The Mexican-American War (The Story Of Mexico), by R. Conrad Stein
What this book does remarkably well is the way that it puts the Mexican-American war in a context that is aimed at American reading audiences but provides the history largely from the point of view of Mexico and its own situation. Admittedly, most American readers will not be familiar with the perspective of Mexico, and so this book does a great job at allowing such an audience to gain a fair bit of insight into how it was that the United States and Mexico went to war over sparsely-populated territory and why Mexico was so unwilling to give up territory that they could not hope to hold against American superiority in arms. There is a real tragic sense here of Mexico as a nation that lacked cohesion and a coherent identity, and if the author seems optimistic that Mexico developed such a coherent identity in the period after the Mexican-American war, contemporary issues like the drug war demonstrate the continuing weakness of the Mexican state with regards to its ability to enforce law throughout its borders and defend its citizens from violence resulting from anarchy and criminality.
This book is about 130 pages long or so and it is part of a series of books about Mexican history that extend from ancient Mexico to modern Mexico in the post-revolutionary period. This book begins with a brief discussion of the triumph and tragedy of Mexican independence and its inability to have stable governments during the first part of the 19th century (1). The author then discusses the vulnerability of Mexico’s northern border and the aggressiveness of the United States as a neighbor (2) before discussing the troubles of Texas and American annexation (3) as an obvious causus belli. The author looks at the United States and Mexico on the brink (4) and how the war was carried out in Texas and Northern Mexico (5). The author then turns to look at the war in the Northern frontier as the United States took over the area it wanted to rule in New Mexico and California (6). After that the author discusses the war in the American heartland (7) and the difficult period of peacemaking that followed, made more difficult by Polk’s irritability as well as the difficulty of finding Mexican leaders of stature able and willing to make the necessary peace (8). The author then discusses the aftermath of the war and how it led to a sense of Mexican identity eventually.
By putting the Mexican-American war within the Mexican context of unstable governments and a deeply divided populace that was united by a sense of pride concerning its territory and its dignity, the author makes it clear that Mexican weakness as well as American aggression were both responsible for creating a tense atmosphere where war was inevitable, and that both sides fundamentally misunderstood what the other was about. This sort of tragic misunderstanding is unfortunately all too common and it makes for compelling reading, even if this book is fairly brief as an examination of a complicated conflict between two nations that were both divided among themselves even as they fought over domination of the American Southwest. If it seems to us inevitable that the United States should prevail, it certainly was not so obvious at the time, and results in terms of prolonged hostility between the United States and Mexico were deeply regretted by people on both sides of the border. How strange to us it seems that Mexican elites thought that their nation would be a friend of the United States in light of their shared anti-colonial heritage, and how unfortunate it is that the United States did not realize the attachment that Mexicans felt to land that they had not meaningfully settled or governed.