Mexico City, D. F. May 28, 1942
Mexico News, Department of State for Foreign Affairs, Year II, No. 17, June 5, 1942.
I have come before you to comply with one of the gravest duties which the Head of a Nation has ever had to shoulder, that of presenting to the National Legislature the necessity of resorting to the very last of the resources which a free people can dispose of to defend their destinies.
As I already informed the nation during the night of the 13th of the current month, a submarine pertaining to the Nazi Fascist powers torpedoed and sunk in the Atlantic, a Mexican oil tanker, the Potrero del Llano.
Nothing stopped the aggressors. Neither the neutrality of the country to whom the ship belonged nor the circumstance that it carried signals which could be readily observed indicating the nationality of the ship, nor the precaution taken that the ship had all the lights on in order that the colors of our flag, plainly displayed on the side of our ship, could be clearly observed, nor were there taken into consideration international and humanitarian rights of the duty to allow the crew of the ship an opportunity to save themselves.
Of 35 of the crew, all Mexican, only 22 were able to reach Miami, Florida, and one of them died a few hours later, a victim of the injuries suffered during the attack. Including these, 14 lives were swept away by the attack of the totalitarian powers. 14 young brave men gave up their lives, and before their deaths the nation bowed its head in mourning.
As soon as my Administration heard of the attack it framed an energetic protest which was sent to the Ministry of Foreign Relations of Sweden, a country which in December 1941, took charge of our interests in Germany, Italy and Japan.
In that document, Mexico stated that if within one week, starting Thursday, May 14th, the country responsible for the aggression should not render a satisfactory explanation as well as assuring us that proper indemnification would be given for the damage done and suffering incurred, if that was not done, we would be forced to take such measures as required by our national dignity.
The week has passed. Italy and Japan did not reply to our protest. Worse yet. As a gesture of disdain, typical of the aggressor, the German Chancellery even refused to receive our note.
But the totalitarian nations did not stop there. Seven days after the attack on the Potrero del Llano, a new attack took place. The night of Wednesday 20, another of our ships, the Faja de Oro, was torpedoed and sunk in front of the North American eastern seaboard, under identical conditions to those which occurred during the first sinking.
This time, we also had to deplore the loss of life of a valiant group of our countrymen. Six of the crew of 35 were lost and 29 were picked up by the Coast Guards of the United States, arriving at Cayo Hueso on the morning of May 22nd. One of them died while still on board a coast guard cutter and six were injured.
Diplomatic procedure has terminated and now we are faced with the necessity of arriving at a quick decision.
Before submitting to your consideration the proposals of my Administration, I wish to solemnly declare that no act of the Government or the people of Mexico could possibly justify the two-fold outrage perpetrated by the totalitarian powers.
A summary of international events that have taken place during these last two years is the most eloquent proof of the unassailable position of our country and of the iniquitous nature of the attack made on us. As soon as Japan and Italy launched their aggression on China and Ethiopia, we realized the fact that a period had begun in which we would all of us have to assume transcendentally weighty responsibilities. Before long the facts themselves made it clear that the very gloomiest forecasts were going to be fulfilled. In 1936 the Spanish war, an international coup d'etat that under the outward appearance of a revolution with Nazi and Fascist tendencies, sank the heroic Spanish people in a sea of blood.
In 1938 Austria's turn came. She was overwhelmed by the superior strength of an army before which she had no alternative but to accept the terms of a humiliating and ignominious annexation. In 1939 we witnessed the disappearance of Czechoslovakia and Albania. And shortly after that Poland was invaded. This last act, because of the political commitments violated by it, compelled England and France to declare themselves in a state of war with Germany.
From that time on, aggression succeeded aggression at an ever speedier and crueler tempo. Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium and the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg fell one after the other, within the space of a few months. Their neutrality was trampled down by governments to whom treaties are but a dead letter, rights merely a fiction and fulfillment of the pledged word an argument destitute of validity.
France's collapse and Italy's entry into the war afforded Germany an opportunity to swell her tragic list of injustices, by reducing to naught the virile resistance offered by Greece and Jugoslavia, by imposing a puppet government on Rumania, by bringing Hungary under the yoke of her aggressive policies, by binding Bulgaria to the imperialistic powers and thus brutally preparing the onslaught upon Russia.
The next step in line for execution, according to the Nazi and Fascist plan, was the crushing of the Russian people. But the offensive power of the German armies has broken down utterly against the fighting capacity of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics. The courage of the defenders of Moscow and Leningrad allowed an enormous front to be set up. Along it, the most tremendous battle recorded in the history of humanity is now being fought out.
Meanwhile, in the dark, like Italy during the period that intervened between the breaking out of the war and France's defeat, the third actor in this drama was preparing to step upon the stage by attacking the United States, in the Philippines and Hawaii.
Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor and Manila still further enlarged the field of military operations. Then the conflict appeared in its true light, as what it had really been from the beginning-even to the most ignorant and ill-informed-that is to say, an attempt to conquer the whole world.
The Americans could not allow this provocation on the part of the totalitarian leaders to go unanswered. Mexico, which after voicing its sympathy for the cause of the people of China and opposing war with Ethiopia had held out a friendly and disinterested hand to Republican Spain. Mexico, which had protested against the annexation of Austria and the occupation of Czechoslovakia; Mexico, that condemned the violation of the neutrality of Norway, Holland, Belgium, and the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg, as well as the campaigns against Greece, Jugoslavia and Russia, this time also raised its voice, and Mexico, loyal to the spirit of the commitments assumed at the Panama and Havana conferences, forthwith broke off diplomatic relations with Germany, Italy and Japan.
Before reaching that severance, Germany had already attempted to encroach upon our sovereignty, in several ways. This she had done by pressing us to adopt certain methods that were not in agreement with our national political tendencies. One example is the note, couched in imperious terms, sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs when certain firms were included in the black lists drawn up by the American Government. Another instance is the exceedingly discourteous manner in which she ordered the closing of our Consulates in the occupied zone of France.
In both cases Mexico instantly reacted. The German Minister's note on the subject of the black list was answered by us rejecting his Government's interference. To the order closing down the Mexican Consulate at Paris we countered by suppressing all our consular offices in Germany and by canceling the exchequers extended to German Consuls in the Republic of Mexico.
These measures, that honorably upheld our dignity, clearly showed that our intentions were not warlike. We knew only too well what war really meant, and however deeply we might be offended by the injustices with which the totalitarian nations were acting, we considered that the measures taken preserved our honor intact and were consistent with the course recommended by the wisdom of our Government and the aims of our nation.
We were guided by those same standards of judgment, when we were notified that a state of war existed between the United States, on one side, and Germany, Italy and Japan on the other.
You, who well know the scrupulous care with which the Government has always endeavored to listen to the righteous aspirations of the public opinion, need make no effort to envision the tremendous problems facing the Executive. I had to choose between two different responsibilities which at that moment demanded my attention, as a ruler, and as a Mexican. Mexico then stood at the parting of the ways. One of them led to war. The other involved a cessation of all relations with the Nazi and Fascist States. When we chose the latter solution, we thought we had adequately interpreted the wishes of the Nation.
I may add, with a feeling of satisfaction, that the position taken by us coincided with that adopted by a majority of the republics of this continent, and that it met with general acceptance at the Rio de Janeiro Conference.
The picture I have just given you describes very accurately our situation on the 13th of May. We were united to the other free peoples of this Hemisphere by the ties of Pan American friendship. We had broken off our relations with the imperialist powers of Europe and Asia. We were working for close solidarity with the democracies. We abstained from all acts of violence whatsoever against the dictatorships. German, Italian and Japanese nationals dwelling within our Republic enjoyed all the guarantees which our Constitution grants to aliens. No Mexican authorities molested them in the pursuit of their lawful activities. No one persecuted or coerced them in any way. Under different circumstances we could have been sure that peace in our land was not directly menaced. And yet we had the feeling that Mexico might, when it least expected, find itself caught in that shameful web in which the history of the Nazi and Fascist Governments has been converted. This is why we took the action that was indispensable for increasing our production. And this is also why, in every speech, on every public occasion, we repeated our exhortation to be on the alert and ready to meet an attack that might be let loose upon us at any time.
The attack did come on the 13th of May. It was not an open and straightforward, but a disloyal, treacherous and cowardly aggression. The blow was struck in the dark and relied on impunity. One week later, the outrage was repeated. Face to face with such repeated onslaughts, that violate all the rules of the Law of Nations and involve a cruel affront to our country, a free people anxious to keep realities, we declare, as proposed by the Council of Secretaries of State and Chiefs of Autonomous Departments, assembled in this city on Friday the 22nd last, that as from that date a state of war exists between our country, and Germany, Italy and Japan.
These words, "state of war," have given rise to such unforeseen interpretations that we must explain their exact meaning. In the first place we must do away with all possibility of confusion. A "state of war" is war. Yes, war, with all its consequences. War, which Mexico desired to outlaw for all time from the methods of civilized existence, but which, in cases like this, and in the present state of world disorder, constitutes the only way of asserting our right to independence and of preserving unharmed the dignity of our Republic.
Now, if a "state of war" is actual war, our reasons for proposing that it be declared, instead of a declaration of war, is due to very important reasons, which I feel that I must here clarify.
These reasons are of two different kinds. In the first place, a declaration of war implies a spontaneous intention of waging it in the mind of him who makes it. Mexico would act inconsistently with its tradition of a peace-loving country, loving peace second to none, if it admitted, even if only as a matter of form, that it went to war of its own accord and not compelled by the force of circumstances and the violence of the aggression. In the second place, he who declares war implicitly recognizes this responsibility for the conflict. This, in our own case, would be all the more absurd in that we are the party attacked.
In view of the circumstances which I have explained, the situation facing the Executive is the same as that chosen in September, 1939, by the Governments of England and France when they went to war with Germany, and by the Government of the United States when war broke out with Japan, December 8, 1941. This qualification, which responds to the actual facts and is consistent with our spotless international record, leaves our legal principle intact, but does not lessen the significance of the act itself, nor reduce the inherent risks, nor must it either be deemed as detaching weight from our straightforward decision.
The State of war in which our country will find itself, if you approve my proposition, does not mean that Mexico is going to indulge in unjust persecution. The defense of our land is consistent with our Mexican traditions of decency and generosity.
Nor does it mean that our domestic life is going to be upset, by suspending those constitutional guarantees that can be kept in force without detriment to the spirit of national defense.
We must rely far more on patriotism than on repressive methods. We must trust to the civic sense of the nation, rather than to the arbitrary use of force.
Since pre-Hispanic days, and during the struggles of the conquest, our ancestors distinguished themselves by the epic courage with which they showed themselves ready to live and die in the defense of their rights. Their memory is a lesson in heroism that should constantly encourage us in the fight against every form of slavery. From the day of our political emancipation, Mexico's foreign record has also constituted a steady example of honesty, dignity and loyalty. We have always been faithful to the principles of democracy. We have always advocated material and moral equality of the peoples. We have always condemned annexation by force. We have always upheld absolute respect for the sovereignty of the States. We have always felt the urge to seek a peaceful and harmonious settlement for every conflict. In our experience sacrifices have often been demanded of us, but we have never been guilty of ignominy. Misfortune has often been our lot, but we have never faltered.
So noble a previous history imperatively enjoins upon us the duty of continuing it. Hence, as I now come before you, I shall not attempt to lessen the magnitude of the privations which the decision which I propose to your Sovereignty may make us realize, how great an effort this situation is going to demand of us.
If, however, we failed to put forth that effort, would we not, perhaps, forfeit something infinitely more valuable than our own tranquillity and lives, the honor of our land, Mexico's stainless name.
In the comparison drawn between the forces that strive to destroy the civilization of mankind the impression caused by the disparity between our power and those forces is counteracted when we realize that among the weapons at our command we have ideals, right on our side and love of liberty. These are what the democracies, large and small, of the world are also fighting for.
The position assumed by Mexico at the present juncture is based on the fact that our determination springs from the need of lawful self-defense. We well know the limitations of our resources for war and realize that in view of the enormous magnitude of the international elements involved in the struggle, our part in the present conflict will not consist in going into action outside our Continent, something for which we are not prepared.
Our forces will not, therefore, be dispersed. We shall, however, meet any attempts at aggression from our adversaries by upholding the integrity of our country at any cost and by strenuously cooperating in the protection of the Americas, to the extent allowed by our powers, our security and coordination of defensive action in our Hemisphere.
For years past we have striven to stay aloof from violence. But violence has sought us out. For years we have done our best to follow our own path, without arrogance or enmity, on a plane of concord and understanding.
But the dictatorships have, at last, assailed us. The whole country is aware that we have done our utmost to keep it out of the conflict. Everything, except passive acceptance of dishonor.
Whatever sufferings the struggle may have in store for us I am sure that the Nation will face and endure them. The illustrious men whose names are written on the walls of this bulwark of our democratic institutions are a safeguard as their pasts bear witness, for the austerity of our present, and the best spiritual pledge for our future.
From generation to generation they have handed down to us this flag which is the splendid symbol of our land. May it protect us at this solemn and serious hour, when Mexico expects each one of her sons to do his duty.