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The Surprising Role Mexico Played in World War II

September 24, 2018 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

Most may not think of Mexico as contributing to the Allied effort, but it contributed key resources, as well as fighting power.

A Mexican family leaving to cross the border during World War II to help wartime labor shortages, 1944.

If you ask people to name the victorious Allied Powers in World War II, Mexico isn’t usually a name that comes to mind. But after declaring war against the Axis in mid-1942, Mexico did contribute to the Allied victory in important ways. Despite long standing tensions with the United States, Mexico would become a valuable ally to its northern neighbor, ramping up its industrial production and contributing vital resources to the Allied war effort.

In addition, thousands of Mexican nationals living in the United States registered for military service during World War II. Mexico’s own elite air squadron, known as the Aztec Eagles, flew dozens of missions alongside the U.S. Air Force during the liberation of the Philippines in 1945.

On the home front, hundreds of thousands of farm workers crossed the border to work for U.S. agricultural companies as part of the Bracero Program, which would outlast the war by nearly two decades and have a lasting impact on the relations between the two North American nations.

Mexican artillery men in the field during WWII as their country expects a declaration of war on the Axis Powers.

Mexico’s Path to a Declaration of War

As the first rumblings of another great war stirred in Europe in the 1930s, Mexico and the United States seemed like unlikely allies. In 1938, Mexico’s reformist president, Lázaro Cárdenas, nationalized the country’s oil industry, which angered powerful U.S. oil companies.

“The late 1930s was a time of increasing tensions between Mexico and the United States on the diplomatic front, largely tied to the nationalization of oil,” says Monica Rankin, associate professor of history at University of Texas-Dallas and the author of México, la patria: Propaganda and Production During World War II. Plus, many Mexicans still resented the United States for the loss of 55 percent of Mexico’s territory after the U.S.-Mexican War (known in Mexico as the North American Invasion).

But as the war in Europe began to disrupt trade routes around the world, Mexico and other Latin American countries found themselves in economic peril. “Over those years as World War II is heating up,” Rankin explains, “the …read more


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