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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

“So Far from God: The U.S. War With Mexico, 1846-1848”, by John S.D. Eisenhower

436 pages, Random House, ISBN-13: 978-0394560519

Mexican-American War has been given little attention by historians, possibly because the victory has become tainted with the passage of time, or because the subsequent American Civil War overshadowed it so. In the succeeding Century the war assumed the mantle of a calculated move by an emerging power to steal land from a weaker and defenseless neighbor; in reality, the issues involved in this war were far more complex, yet historians disconcerted by the easy victory have declined to fully examine the background leading to the conflict.

In the 1840s Mexico was nation of contrasts; remnants of Spanish imperialism juxtaposed against the backwardness of a native population. The Mexican officers’ corps was a highly educated and strong force in Mexican politics that were supremely confident of the outcome in any conflict with the United States. Unfortunately, they commanded untrained, albeit brave, troops. This attitude of elitism by the Mexican Army officers ultimately proved disastrous in the war with the United States. The Mexican government resisted all blandishments for a peaceful solution as they considered the United States a second-rate power with little enthusiasm for war. Their mistrust of American motives began with the Texas question and was heightened because of the recent intervention by American officials in the internal affairs of California. Mexicans entered the war with confidence and with the feeling that right was on their side. The war resulted in thousands of deaths from shot and shell, disease and neglect. Mexico sank into the turmoil and distrust bequeathed to a defeated nation. They were racked by recriminations and political divisions that have impaired a just relationship with the United States to this day. The United States, in contrast, became a two-ocean power; the dominant country on the continent of the Americas, and an aggressive nation that began to enforce its sovereignty against Great Britain, France, Russian, and any other interloper in the western hemisphere.

John S.D. Eisenhower’s analysis refutes any question of a peaceful settlement. Mexico was too proud and the United States wanted too much. The issues were fairly clear cut and concerned the continued expansion of the United States through sparsely populated areas ostensibly under Mexican control. There had been prior discussions with Mexico over land acquisitions. Money was offered along with mild threats – both coupled with promises not to interfere further into Mexican affairs. Mexican pride proved unyielding. With their defeat, Mexico paid the ultimate price assessed by a victor nation against a loser; loss of territory and the breakup of a national identity. The war also provided a rich cast of characters that dominated the American political scene for decades. The conflict proved a training ground for the Civil War and many future army generals from the Union and Confederate sides bloodied themselves against the Mexicans. The war with Mexico obliquely led to the Civil War and provided a bevy of “heroes” from which future American presidents were chosen.

This is a well-written account of the Mexican-American conflict is a fascinating story of the war with Mexico. It covers the political as well as military aspects from the Mexican advance into Texas to the eventual purchase of California and New Mexico. The military dominance of Mexico's world-class cavalry and armed forces contrasts vividly with the greedy and egotistical leadership of Santa Anna. Eisenhower does much to dispel the myths and impressions I remember from grade school history, and Texans and Californians especially should find this work extremely interesting. I was, however, left wanting about Santa Anna; he is, to my knowledge, only known leader of a country that led a revolt and overthrew himself. You can’t make this stuff up.

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