The Secretary of State to President Wilson

My Dear Mr. President: As there appears to be an increasing probability that the Mexican situation may develop into a state of war I desire to make a suggestion for your consideration.

It seems to me that we should avoid the use of the word “Intervention” and deny that any invasion of Mexico is for the sake of intervention.

There are several reasons why this appears to me expedient:

We have all along denied any purpose to interfere in the internal affairs of Mexico and the St. Louis platform declares against it. Intervention conveys the idea of such interference.
Intervention would be humiliating to many Mexicans whose pride and sense of national honor would not resent severe terms of peace in case of being defeated in a war.
American intervention in Mexico is extremely distasteful to all Latin America and might have a very bad effect upon our Pan-American program.
Intervention, which suggests a definite purpose to “clean up” the country, would bind us to certain accomplishments which circumstances might make extremely difficult or inadvisable, and, on the other hand, it would impose conditions which might be found to be serious restraints upon us as the situation develops.
Intervention also implies that the war would be made primarily in the interest of the Mexican people, while the fact is it would [Page 559] be a war forced on us by the Mexican Government, and, if we term it intervention, we will have considerable difficulty in explaining why we had not intervened before but waited until attacked.

It seems to me that the real attitude is that the de facto Government having attacked our forces engaged in a rightful enterprise or invaded our borders (as the case may be) we had no recourse but to defend ourselves and to do so it has become necessary to prevent future attacks by forcing the Mexican Government to perform its obligations. That is, it is simply a state of international war without purpose on our part other than to end the conditions which menace our national peace and the safety of our citizens, and that it is not intervention with all that that word implies.

I offer the foregoing suggestion, because I feel that we should have constantly in view the attitude we intend to take if worse comes to worse, so that we may regulate our present policy and future correspondence with Mexico and other American Republics with that attitude.

In case this suggestion meets with your approval I further suggest that we send to each diplomatic representative of a Latin American Republic in Washington a communication stating briefly our attitude and denying any intention to intervene. I enclose a draft of such a note.35 If this is to be done at all, it seems to me that it should be done at once, otherwise we will lose the chief benefit, namely, a right understanding by Latin America at the very outset.

Faithfully yours,

Robert Lansing
  1. For the note as sent, see ibid., 1916, p. 592.