Everyone knows the World War Two Allied Powers: the United States of America, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Canada, New Zealand...and Mexico?
That's right, Mexico. In May of 1942, the United States of Mexico declared war on the Axis alliance. They even saw some combat: a Mexican fighter squad fought valiantly in the South Pacific in 1945. But their importance to the Allied effort was much greater than a handful of pilots and airplanes.
Mexico in the 1930's
In the 1930's, Mexico was a devastated land. The Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) had claimed hundreds of thousands of lives; as many more were displaced or saw their homes and cities destroyed. The Revolution was followed by the Cristero War (1926-1929), a series of violent uprisings against the new government. Just as the dust was beginning to settle, the Great Depression started and the Mexican economy suffered badly. Politically, the nation was unstable as Alvaro Obregón, last of the great revolutionary warlords, continued to rule directly or indirectly until 1928.
Life in Mexico did not start to improve until 1934, when the honest reformer Lázaro Cárdenas del Rio took power. He cleaned up as much of the corruption as he could and made great strides towards re-establishing Mexico as a stable, productive nation. He kept Mexico decidedly neutral in the brewing conflict in Europe, even though agents from Germany and the United States continued to try and gain Mexican support. Cárdenas nationalized Mexico's vast oil reserves and the property of foreign oil companies over the protests of the United States, but the Americans, seeing war on the horizon, were forced to accept it.
The Opinions of Many Mexicans
As the clouds of war darkened, many Mexicans wanted to join on one side or the other. Mexico's loud communist community first supported Germany while Germany and Russia had a pact, then supported the Allied cause once the Germans invaded Russia in 1941. There was a sizeable community of Italian immigrants who supported entry in the war as an Axis power as well. Other Mexicans, disdainful of fascism, supported joining the Allied cause.
The attitude of many Mexicans was colored by historical grievances with the USA: the loss of Texas and the American west, intervention during the revolution and repeated incursions into Mexican territory caused a lot of resentment. Some Mexicans felt that the United States was not to be trusted. These Mexicans did not know what to think: some felt that they should join the Axis cause against their old antagonist, while others did not want to give the Americans an excuse to invade again and counseled strict neutrality.
Manuel Ávila Camacho and support for the USA
In 1940, Mexico elected conservative PRI (Revolutionary Party) candidate Manuel Ávila Camacho. From the start of his term, he decided to stick with the United States. Many of his fellow Mexicans disapproved of his support for their traditional foe to the north and at first they railed against Ávila, but when Germany invaded Russia, many Mexican communists began supporting the president. In December of 1941, when Pearl Harbor was attacked, Mexico was one of the first countries to pledge support and aid, and they severed all diplomatic ties with the Axis powers. At a conference in Rio de Janeiro of Latin American foreign ministers in January of 1942, the Mexican delegation convinced many other countries to follow suit and break ties with the Axis powers.
Mexico saw immediate rewards for its support. US capital flowed into Mexico, building factories for wartime needs. The US purchased Mexican oil and sent technicians to quickly build up Mexican mining operations for much-needed metals like mercury, zinc, copper and more. The Mexican armed forces were built up with US weapons and training. Loans were made to stabilize and boost industry and security.