This Week In History: Feb. 19 – Feb. 25 

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This week in History we are learning about wars that are often forgotten in history. Today we examine a revolution in Mexico, a failed invasion by the French, and a fight with a balloon… yes a fight with a balloon. Illustration by Kaitlyn Tran/Daily Campus.

Hello historians and welcome back to This Week in History! Not to be philosophical, but have you ever wondered what makes something worth remembering? Historians often look to chronologize events which leave lasting effects on the world, perhaps great military successes or eras of rich cultural developments. But what of the events which don’t quite fit into the textbooks? This week, we’ll take a look at some of those events which prove to be absent from the annals of great historical achievements. Let’s begin! 

After breaking colonial ties with Spain in 1821, Mexico has had an incredibly tumultuous and bloody history. Scarcely was there any unity found amongst the population, even amidst vital struggles for independence. For instance, although Agustín de Iturbide led a successful faction of royalists who fought for the independence of Mexico, he could not make up his mind on how to rule the country. At first, he looked to find a monarch of the Bourbon dynasty, only to then proclaim himself emperor — and be deposed within a year. 

It is saddening, yet revealing to find that in such a relatively brief period of history, Mexico has undergone three civil wars and countless foreign invasions; its history is plagued by strife. Following centuries of chaos, on Feb. 19, 1913, Pedro Lascurain, a modest, career-focused man, became the president of Mexico for half an hour. Yes, just half an hour. 

Lascurain probably had a fairly comfortable life. He was born to a wealthy family with a direct lineage back to Spain — a necessary background to enter into Mexican politics. He highly valued religion and was a fairly conservative, practical man. He taught law at a small law school in Mexico City for much of his life.  

But Mexico was no place for a traditional, career-oriented man. It was instead undergoing a sweeping revolution, which seemingly raised and removed leaders almost every year. It just so happened that Lascurain served as foreign secretary under the progressive and popular revolutionary figure, Francisco Madero, who became president in 1911. While Madero has a unique story of his own, his presidency was cut short following his assassination and a coup d’etat in 1913. The removal of Madero left Victoriano Huerta, “the Jackal,” a brutal dictator in office.  

Lascurain — who should have been removed like the rest of the old government — was kept by Huerta for one reason: Once the other leaders had been removed, Lascurain was legally next in line to the presidency, giving the coup a huge opportunity. In an effort to make the coup appear legal, Huerta forced Lascurain to take the office of president, who was to promote Huerta to one role below the presidency, then immediately resign. The scheme worked and Huerta had appeared to legally become the president of Mexico. Lascurain went on to retire, no doubt disgusted with politics. 

Finishing that rather sad yet historically insightful event in Mexican history, we can now journey to the rocky shores of Wales and Southern England, where on Feb. 21, 1797, the Battle of Fishguard, the last naval invasion of Britain, was underway.  

Imagine you’re a British civilian enjoying a day at the beach — considered a strange thing to do at the time — when out along the coast you see French ships of the line heading straight towards the shore. You probably would have known about the rumblings of a revolution by those “crazy” Frenchmen just across the channel, and now they are at your doorstep, oh my.  

Well, for the French who were kicking-butt in Europe (pardon my French), the invasion of England was anything but successful. Out of three naval invasion groups, all tasked with the grand plan of distracting the English from a main force arriving to assist the Irish in their struggle against the Brits, only one launched due to poor weather and planning. 

The ships, which landed in Fishguard, Wales, were made up of some 600 trained infantry men and 1,600 irregulars and criminals (recruited as militia). With discipline breaking down, the invasion force raided and pillaged local towns and farms, leaving the professional soldiers to just watch the madness unfold. In one case, some of the convicts found a stash of wine, no doubt striking fear in the minds of the French military command. Thankfully, not soon after, the British mounted a defense and ordered that the group surrender unconditionally.  

The British had fended off the last invasion they would endure up to the modern day, as fortunately the German Operation Sealion never got off the ground. 

And that brings us to the last event of the week which took place on Feb. 24, 1942: the Battle of Los Angeles. As one studies the American role in WWII, their focus no doubt shifts toward the Bombing of Pearl Harbor. It’s the event that brought the United States into the war and has had an incredible impact on the nation ever since. However, an often overlooked result of the bombing is the panic which took over the American west coast in the months that followed. 

Propelling the tragic actions by the government such as the Japanese internment camps, the Battle of Los Angeles was a similar overreaction due to fear. American air defense operators spotted a weather balloon late at night on Feb. 24. They believed it to be a Japanese plane, opened fire and shot all night. Anti-aircraft batteries spat bullets into the dark sky, causing utter chaos amongst civilians out of fear of an invasion. In some ways, their fears weren’t entirely irrational. After all, the shelling of Ellwood, California by the Japanese took place just a day earlier. 

Yet, this blind and aggressive overreaction was all too characteristic of a population focused on the destruction of the Japanese. Let their wasted bullets serve as an example of the importance of reason and restraint, especially when human lives are at stake. 

And that concludes This Week in History! Hopefully these events helped bring light to some typically unexplored historical avenues! I have one final recommendation: check out the Library of Babel online. It contains every single text that could be written by humans — and somewhere in there lies a full text on every event not covered by our history books. See you next week! 

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