Today in Completely Inaccurate and Decontextualized Historical Comparisons

Last month, The Advertiser, the daily newspaper of Lafayette, Louisiana, ran the following full-page ad comparing the Barack Obama administration to the Cristero Rebellion that took place in Mexico in the late-1920s.

In case you somehow missed the obvious point, the ad is none-too-subtly implying that Obama’s government is going to kill all Christians. How do we know this? Because the Mexican government killed priests in 1927, of course!

Admittedly, there are a lot of grossly inaccurate historical analogies to current events out there (people of all stripes calling things they don’t like “fascist” springs to mind). However, this ad takes decontextualization and a completely erroneous understanding of history or contemporary politics to an impressive new level. [Nevermind that the ad also (unsurprisingly) completely misinterprets Psalm 11 as proof that George Satayana was somehow right.]

The Cristero Rebellion, to which the ad refers, took place from 1926-1929, and had its roots in the constitution that emerged from the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920). President Elias Plutarco Calles had decided to rigorously enforce the secular reforms of the Constitution. In response, a Mexican bishop argued that Catholics could not in good faith pledge loyalty to the Constitution, which he viewed as illegitimate. This was a slight problem, as an overwhelming majority of Mexicans self-identified as Catholic. Calles interpreted the statement as treason, and not without reason – the bishop was, after all, basically declaring that it was Catholics’ duty to disregard the law of the land as outlined in the new Constitution. As a result, Calles closed religious schools, deported foreign priests and nuns, and ordered all clergy to register with the government. The Church struck back, effectively going on strike and refusing to hold mass.

And thus began the Cristero Rebellion. For three years, babies went unbaptized, and Catholics of conscience died without receiving their last rites. Catholic priests and other leaders organized the devout in order to resist the government; these armed groups were known for shouting “Viva Cristo Rey!” (“Long live Christ the King!”) as they attacked government outposts, hence the name the “Cristero Rebellion.” In response, the Mexican government sent the army into areas of resistance to suppress the rebellion.  Both sides committed brutal excesses: Catholics burned down government buildings and murdered public school teachers who worked for the government, while government troops responded by killing priests and summarily executing suspected Cristeros. Many Mexican villages were caught in the middle, and a complex number of causes led them to aligning with one side or another, ranging from sincere religious devotion or loyalty to the revolutionary governments down to local politics and land struggles. Ultimately, Mexican leaders and exiled bishops met, with the aid of US Ambassador Dwight Morrow moderating. The Church agreed to have its members register with the government and to abandon hopes of religious education in public schools; the government agreed to allow religious instruction outside of church grounds and publicly pledged it was not trying to destroy the Church. The Cristeros who remained laid down their arms, but the damage of the rebellion was catastrophic – across the three years of what in no small part resembled a civil war, over 90,000 Mexicans died.

Cristero soldiers hanging from telegraph poles as a caution against armed violence. Catholics and the Mexican government alike played key roles in the events that led to the Cristero Rebellion of 1926-1929, which left 90,000 people dead in its wake.

As should (hopefully) be again quite obvious, that pretty much has absolutely nothing to do with the current political, cultural, or social context in the United States.  There wasn’t a 10-year revolution that led to a new constitution in the US’s recent past; the US does not have and has never had a state-sponsored religion that could become angry when the US moved towards legal secularization; no church members (of any church) have gone on strike in protest of government policies or organized small armies to fight against the United States; no President has banned public religious celebrations; and no actual civil war has erupted that could lead to the execution of the opposition, religious or otherwise, in over 151 years. But hey – that doesn’t mean some paranoid partisan hack can’t go ahead and make a completely inaccurate and grossly decontextualized historical point in order to frighten people with baseless and untrue claims about Barack Obama’s plans!

(h/t to Juanita Jean)

About Colin M. Snider

I have a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Latin American History and Comparative Indigenous History. My dissertation focused on Brazil. Beyond Latin America generally, I'm particularly interested in class identities, military politics, human rights, labor, education, music, and nation. I can be found on Twitter at @ColinMSnider.
This entry was posted in Catholicism in the Americas, Civil Conflict in the Americas, Guerrilla Movements in Latin America, Latin American History, Mexico, Religion in Latin America, United States, Violence in the Americas. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Today in Completely Inaccurate and Decontextualized Historical Comparisons

  1. Randy Paul says:

    The pedant in me must point out that it is “last rites”, not last rights. You could also use extreme unction.

    I’m surprised that they didn’t go back to the muslim conquest of Spain to make their case. Idiots.

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