A Note on Then and Now
What They Called "Civil War"
Outcomes, and Vision
|There was a Real War then,
and also what people called Civil War.
The big question in the two wars was the same:
Who knows best what is good for communities throughout the continent, and for the people who live in those communities?
But there was another possible answer:The two wars did intersect, and affect each other. Even so, the difference between the two conflicts showed in the consternation of generals, who did not like to think about what was happening on the popular side.That was the point of the Real War, beyond what was often bloody fakery in the Civil War.
Do people, working through their communities, know best for themselves?
Take Guanajuato, in 1833. General Antonio López de Santa Anna, President of Mexico in what was supposed to be a new regime, was laying siege to conservatives who had holed up in the city. His strategy depended on putting artillery on heights that would dominate the defensive outworks. But the approach to the heights was steep. There were not even trails that his mules could use.
The relation of armies to people became critical. The defending conservative general, Mariano Arista, had scoured the country and towns in the area for new troops, getting good returns in some places, not so good in others. In Guanajuato itself, the reaction he got was negative and violent. Arista's troops could hardly stray from camp for fear of being killed. Supplies were not forthcoming.It all ran on the same lines as the conflict in the United States, between President Andrew Jackson and the conservative slave-holders of South Carolina. Jackson won, as a seeming liberal; but there was compromise all around. The key, quiet detail in the maneuvering was Jackson's warning to the Carolinians: some day, they might need government support themselves, against slave unrest.
People from the city poured out around the defenders' lines, and lent their arms and backs to hauling Santa Anna's guns up the hill. That placement settled the outcome (though there was more to the fighting after that, of course).
But Santa Anna skipped over the popular support in his report, making much instead of his own strategic maneuvers. After all, when he needed to round up troops in an emergency, he was likely to use the same methods Arista did. The people were supposed to be an object of strategy, not a source of action.
Political compromises, in the different parts of the continent, were parts of a single pattern. It was the same pattern that was to emerge later, when the smoke settled after the Civil Wars of the 1860s.
The conflict that spread through the North American continent in the 1830s was not yet a pageant war, between soldiers in gray and soldiers in blue, somehow "forging a nation" by fighting over nationality. It was both a Real War and a First Civil War, and only a bloody pageant on top of that.
The real war -- the Human War -- was an unending one, between two sides:
This Human War took the form of armed conflict, when:
- on the one side, all those peoples who wanted to produce their own lives and their own communities, and who wanted to link up to other communities on their own terms
- on the other side, all those operators who imposed control techniques, down through the system of linkages, in order to transform the energies and resources of people into benefits for those in control.
The "removal" measures, which took different forms in Mexico and in the United States, were the pivot on which continental events turned. They came to a head with the execution, or death-in-captivity, of a series of popular leaders: Vicente Guerrero and Juan José Codallos in Mexico, Osceola and Nat Turner in the United States, Samuel Sharpe in Jamaica.
- people out in the communities struck at the interests who were imposing controls
- people in the control networks took measures to "remove" those who strove for independence.
As the threatening elements were removed, there erupted the First Civil War. It was a series of bitter encounters among people within the control system, fighting to determine who could best extract land and labor from the local communities. It was competition between rival operators in the same industry. The part of that conflict that was fought within the United States was only a bloodless dry run for later war. The part fought in Mexico was bloody, the most serious warning of what would come to a head in the Second Civil War, that of the 1860s.
Exclusive attention to "the" Civil War in the United States can fall easily into sentimental themes, such as that of the "forging of a nation" through conflict between sections, or between liberals and conservatives. The fans of that Second Civil War have imposed on their country a narrowness of vision that could disable serious military history, just as much as it could cripple serious political and social history. But that very word, "forging," stands as a reminder of Bismarck's warning that nations were to be made through "Blood and Iron." A nation was a weapon forged to be used in more elemental conflict.
And a narrow focus on the politics of 1860, or on such local brushes as "Bleeding Kansas," can miss the fact that the conflict of those years reached outward and back through waves of other warfare:
This earlier wave, that of the 1830s, provides a focus for this web site. It was CW-1 -- the First Civil War -- fought from 1832 to 1835 (or 1828 to 1837, or 1830 to 1842 -- take your pick). The site moves through three phases, roughly chronological:
the nation-building conflicts that ripped through all parts of the continent in the 1860s the wars that rocked Mexico and Central America in the 1850s, on a scale that dwarfed and even explained the Kansas affair the U.S.-Mexican War of 1846-1848 the serious warfare of the 1830s, in which the U.S. Nullification Crisis was only one rhetorical incident.
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