28 June 2010

A Little About the Intervention in Mexico



News? None to speak of.

I enjoy a comfortable routine of reading things—mainly enormous history books—that I have not had the time nor the inclination for before. (I have stuck to my resolution to read no more novels after 2666 with the one exception of A Suitable Boy, a novel set in India that I had started before undertaking 2666.) Hit the gym in the afternoon. Then I bask in the late day sun and lick my wounds from the game with Argentina.

This is a life that is mellowness itself.


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I cannot tell you how fascinating the story of the history of Mexico is. It is a story more fascinating than that in any novel I have ever read. I must make a few comments now and again here simply because it is on my mind. . . .and nothing else is going on.

In reading about the intervention by the United State of America in Mexico in 1847, on balance one of the more disgraceful affairs in our history, I was struck by something. Setting aside our current situation, there have been three larger wars fought by a United States of America rendered brave and bellicose by the perceived weakness of its adversaries at the outset.

I say "larger wars" because I have not forgotten the little interventions here and there--in the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Panama, that little island that President Reagan so bravely ordered invaded, etc., not to mention the odd blockades, coups, and assassinations sponsored hither and yon down in this neck of the woods.

These three larger wars are the intervention in Mexico in 1847, the war against Spain in 1898, and the war in Vietnam in the sixties. There is not much to be proud of from my point of view in any of these three. (In the case of the war against Spain, our conduct in the Philippines in the aftermath almost defies belief.)

In each case the sitting President needed only an excuse to start the war in order to extract Congress's cooperation. These excuses were, respectively, “The Thornton Affair,” the sinking of the battleship Maine, and “The Gulf of Tonkin Incident.” Casus belli is the fancy Latin phrase. . .you know. . .as in “Weapons of Mass Destruction.”

The parallel is this. With regard to each of those three excuses for war, historians have had a helluva time figuring out exactly what did happen. In the case of “The Gulf of Tonkin Incident,” the current consensus is that probably nothing at all happened. The cause of the explosion on the battleship Maine has become a mystery.

As for “The Thornton Affair” Representative Abraham Lincoln, one of the many opponents of the intervention in Mexico, repeatedly demanded of President Polk, “Show me the spot.” His point, I believe, was simply that, whatever it was that happened, Captain Thornton and his detachment of Dragoons were in Mexican territory when somebody attacked somebody. Not to put too fine a point on it, they had invaded Mexico. Maybe. It is apparently very difficult to figure out what exactly occurred.

In any event perhaps the lesson is that the citizenry of the United States ought to be a bit more skeptical of excuses for wars against other peoples. That goes in spades when we are certain at the outset that we can kick the other side's ass, that is, when the risk seems low. But then again, I don't know. Perhaps we so relish the prospect of that sort of war that any flimsy excuse will do. Perhaps we are historically and continue to be a nation of bullies.

Ulysses Grant, who fought in the intervention in Mexico as a young lieutenant, said this in his memoirs:

Generally, the officers of the army were indifferent whether the annexation was consummated or not; but not so all of them. For myself, I was bitterly opposed to the measure, and to this day regard the war, which resulted, as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation. It was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European monarchies, in not considering justice in their desire to acquire additional territory.


He later also wrote this:

The Southern rebellion was largely the outgrowth of the Mexican war. Nations, like individuals, are punished for their transgressions. We got our punishment in the most sanguinary and expensive war of modern times.


The more that I read about and by Ulysses Grant, the more I like him in spite of his problematic presidency.

By the way, I have provided no links in the little rant on history above. The ever so few people with any interest at all will need no help from me in locating reading material.

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