I mentioned in a previous post about the Mexican-American War. In Mexico, there are still strong feelings against America's alleged aggression of their weaker country. Americans are still being decried for acting as war-like aggressors in areas such as Iraq. Perhaps the insults come with the territory of being one of the most powerful nations in the world.
Well, in our age of diversity and multiculturalism, many don't have a problem with admitting America was wrong. After all, Americans are always wrong, aren't they? Yet, let us not be like the park ranger I met in Brownsville who maintained “my country right or wrong.” Reasonableness requires that we examine the true nature of any conflict and decide who is right or wrong based upon unequivocal laws of right and wrong---the laws nature is governed by. If our country was wrong, we should own up to it. The only problem is that the unequivocal laws become very blurry in the Mexican-American War.
Mexico did not gain independence from Spain until 1821, and this late birthday must be kept in mind when considering that Mexico's government was still very unstable twenty years later. Additionally, the northern state of Tejas y Coahuila, with its sparsely populated and unproductive land, was very different from the Mexican interior. Its residents were American immigrants (mostly Southerners who brought their States' Rights doctrine) and very independent Mexican natives. In 1835, Santa Ana federalized the Constitution and took away the rights of Mexican states, causing the residents of Texas to separate just as Mexico had done from Spain.
The confusion around the end of the Texas War for Independence is what led to the Mexican-American War. Santa Ana, the Mexican dictator, signed the Treaty of Velasco, ending the war and ceding to the Texans all the land they desired. The problem was this: Santa Ana was deposed from power a few months before. Therefore, the Mexican government saw the treaty as void. This is how the “disputed territory” that would fuel the Mexican-American war came about. After Santa Ana signed the dotted line, hostilities stopped. While the Mexicans did not continue to fight, they maintained a spirit of “we will get you later.” The Texans lauded the end of the war. In 1845, however, Mexico arose to dispute the territory granted to the U.S. in Santa Ana's Treaty.
Do you get it? I admit that it is complicated. In the Mexican-American war, both sides fought for what they believed to be their rightful territory. By viewing the above map, you can see just how much territory was disputed by the Treaty of Velasco. Only then will you realize just how big of a deal the war was. In fact, the disputed territory was more than the whole state of Texas originally was!
So, how do we decide who was right and who was wrong? First off, the Texans had a right to do whatever they wanted to do with their state and territory. Did they want to separate to form their own country? Fine. Did they want to join the U.S.? Who can tell them what they can and cannot do? Mexico, however, refused to accept the democratic aspirations of the Texans, and even threatened to invade Texas should they become part of the United States! Even though the Mexicans had just seceded from Spain in a bloody war for racial equality, they denied the Texans the same rights of self-government and self-decision. Sound familiar? Yep, that's exactly what our government did to the South during the Civil War. It was wrong and belligerent for Mexico to forbid a sovereign nation (Texas) from entering the United States. Indeed, Mexico was trying to coerce a small country (Texas) and then complained about being coerced by the U.S. Funny how we are blind to our own faults.
It was, after all, Mexican troops who fired on a small body of men between the Rio Grande and the Nueces. This was disputed territory, after all---not universally accepted Mexican territory. The U.S. soldiers had just enough right to be there as the Mexicans did. It is also fair to say that the Mexican government was short on integrity when it stopped fighting in 1836 but wanted to push the issue again in 1845 after nine years of R&R. Does silence constitute agreement to Santa Ana's treaty terms? The Mexican governments were full of corrupt dictators during these times who rose quickly and fell quickly. Was it America's fault that Santa Ana was declared an illegitimate ruler only a few months before the treaty was signed? You may judge.
Mexican proponents claim that America took advantage of a small nation. My reply is that Mexico holds just as much blame as America did for starting the war. IT WAS NOT AMERICA'S FAULT THAT MEXICO HAD WEAK AND CORRUPT GOVERNMENTS any more than it is America's fault that Mexican governments remain weak and corrupt today. If Mexico was weak, she sure matched her weakness with pride when she refused to see an American diplomat to negotiate terms. When reading many Mexican defenses of the war, one cannot help but think the authors are whining about their own calamities. It was not America's fault that their own Mexican governments had let them down or that the Mexican people suffered because of their own rulers.
That said, the American government was not free from the war-guilt. The Texans back in 1836 should have made sure all their t's were crossed and i's were dotted before they claimed victory. Additionally, the 1840's was a time of romanticism and excitement about obtaining new lands for the U.S. and expanding “democracy.” America believed it had a Manifest Destiny to spread liberty to the rest of North America. This doctrine included taking other people's land, which in reality, is not liberty at all. Many people wanted to make Mexico or portions of it part of the U.S. in order to expand American dominance and Southern slavery. There was much opposition to the war, even in the U.S., because war is never something to be taken lightly. In the end, war could have been avoided if people cared enough to try!