Conflicts of 1846-48
||For each phase of the U.S.-Mexican war, the
historians of both nations have played down evidence that something more
was at work than a simple conflict between two neatly defined nation-states.
They have ignored signs that other peoples were real players, and that
some "opposed" leaders were already making moves toward a shared transnational
Histories written about North America in terms of dueling nation-states have misrepresented reality.
Mexico and the United States, those two nations, may have been the most visible "business firms" in the economy of the 1840s. But the "business history" of conflict tells us little about its "economic history." In the larger political economy of the U.S.-Mexican War, the elements in conflict were three:
Patriotic history-writing in the United States has represented the U.S. cause in that war as one that, whether just or unjust, supported a "democratic" settler interest. It has therefore seen Mexico as a mere lordship of hacendados over peasants, and has slighted the similarities between settlers and rancheros, as well as the efforts toward planter/settler consensus on either side.
the planter/hacendado/merchant interest, across national lines the ranchero/settler/peddler interest, also across national lines, and the indigenous/slave/peasant interest, also across national lines.
Patriotic history-writing in Mexico once assumed some kind of consensus between hacendados and deferential peasants, against evil settlers from abroad. It therefore played down the three-way internal conflict between hacendado, ranchero, and indigenous elements.
The experience of both countries, in the 20th century, has been an effort to break through this three-way tension. While business groups have worked toward an international order based on ownership and investment, populist elements have tried to achieve a sense of dramatic social conflict, between "the people" and "the interests." This popular vindication, too, leaps over national lines. Any effort to push people's thinking back into national boxes is likely to prejudice struggles in favor of some old paternalistic outlook within each nation.
These questions carry through to questions about the failure or success of the Ernesto Zedillo administration in the Mexico of the 1990s. Because the Mexican state of 1846-48 had not yet clearly mobilized Indians as part of the national identity, the war became a crisis of conscience. Leaders talked about a pluralistic identity. Belief in that kind of identity would vindicate the resistance against the United States, making it something more than the claims of one colonial elite against another. As individuals, many Mexican leaders then and since have sought just such social breadth and transcendence. Many more people have thought in those inclusive terms, in Mexico, than in the United States.
But if the Mexican state should fail to achieve that kind of national
breadth, in the year 2000, and if the United States has never approached
it, then the two societies are together creating -- now -- a conclusion
about the war of the 1840s: that the U.S.-Mexican War has
amounted finally to a falling-out among thieves.
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