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What is the difference between the US’s 1914 occupation of Veracruz and
Austria’s WWI aggression against Serbia?
Dialogue with the Alter Ego on the intricacies of the international law, first drafted on Nov. 26,
published on Nov.27, 2014
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    I, therefore, come to ask your approval that I should use the armed forces of the United States... to obtain from
    General Huerta and his adherents the fullest recognition of the rights and dignity of the United States..."
    US President Woodrow Wilson, April 2014 (http://www.pbs.org/kpbs/theborder/history/timeline/15.html)


Question by Alter Ego of Noah denkt™ (AE): Here is a little known fact that warrants further debate: On the
morning of April 21, 1914, 98 days before the start of World War I, U.S. Marines and Navy sailors of USS
Florida and USS Utah landed in the Mexican port of Veracruz and initiated a seven month occupation of the
port and the city of Veracruz. This US invasion which resulted in 190 people killed and 300 wounded was
sparked off by the so-called Tampico Affair. In this incident 8 US sailors from the crew of the USS Dolphin were
mistakenly arrested by Mexican officials after entering a restricted dock area in the port of Tampico. The
Mexican authorities released the US sailors after an hour and a half and a written apology for the arrest was
provided by Mexican President Huerta. He refused, however, to raise the US flag and provide a 21-gun salute
as demanded by the US naval commander in the region. This prompted U.S. President Woodrow Wilson to ask
Congress for permission for an armed invasion of the area. This request was granted two days later. While
awaiting approval, however, Wilson had been informed about the imminent arrival of a German-registered
cargo-steamer that was due to deliver weapons to the civil war forces of Victoriano Huerta. When being alerted
to this delivery which, by the way, had been orchestrated by an American financier and a Russian arms dealer,
Wilson issued an immediate order to seize the port of Veracruz. (
See. http://en.wikipedia.
org/wiki/United_States_occupation_of_Veracruz) - Now, the close historic proximity of the Veracruz occupation to
Austria-Hungary’s World War I attack on Serbia
[and Germany’s WWI violation of Belgium’s neutrality which for the sake
of intellectual hygiene we would like to ignore at this point]
certainly raises the question where the legal difference is
between the two military actions. Obviously, we all know that the Austro-Hungarian Empire was severely
punished after WWI for its aggression against Serbia effectively losing its right to exist. How does Noah denkt™
view this dichotomy?

Answer by Noah denkt™ (Nd): Well, we need to look in great detail at both aggressions in order to properly
evaluate their legal implications, let alone the varying degrees of culpability they entail. Let’s therefore set up a
table opposing incriminating and mitigating factors in both cases:
Austria-Hungary’s
ultimatum to and
attack  against
Serbia
Mitigating aspects  
Incriminating aspects
It was certainly appropriate for the
Austro-Hungarian government to expect
official Serbian collaboration in the
dismantling of anti-Habsburg terrorist
networks inside Serbia.
Austria-Hungary did not provide clear and undisputed evidence which implicated the Serbian government in the Sarajevo
assassination
It was adequate to be very forceful in the
expectation of that collaboration since there
was reason to believe that anti-Austrian
terrorists had clandestine support from some
members of the Serbian security apparatus
(
See.: Christopher Clarke: The Sleepwalkers, Sept.
2013
)
War was waged despite the fact that Serbia did accept a large part of the ultimatum demands that Austria imposed on Serbia
Serbia’s track record, particularly in the pre-
1914 Balkan wars had demonstrated that its
respect for human rights and international law
was at times quite wanting  
The illegal annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1909 by Austria had unduly raised tensions not only in the Balkans  
Serbian nationalism had a tendency to
occasionally not express itself in the cool,
calm and collected way that the British sense
of fairness imposes.
It was simply irresponsible to start a war in Europe given the very antagonistic bipolar tensions that existed between the two major
military alliances in
Europe                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
The particular demands of Austria’s
ultimatum to Serbia were far less stringent
than the demands of NATO’s 1999
Rambouillet ultimatum to Serbia
(
See again: Christopher Clarke: The Sleepwalkers)
The Austro-Hungarian empire was in varying degrees discriminating against the rights of the Slavic nationalities.
Austria’s aggression as originally intended to
be a fast, punishing slap in the face to
Serbia.  There was no planning for prolonged
warfare
The casualty numbers in the Austro-Serbian war were significantly higher that those in the Veracruz occupation
  There was no democratic backing for the decision to go to war.
  The real implications of such a war against Serbia were dramatically miscalculated by the  Austrian leadership The Austrian military
severely underestimated the strength of the Serbian forces and they did not adequately foresee the reaction of Serbia’s allies.
US occupation of
Veracruz
Mexico was in a state of civil war at the time of
the occupation. It was hence somewhat
justified to see to it that no additional
weapons be introduced into an already
unwieldy battle zone
US citizens were actively participating in the delivery of arms to Mexico
The US is legitimately concerned about the
political instability on its Southern border  
The US arms embargo against Mexico was unilaterally imposed
In the end the occupation was only
minimally invasive and the number of
casualties was limited
The fact that several Latin American countries firmly  protested against the occupation of Veracruz demonstrates the degree in which
this intervention was perceived as being a violation of international law.
There was democratic backing for the
decision to wage military action
The Tampico incident is clearly a ridiculous and disproportionate  justification for military action  
The US leadership had by and large an
adequate assessment of the military and
political realities both on the ground and in
the wider international spectrum
The US was actively involved in the Mexican civil war by backing first the Huerta party then his opposition.
  There can be no doubt that Mexico’s sovereignty was violated by the US’s occupation of Veracruz
AE: So where does this leave us in terms of the final verdict? Which aggression is worse?  

Nd: Well, in our humble view, it appears as if the US’s occupation of Veracruz is more in violation of international
law then the Austrian aggression against Serbia is. The reality though of how the two conflicts eventually play out
in the political and military battlefield rebalances that judgment. In other words, it is due to the severe political and
military miscalculations of its leadership that the Austro-Hungarian Empire continues to be perceived as more
culpable in the Serbian case than the US is in the little known Veracruz case.

AE: So what you are otherwise saying is that it is quite okay for the winner to ultimately decide what justice is and
what it isn’t?

Nd:  What we are saying is that you cannot deny that the distribution of military cloud plays part in the perception
of justice in international law. But what we are also saying is that the latter is not all about the reality of power.
There is also a considerable element of reason, measure and rigor in its final verdict. And we believe that our
explanations above evidence that.
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Keywords:

the US occupation of Veracruz, How to compare the US 1914 occupation of
Veracruz to Austro-Hungary's aggression against Serbia, How to assess the
legality of different international conflicts, legal justification for war