On this date in 1919, Mexican hero General Felipe Angeles was shot at dawn in Chihuahua, hours after a military tribunal condemned him for rebellion.
Angeles, a humane and cosmopolitan socialist, had tacked a unique course through the dangerous Mexican Revolution. The career artillerist’s military counsel was a high card in the hands of the revolutionaries, and helped to make the coruscating career of Pancho Villa. Crucially, Angeles advised Villa to seize the mines of Zacatecas, dealing a mortal blow to the putschist Huerta government by throttling its currency at the source.
But that brilliant maneuver countermanded an order of the Revolution’s moderate political face, Venustiano Carranza, and both personality conflicts and support for more radically redistributionist measures soon sundered the Villa factions’ alliance with Carranza.
Angeles hitched his destiny to Pancho Villa and is historically recalled as the “angelic” opposite number to the famed guerrilla’s other top military henchman, the murderous Roberto Fierro. The three lend themselves almost implausibly to allegorical literature — “the decisive biographical proof of Villa’s duality … found in the two men closest to him, equidistant and extreme extensions of his nature.” (Enrique Krauze)
Angeles aimed, perhaps, at a statesmanship that might have remembered him the father of his country.
‘It was the recurrent dream of the impotent revolutionary intellectual: to play Plato to some powerful but pliant popular caudillo.’ This may well be an accurate analysis of Angeles, who probably had ambitions to be president of Mexico, with Villa as the power behind the throne but based in Chihuahua, allowing Angeles free rein to implement radical reforms in the capital
… Angeles probably saw Villa as a tabula rasa on which he could imprint his ideology. The problem was that Villa had no taste for abstract thought; as [John] Reed remarked ironically: ‘You had to be a philosopher to explain anything to Villa.’
To the grief of both, Villa neglected Angeles’ expertise when the Villists faced Carranzo at arms. Against advice, Villa abandoned Mexico City, failed to attack when the constitutionalists were tenuous, then spurned guerrilla operations for a frontal assault into the teeth of a foe with numerical superiority and lethal tactical advances culled from the slaughterhouse of World War I.
All was postscript after the Battle of Celaya — Villa maintaining for a few years as a bandit force and famously raiding New Mexico while his strategist drifted into exile in Texas before returning to Mexico on a quixotic peacemaking mission that led him instead to a show trial.
Angeles’ end came with the all the dignity of his romantic age. Before his judges — before all the world — he gave “full and clear expositions of his history and his ideas about everything from politics to ontology. It was clear that he knew this was his end, and he seems to have written a kind of intellectual memoir in the protracted answers … he was not defeated morally so much as physically.”
Angeles himself arranged particulars of his own execution with the Carranza men detailed to shoot him. He enjoys posthumous esteem commensurate with his qualities in life:
On this day..
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- 1736: James Matthews and Elizabeth Greenley - 2017
- 1936: Vladimir Mutnykh, Bolshoi director - 2016
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- 1948: Hans Karl Möser, for rocketry - 2014
- 1933: Thomas Thurmond and John Holmes lynched in St. James Park - 2013
- 1678: William Staley, "the prologue to the bloody tragedy" - 2012
- 1937: Peljidiin Genden, former Mongolia Prime Minister - 2011
- Daily Double: Stalinism east to west - 2011
- 1940: Jilava Massacre - 2010
- 1600: Hansel Pappenheimer, following his family - 2009
- 1849: Sheikh Bouzian, defending Zaatcha - 2008