The U.S.-Mexican War and
    the Peoples of the Year 2000

Inputs from History:

Conflicts of 1846-48


Inputs from the Politics of Today  

Inputs from History 

  • Population & Rebellion 

  • Deluded White Chieftains 

  • Conflicts of 1846-48:  
  • Opening Attack on Indigenous Life
  • A Border World Rebels
  • Officers Capitulate: Ampudia and Taylor
  • A Note on Strategy
  • A Note on Severed Heads
  • Leader within Walls:  Santa Anna
  • Generals for Social Order
  • The Sorting of Identities
  • The Future of New/Old Nations 
    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 system. 
    1. The first lethal clash between U.S. Army agents and Mexican citizens was probably not the famous patrol action south of the Nueces River in Texas, but an attack on an Indian people in northern California. Neither national government cared much about the welfare or citizenship of indigenous people in that area.
    2. The January 1847 rebellion against U.S. authority in New Mexico, represented generally as a rebellion by "Mexicans" against "Americans," was fed by a borderlands community whose way of life was threatened by the polarization between U.S. and Mexican.
    3. Zachary Taylor's initial campaign south of the Rio Grande, while hard-fought by troops on both sides, was conducted within a frame of shared officer-class values, typical of leaders who thought themselves above poor-white pretensions. Thus the Monterrey "capitulation" became a governing metaphor for U.S.-Mexican leadership relations in that area over the following century.
    4. A determining force in the war was the outlook of Antonio López de Santa Anna, who saw Mexico as one large hacienda, walled behind its mountains, yet dependent on money from the outside world. 
    5. Winfield Scott insisted on maintaining a workable logistic cooperation between U.S. forces and Mexican landed interests. While this came into conflict with the short-range ambitions of President James K. Polk, it fitted well into the long-range efforts of many governments (both U.S. and Mexican) to confine indigenous communities within tightly-controlled limits.
    6. Even on the field of battle, and within their own minds at the time, Mexicans were engaged in a sharp debate about the nature of their nationality -- a debate that is likely to remain unresolved well into the 21st century.

    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:

  • 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 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.

    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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