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The Wind that Swept Mexico

The Wind that Swept Mexico
Assembled by George R. Leighton

In concise but moving words and in memorable photographs, this classic sweeps the reader along from the false peace and plenty of the Díaz era through the doomed administration of Madero, the chaotic years of Villa and Zapata, Carranza and Obregón, to the peaceful social revolution of Cárdenas and Mexico's entry into World War II.

January 1971
Active (available)
320 pages | 7 x 10 | 184 b&w photos |

The Mexican Revolution began in 1910 with the overthrow of dictator Porfirio Díaz. The Wind That Swept Mexico, originally published in 1943, was the first book to present a broad account of that revolution in its several different phases. In concise but moving words and in memorable photographs, this classic sweeps the reader along from the false peace and plenty of the Díaz era through the doomed administration of Madero, the chaotic years of Villa and Zapata, Carranza and Obregón, to the peaceful social revolution of Cárdenas and Mexico's entry into World War II.

The photographs were assembled from many sources by George R. Leighton with the assistance of Anita Brenner and others. Many of the prints were cleaned and rephotographed by the distinguished photographer Walker Evans.

  • I. Winds Sweeping the World
  • II. Fall of a Dictator
  • III. Upheaval
  • IV. Mexico for the Mexicans
  • V. The Photographic History of the Mexican Revolution
  • Some Important Dates in Mexican History
  • Sources
  • Index

Anita Brenner, author of Idols behind Altars and a number of children's books, was born in Mexico and lived there for many years. During the Spanish Civil War she wrote dispatches from Spain for the New York Times and the Nation and for many years she edited the magazine Mexico This Month.


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We are not safe in the United States, now [1943] and henceforth, without taking Mexico into account; nor is Mexico safe disregarding us. This is something that Mexicans have long known, with dread, but that few Americans have had to look at.

We are interdependent for two reasons. The first is geography. The second is what has been happening in Mexico from 1910 to now. The first is quickly seen on the map. Mexico is a tapering continuation of the same land mass as the United States. It is the longest stretch between us and the Panama Canal, key to our defense of America's coasts. The largest, most secure deep-water harbor off California is Mexico's Magdalena Bay. Its rich oil deposits are part of the same Gulf belt that reaches from Louisiana and Texas south. All supplies moving north to us, south to the other Americas, must travel, overland, through Mexico; by sea, past Mexican waters; the urgent traffic of the air flies depending on Mexican landing fields. Physically we are most vulnerable through Mexico—and Mexico from us. In every war in which the United States has been engaged, the enemy has bent every effort to take advantage of this Mexican vulnerability. This time, because of the kind of war it is, the goodwill of the Mexican people is itself a military objective. We are endangered to the degree that they believe we interfere with what they want.

But the relationship between us goes much farther still, because Mexico occupies a crucial position in hemisphere politics and culture. What the Mexican government does guides, in many important matters, the policies of other Latin American authorities. What the Mexican people think and feel about us is a sort of lens through which the rest of Latin America regards us. For them Mexico is a central stage on which they see their own struggles going forward. Our relations with Mexico are seen as a test of our intentions toward other peoples on this continent. Thus Mexico connects or disconnects inter-American solidarity.

The reason why Mexico has key moral prestige and provocative leadership is not size nor strength nor place; it is the Mexican Revolution, 1910 to now, the story told in this book. Most people in the United States know a great deal more about the Russian Revolution, and the Chinese, and other upheavals in this era of revolutions, than about the one next to us. It has come through dimly, confusedly, in headlined incidents: Pershing chasing Villa in the desert... lurid tales of religious conflict... scandalous reports of oil expropriations. It has not looked like that in Mexico, nor in the rest of Latin America. And it is not a finished story.

It is a living story underneath what happens in Mexico now, and tomorrow. It begins in 1910, goes through ten years of civil warfare and twenty-two of further struggle, and projects itself into the future. The phrase la revolución, invoked so often by two generations of Mexicans, even the children, and so common a part of the national mood and vocabulary, has many meanings. It is the past, and it is a set of beliefs. The phrase runs like a live current through everything public and personal too: politics and art and business and thought and industry and now war. Each event forecasts the next; the whole chain of events is prophetic, because the set-ups are similar, of struggles elsewhere in America. Many "North Americans" have taken and continue to take an active part in the Mexican struggle. Our government has played and continues to play a decisive role. That is why the Mexican struggle is like a nerve-center to the rest of Latin America.

Before this war is over, probably, and certainly when it is ended, there will be uprisings and upheavals in many American countries. The American Revolution set off, soon after 1776, revolutions of national independence; it was furthermore an example toward self-rule that crashed European thrones. It started something that has now spread, on a scale so colossal that it staggers the mind to grasp it, to every people and race on earth. Political freedom, as has been demonstrated here, is possible only to the extent each individual can be economically independent; and economic independence for each person is not achievable either, without political freedom. The two things have here shown themselves to be one, and though we have not gone so far toward their accomplishment as we know is necessary and possible, we have gone further than any nation. So we are the strongest, and so we have the most to lose, in this war. But the millions and millions in it with us have more to gain, and they will not stop fighting, and we will not be safe to pursue our freedoms, until they have gained theirs. To the degree they lose, ours will be menaced by the same sort of enemies. We will not be safe even on this continent, because even isolated in America the order to cease firing is not entirely in our hands.

The story of the Mexican Revolution throws up, violently, the issues being fought inside each land, within the war. It puts questions to us our government will have to meet, and is already in the midst of; questions which the American people cannot leave safely to deals and power-barters and accident and intrigue. Policies shaped for export have their internal consequences. For we are not safe, either, from the inner struggles tearing other peoples. What led to the Mexican Revolution, economically, is happening to us now. The Wind That Swept Mexico is the story of what followed. It is the most dramatic experience lived by an American people in our time. And it is the story closest to us of the winds sweeping the world.


“. . . here is the history of the revolution in 184 of the best photographs of the time. The whole disintegration and painful reintegration of a society is marvellously set before the eyes . . .”
Times Literary Supplement

“. . . a classic and sympathetic statement of the first of the great twentieth century revolutions--its words and pictures command our attention and our respect.”
Military History

“Only 100 pages of text and 184 historical news photographs, yet this is the Mexican Revolution in its drama, its complexity, its incompleteness! One could not have seen it more closely and fully had one taken part in it . . .”
Bertram D. Wolfe