which forced them into a hasty retreat amid relatively heavy losses on both sides. Additionally dozens of Americans were taken prison (including a number of African-American “Buffalo Soldiers,” below). 

Following Carrizal war seemed very likely, but fortunately reason prevailed, as both national governments realized they had enough on their plates (in Carranza’s case the rebellion, in Wilson’s case diplomatic disputes with the Allies over their naval blockade on one side, and with the Central Powers over mounting evidence of their involvement in sabotage and labor unrest in the U.S. on the other. Wilson also had to prepare for his own reelection campaign). 

On June 28 Carranza ordered the prisoners from Carrizal released as a show of goodwill, and on June 30, 1916 Wilson struck a decidedly moderate tone during a speech to the New York Press Club: 

The easiest thing is to strike. The brutal thing is the impulsive thing. No man has to think before he takes aggressive action… Do you think the glory of America would be enhanced by a war of conquest in Mexico? Do you think that any act of violence by a powerful nation like this against a weak and distracted neighbor would reflect distinction upon the annals of the United States? 

On July 4 Carranza offered another olive branch by calling for direct negotiations with no conditions, and a week later Mexican diplomats proposed creation of a commission that would formulate rules to govern cross-border raids. The prospect of war with Mexico was receding – at least for the time being. 

However the Punitive Expedition continued, now augmented by over a hundred thousand troops guarding the U.S. border with Mexico. Young men from all over the United States, many of whom had never been more than a few hundred miles from home, now found themselves stationed in remote, dusty towns strung out along the southern borders of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. It was a learning experience to say the least.

Their revelations and travails began with the journey to the Southwest aboard trains chartered by the U.S. Army. They soon met their most consistent adversary – boredom – although the trip was livened by the enthusiastic greeting they received in some small towns (probably as much for their novelty as any sense of patriotism among the townsfolk). One soldier, U.S. Army private Kenneth Gow, wrote home about the trip from New York State across Pennsylvania and Ohio: 

The horses and mules are on the first train, combat wagons and trucks on the second and the men on two twenty-six car trains. We have dragged all the way across Ohio, and it is very wearisome. The men have sung, talked, and slept themselves out already, and we are not one-quarter of the way there... I almost forgot to speak of the reception we received at Harrisburg. Half the city population seemed to be there. Any man could have all the cigarettes, cigars or tobacco he wanted. Baskets of fruit and sandwiches were presented to any man who would take the trouble to carry them on the train. Who paid for it all I do not know. 

These fulsome greetings were the rule, not the exception, according to another letter in which Gow noted (sounding almost like an explorer in a foreign country): “We have been given a great reception all along the route. When we pull into a depot, the whole confounded town makes a rush for the train. Everything is different – the people, their dress and their talk. A great many things are cheaper than in New York, but not as good. Silver dollars are more plentiful than bills.”

The border region itself presented an environment that tested even individuals used to physically challenging farm labor or the tedium of factory work. Writing home from McAllen, Texas, on July 3, Gow painted an unpleasant and alarming picture for his family members:

This afternoon we experienced our first sand and wind storm. It was certainly fierce, and was followed by a violent thunderstorm, which is not over yet as I write, and that is why I have time to write this letter. Sand is in everything. When you close your teeth the sand grits between them. I do not exaggerate; it is a fact. At night and during thunderstorms we have visitors in our tents, – namely, rattlesnakes, chameleons, and one hundred and one varieties of lizards, tarantulas, and scorpions. A rattlesnake he would pay a visit to the band tent yesterday, and got killed for his pains… Oh! this sure is a delightful country. Why anyone will live here passes my comprehension. 

The presence of tens of thousands of relatively well-paid Army and National Guard troops was a boon to McAllen and other small towns languishing in the chaparral, according to Gow, who noted:

McAllen is about seven years old, and has lain in a semi-dormant condition until the arrival of the troops, when it awoke and is growing like magic. Restaurants, lunch-rooms, bottling works, photograph studios, ice-cream parlors, fruit stands, shooting-galleries, etc., have sprung up overnight like mushrooms. Someone told me an undertaker has moved in with a supply of one hundred coffins. Rotten, squalid rooms in rickety one-story frame builds have been fumigated and leased as sleeping-rooms for reporters, camera men and their ilk. 

Of course, as in any boomtown there were plenty of shady characters looking to make a quick buck, and some of these “businesses” were hardly salubrious:

The men who have been bothered the most are the ones who have been drinking pop and the rest of the slop that is sold just outside the picket lines and in town. A place set up near our camp laid forty-two men flat on their backs in one day. The physician, upon investigation, found it was bad milk that did it. They made short work of the fellow who ran that joint. 

For all this, Gow found that there were still moments of unexpected beauty, echoing the sentiments of sensitive individuals across a war-torn world: 

We had religious services, conducted by the chaplain, last night. The whole regiment assembled on the parade-grounds in hollow square… The sun was just setting. I mentioned the beauty of the sunsets before. Our colors were in the centre of the square, with the field music. The chaplain read the Episcopal service. The whole regiment stood ad parade rest, every man carefully uniformed and perfectly aligned. The camp was in the background, and on the horizon the sun setting in ablaze of glory, everything about our equipment, tents, combat wagons, etc., dyed in the same glow. It was one of the most impressive scenes I have ever witnessed. 

See the previous installment or all entries.

10 Bold Breaking Bad Fan Theories

Bryan Cranston as Walter White and Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad.
Bryan Cranston as Walter White and Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad.
Ben Leuner, AMC

It’s been nearly six years since Breaking Bad went out in a blaze of gunfire, but fans still haven’t stopped thinking about the award-winning crime drama. What really happened to Walter White in the series finale? What’s the backstory on Gus Fring? And what did Jesse Pinkman’s doodles mean?

While El Camino, Vince Gilligan's new Breaking Bad movie, offers definitive answers to at least one of these questions, these fan theories offer some alternative answers—even if they strain the limits of logic and sanity along the way. Read on to discover the surprising source of Walt’s cancer diagnosis, and why pink is always bad news.

1. Walter White picks up traits from the people he kills.

Walter White is an unpredictable guy, but he’s weirdly consistent on one thing: After he kills someone, he kind of copies them. Remember how Krazy-8 liked his sandwiches without the crust? After Walt murdered him, he started eating crustless PB&Js. Walt also lifted Mike Ehrmantraut’s drink order and Gus Fring’s car, leading many fans to wonder if Walt steals personal characteristics from the people he kills.

2. Gus Fring worked for the CIA.

Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) and Juan Bolsa (Javier Grajeda) in Breaking Bad
Giancarlo Esposito and Javier Grajeda in Breaking Bad.
Ursula Coyote, AMC

Who was Gus Fring before he became the ruthless leader of a meth/fried chicken empire? Well, we know he’s from Chile. We also know that any records of his time there are gone. And we know that cartel kingpin Don Eladio refused to kill him when he had the chance. Since Don Eladio has no qualms about eliminating the competition, Gus must have some form of protection. Could it be from the U.S. government? A detailed Reddit theory suggests that Gus was once a Chilean aristocrat who helped the CIA install the dictator Augusto Pinochet in power. Once Pinochet became a liability, Gus went to Mexico at the CIA’s behest to infiltrate a drug cartel. His alliance with U.S. intelligence kept him alive even as his work got more violent, and helped him bypass the normal immigration issues you'd typically encounter when you’ve murdered a bunch of people.

3. Madrigal built defective air filters that gave Walter white cancer.

Madrigal Electromotive is a corporation with varied interests. The German parent company of Los Pollos Hermanos dabbles in shipping, fast food, and industrial equipment … including air filters. According to one fan theory, Gray Matter—the company Walter White co-founded with Elliott Schwartz—purchased defective air filters from Madrigal and installed them while Walt still worked at the company. The filters ultimately caused Walt’s lung cancer, pushing him into the illegal drug trade and, eventually, business with Madrigal.

4. Color is a crucial element in the series.

Marie Schrader (Betsy Brandt) and Hank Schrader (Dean Norris)
Betsy Brandt and Dean Norris as Marie and Hank Schrader in Breaking Bad.
Ben Leuner, AMC

Color is a code on Breaking Bad. When a character chooses drab tones, they’re usually going through something, like withdrawal (Jesse) or chemo (Walt). Their wardrobe might turn darker as their stories skew darker—like when Marie ditched her trademark purple for black while she was under protective custody. Also, pink signals death, whether it’s on a teddy bear or Saul Goodman’s button down shirt.

5. Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead exist in the same universe.

Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead both aired on AMC, but according to fans, that’s not all they have in common. There’s an exhaustive body of evidence connecting the two shows—and one of the biggest links is Blue Sky. The distinctively-colored crystal meth is Walt and Jesse’s calling card on Breaking Bad, but it’s also Merle Dixon’s drug of choice on The Walking Dead. Coincidentally, his drug dealer (“a janky little white guy” who says “bitch”) sounds a lot like Jesse.

6. Walter white froze to death and hallucinated Breaking Bad's ending.

Bryan Cranston in the 'Breaking Bad' series finale
Ursula Coyote, AMC

In her review of the Breaking Bad series finale “Felina,” The New Yorker critic Emily Nussbaum suggested an alternate ending in which Walt died an episode earlier, as the police surrounded his car in New Hampshire. He could’ve frozen to death “behind the wheel of a car he couldn’t start,” she theorized, and hallucinated the dramatic final shootout in “Felina” in his dying moments. This reading has gained traction with multiple fans, including SNL alum Norm Macdonald.

7. Jesse’s superheroes are a peek into his inner psyche.

In season 2 of Breaking Bad, we discover that Jesse Pinkman is a part-time artist. He sketches his own superheroes, including Backwardo/Rewindo (who can run backwards so fast he rewinds time), Hoverman (who floats above the ground), and Kanga-Man (who has a sidekick in his “pouch”). The characters are goofy, just like Jesse, but they may also reveal what’s going on in his head. Backwardo represents Jesse’s tendency to run from conflict. Hoverman reflects his lack of direction or purpose, while Kanga-Man hints at his codependency.

8. Madrigal was founded by Nazi war criminals.

Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Uncle Jack (Michael Bowen) in 'Breaking Bad'
Bryan Cranston and Michael Bowen in Breaking Bad.
Ursula Coyote, AMC

This might be one of the wilder Breaking Bad theories, but before you write it off, consider Werner Heisenberg: The German physicist, who helped pioneer Hitler’s nuclear weapons program, is the obvious inspiration for Walt’s meth kingpin moniker. While Heisenberg only appears in name, there are plenty of literal Nazis on the show. Look no further than Uncle Jack and the Aryan Brotherhood, who served as the Big Bad of season 5. At least one Redditor thinks all these Nazi references are hinting at something bigger, a conspiracy that goes straight to the top. The theory starts in South America, where many Nazis fled after World War II. A group of them supposedly formed a new company, Madrigal, through their existing connections back in Germany. Eventually, a young Chilean named Gus Fring worked his way into the growing business, and the rest is (fake) history.

9. Walter white survived, but paid the price.

Lots of Breaking Bad theories concern Walt’s death, or lack thereof. But if Walt actually lived through his seemingly fatal gunshot wound in “Felina,” what would the rest of his life look like? According to one Reddit theory, it wouldn’t be pretty. The infamous Heisenberg would almost certainly stand trial and go to prison. Although he tries to leave Skyler White with information to cut a deal with the cops, she could also easily go to jail—or lose custody of her children. The kids wouldn’t necessarily get that money Walt left with Elliott and Gretchen Schwartz, either, as they could take his threats to the police and surrender the cash to them. Basically it amounts to a whole lot of misery, making Walt’s death an oddly optimistic ending. (This is one theory El Camino addresses directly.)

10. Breaking Bad is a prequel to Malcolm in the Middle.

Bryan Cranston in the series premiere of 'Breaking Bad'
Bryan Cranston in the series premiere of Breaking Bad.
Doug Hyun, AMC

Alright, let’s say Walt survived the series finale and didn’t stand trial. Maybe he started over as a new man with a new family. Three boys, perhaps? This fan-favorite theory claims that Walter White assumed a new identity as Malcolm in the Middle patriarch Hal after the events of Breaking Bad, making the show a prequel to Bryan Cranston’s beloved sitcom. The Breaking Bad crew actually liked this idea so much they included an “alternate ending” on the DVD boxed set, where Hal wakes up from a bad dream where "There was a guy who never spoke! He just rang a bell the whole time! And then there was another guy who was a policeman or a DEA agent, and I think it was my brother or something. He looked like the guy from The Shield."

Fan Notices Hilarious Connection Between Joaquin Phoenix's Joker and Superbad's McLovin

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

There seems to be exactly one funny thing about Todd Phillips's latest film, Joker.

As reported by Geek.com, someone on Twitter by the name of @minalopezavina brilliantly pointed out that Arthur Fleck from Joker and McLovin from Superbad are pretty much in the same costume.

This meme is a nice moment of comic relief in an otherwise very serious movie. In fact, Joker is so dark that the United States Army had issued warnings about possible shootings at theaters playing the film. The warnings coincided with criticisms that the film might be too violent, with fears that the villain-led storyline would result in copycat events in real life.

Both Phillips and star Joaquin Phoenix have weighed in on the controversy, with the director explaining to The Wrap, "It wasn’t, ‘We want to glorify this behavior.’ It was literally like ‘Let’s make a real movie with a real budget and we’ll call it f**king Joker’. That’s what it was.”

All we can say is the amount of chatter behind Joker certainly led to both packed theaters, and endless memes online.

[h/t Geek.com]

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