In the past 100 or so years, exactly three people have orchestrated acts of war that resulted in the deaths of American people on American soil—Osama bin-Laden, Imperial Japanese Army General Hideki Tojo, and Pancho Villa. Tojo was hanged for war crimes and bin-Laden got a bullet in the forehead. Villa was memorialized with a statue in Downtown Tucson. Doesn't seem right.
The jury has never been out on Villa. It is universally acknowledged that he personally killed people and was responsible for hundreds of other deaths. His treatment of women was, at the very least, reprehensible and he had a ridiculously inflated sense of self-worth. His politics and morality were built on shifting sands and his motives rarely, if ever, strayed from his own narrow self-interest.
The statue of Pancho Villa was unveiled July 1, 1981. Tucson Mayor Lew Murphy was smart enough to boycott the ceremony, which featured Governor Bruce Babbitt babbling on about Villa being a "great revolutionary hero." (Babbitt, the one-time golden boy of Arizona politics, showed himself to be tone deaf with the support of Villa and his use of troops against striking copper miners).
Some say it would be rude to take it down because Mexico offered it as a gift and a sign of good will. Well, if Mexico considers that as a sign of being gracious, then Mexico can perform an anatomically impossible act upon itself.
Latin America—from Northern Sonora to the tip of Patagonia—has a sordid history of one ruthless dictator being supplanted by some guy who spouts populist phrases but then, once he grabs power, becomes even more ruthless than the guy he replaced. So it was in the Mexican Revolution. Porfirio Diaz had ruled Mexico from 1876 to 1911, often with the tacit—if not outright—support of the United State government, which saw Diaz's iron-fisted order as being good for American financial interests in Mexico.
When Diaz was finally ousted, all hell broke loose and it was actually more like a civil war than a revolution. The names come tumbling forward—Venustiano Carranza, Francisco Madero, Victoriano Huerta, Emiliano Zapata, Eulelio Gutierrez, Alvaro Obregon, and Jose Doroteo Arango Arambula (Pancho Villa). Each wanted power and each believed that he knew what was best for Mexico. What resulted, however, was a decade of in-fighting, political chicanery, shifting loyalties, and bloody battles that served no one but the undertaker.
Was Villa the worst of the lot? Maybe, maybe not. He certainly wasn't the best or most noble. He raped girls who were barely in their teens. He slaughtered untold numbers of his own people. He was, by all accounts, a really crappy military leader. He marched into small villages like San Pedro de la Cueva, picked out the barely pubescent girl of his liking to be his next "wife," then lined up all the men in the town and had them gunned down in front of the town's women and children. His quest wasn't quixotic; it was sadistic.
However, if he had just done all that stuff in Mexico, then it would be up to the Mexican people to decide whether to revere or revile him. We in America could sneer at him from a distance and piss on his worthless memory. Unfortunately, he made it our business when he launched an attack on American soil that killed American citizens.
In 1915, Pancho Villa laid siege to Agua Prieta, Sonora, but avoided the bordering Arizona town of Douglas. He became less careful as his military losses mounted and his popular support dwindled. A couple months before the Columbus raid, Villistas attacked a train in Chihuahua and killed 17 Americans, including 15 who worked for the ASARCO mining company. Finally on the night of March 9, 1916, about 100 of his men crossed into the United States and attacked the border town of Columbus, New Mexico, in search of military supplies. They killed 18 Americans and burned the town to the ground. However, members of the 13th Cavalry Regiment, from whom Villa was attempting to steal, repelled the attack and killed 80 Villistas in the process.
I'm sure that there are apologists who will point out that, at the time of the attack, New Mexico had only been a state for a few years and that the international border was even more porous than it is today. Furthermore, Villa was apparently upset that the United States government had shifted its support away from him and toward Carranza, who was, by then, running the country. But please know that apologizing for that bitch makes one even more of a bitch than the bitch for whom you are apologizing.
In the morning paper, columnist Tim Steller suggested that in the coming year, the west side of downtown Tucson may begin to catch up with the dizzying pace of upgrading and development that the east side of downtown has enjoyed. I have a suggestion for city leaders. Instead of sitting around, twiddling your thumbs waiting for Allan Norville or Humberto Lopez to get off their butts and do something, why don't you kick-start the proceedings by taking down that abominable, disgusting, insulting statue?
I've complained about the statue in the past. This year, I plan on doing something about it. Perhaps some of you can join in. I'll keep you posted.