Saturday, May 05, 2012

Dix-Sept du Mai

Today is Cinco de Mayo, the 150th anniversary of Mexico's stunning, decisive victory over France at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Go easy on the 2-por-1 Coronas, though; Dix-Sept du Mai, the 149th anniversary of France's stunning, decisive re-taking of Puebla, is just around the corner. (Our editorial board has long lobbied for Cinco de Mayo to be renamed Día del Tope - Speedbump Day - a suggestion that has gained surprisingly little traction with the Mexican public.)

Greenwich Village, May 5, 2012


But a little more than a year to the day after the greatest beer-marketing coup since a devout Fifth-Century Irishman named Patrick illustrated the Holy Trinity using a shamrock, President Benito Juárez was forced to proclaim:
"MEXICANS: The nation has just suffered a severe blow. Puebla of Zaragoza, immortalized by high and numerous heroic actions, has just succumbed, not from the bravery of the French, whom our soldiers were accustomed to repel, but from causes which the Government must consider insurmountable for heroism itself.

Which is kind of ungracious, given the way Mexicans would spend the next century and a half spiking the Cinco de Mayo football, but hey, we can all agree on the whole "bravery of the French" thing, no?

Anywy, we now quote at length from the New York Times's translation of El Heraldo de Mexico's coverage, May, 1863:
The city continued to be defended heroically until the 16th, when the soldiers, worn out from the want of provisions, could not support themselves, and when there only remained an insignificant amount of war like materials, expecting to be attacked on the following day by the enemy, who now judged them to be much weakened.... At 4 P.M. of the same day, the 16th, Gen. ORTEGA herd a meeting of Generals in the Government-house, where he lived. Having heard the opinion of his comrades, he resolved and so declared, in a general order, published for the purpose, that on that night all the arms should be broken and rendered useless, the cannon that remained should be spiked and thrown into the ditches, and the flags of the corps collected, which some assert were burned. All was done according to order, the soldiers disbanding according to the same regulation. At 5 A.M. a white flag was raised and the Commander-in-Chief, commanders and officers awaited the enemy with firmness, resolved not to ask any kind of pledge, as in fact they did. The French army, full of admiration at an act so sublime and unparalleled, could not help showing themselves affected and respectful. Glory to the hero of Puebla in May, 1863! Glory to the unconquered army of his command.

That last adjective being, of course, technically, untrue. But we continue. It wasn't a day of defeat for all Mexicans. Like Cortes before them, the French bolstered their ranks with local troops, and while the French were being all, like, French about things, the Mexicans on their side swooped in.

Some gangs of traitors were the first who entered the city, and giving proofs of their vandal-like instincts, took out of the houses the horses of the Commanders of the Army of the East, and began to commit excesses. Fortunately, some Zouaves entered, and with their weapons forced them to desist showing, as did all the French army, the contempt with which they look upon the spurious Mexicans who have sold their country.

The QRO gets a shout-out, too! With the victory-swollen French (we Googled it; those words have never been written) pivoting toward Mexico City, the government suggested this would be a good time for all French subjects to fuck the fuck off, leaving "by way of Morelia or Querétaro, for a distance not less than forty leagues from the Capital, with the exception only of those physically prevented, according to the opinion of three medical men, appointed by the government of the district." In case you thought Mexico's Byzantine government paperwork requirements originated with the PRI.

On offering his surrender, Gen. Ortega wrote, in the florid parlance of the era, "I believe, Sir, that I have fulfilled the wishes of the supreme Government, and complied with the duties imposed upon me by honor and the office intrusted to me, but if it should not be so, I will with pleasure submit to a trial as soon as I am at liberty for in a few hours I shall be a prisoner." Informed of this, Juárez replied on that same day that:

The citizen President has been observing with deep interest all and each of the events that have taken place during the glorious defence of this city, and and sees with pride that the last which has put an end to the tenacious and vigorous struggle, corresponds to the former ones, if not in its victorious results, at east in other things, because it leaves untainted the fame of the nation, without in any way diminishing the lustre of its unconquered arms, or compromising by any offer the sacred word of its warriors.
In case you though the great tradition of thorough and deliberate government inquiries into the conduct of the military originated with the PRI.

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