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Remembering the Forgotten War

Remembering the Forgotten War: The Enduring Legacies of the U.S.Mexican War

Michael Scott Van Wagenen
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Remembering the Forgotten War
    Book Description:

    On February 2, 1848, representatives of the United States and Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo officially ending hostilities between the two countries and ceding over onehalf million square miles of land to the northern victors. In Mexico, this defeat has gradually moved from the periphery of dishonor to the forefront of national consciousness. In the United States, the war has taken an opposite trajectory, falling from its oncecelebrated prominence into the shadowy margins of forgetfulness and denial. Why is the U.S.–Mexican War so clearly etched in the minds of Mexicans and so easily overlooked by Americans? This book investigates that issue through a transnational, comparative analysis of how the tools of collective memory—books, popular culture, historic sites, heritage groups, commemorations, and museums—have shaped the war’s multifaceted meaning in the 160 years since it ended. Michael Van Wagenen explores how regional, ethnic, and religious differences influence Americans and Mexicans in their choices of what to remember and what to forget. He further documents what happens when competing memories clash in a quest for dominance and control. In the end, Remembering the Forgotten War addresses the deeper question of how remembrance of the U.S.–Mexican War has influenced the complex relationship between these former enemies now turned friends. It thus provides a new lens through which to view today’s crossborder rivalries, resentments, and diplomatic pitfalls.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-213-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. Introduction OF WAR AND SOCCER
    (pp. 1-8)

    The clatter of iron horse shoes on cobblestone echoed through the darkened streets of Mexico City on the morning of September 14, 1847, as U.S. troops cautiously moved toward the great central plaza. The Mexican government had abandoned the capital hours earlier, leaving the colors over the National Palace conspicuously unguarded. North American soldiers entered the deserted building, tore down the flag, and raised the Stars and Stripes over the symbol of Mexico’s civil authority. After sixteen months of hard campaigning in northern and central Mexico, the United States had successfully concluded its first war of foreign conquest. Now it...

  6. 1 Victory and Dissolution THE UNITED STATES, 1848–1865
    (pp. 9-40)

    On June 25, 1848, the Unitarian minister Theodore Parker took the stage at the famous Melodeon Theater in Boston. Word had arrived a few days earlier declaring that the U.S. Congress had ratified the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, officially ending the U.S.–Mexican War. Parker had already developed a reputation as a firebrand, and a large crowd packed the floor, anxious to hear his views on the ending of the conflict. Clutching the podium, Parker delivered a diatribe against President Polk, his cabinet, and the Congress for provoking an illegal and unconstitutional war. He reminded He reminded his hushed congregation...

  7. 2 In the Shadow of Defeat MEXICO, 1848–1866
    (pp. 41-58)

    In December 1847 fifteen Mexican military officers met in Santiago de Querétaro, north of Mexico City, to organize a select association. After the American occupation of the capital, Querétaro served briefly as the interim seat of Mexican government. While Antonio López de Santa Anna would later brand the officers’ meeting as seditious, the men were neither seeking political power nor plotting against the American occupiers. Rather, these veterans united to write a history of the Guerra de la Intervención Norteamericana (War of North American Intervention). In the ensuing months the men of the association hunted for political and military documents related...

  8. 3 Old Soldiers and New Wars THE UNITED STATES, 1866–1895
    (pp. 59-80)

    In 1884 Ulysses S. Grant retired from public life to write his memoirs. This final endeavor was a race against time as throat cancer steadily closed off his airway. Poor financial investments had left Grant impoverished, and his manuscript offered him a last opportunity to reverse his declining fortunes. As he wrote, memories of Mexico haunted his mind and pen. Since fighting there under Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott, Grant had maintained a keen interest in his Mexican adversary. In 1865 he unsuccessfully pressed for an invasion of Mexico to drive out the French and restore the government of Benito Juárez....

  9. 4 Creating Heroes MEXICO, 1867–1920
    (pp. 81-100)

    On an August evening in 1871 nine men gathered at the famous Concordia restaurant in Mexico City. As officers in Mexico’s army, some of these gentlemen had helped free their nation from French occupation in 1867. More important, these veteran soldiers were distinguished alumni of the Military College and, twenty-four years earlier, had defended their school at Chapultepec Castle against a North American assault. Defying an evacuation order, approximately fifty cadets fought a desperate battle on the heights above the Mexican capital that left a handful of their comrades dead. Now some of the survivors proposed they form the Asociación...

  10. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  11. 5 Empire and Exclusion THE UNITED STATES, 1896–1929
    (pp. 101-127)

    On a spring afternoon in 1904 the eighty-four-year-old Daniel Gould Burr arrived at the city fairgrounds in Paris, Illinois. Bedecked in the regalia of a U.S.–Mexican War veteran, the frail man took a seat under some nearby trees. At an appointed hour he rose to his feet and read aloud the roster of Company H of the Fourth Regiment of Illinois Volunteers. The Fourth Illinois had fought with distinction under General Scott in Mexico, most notoriously capturing General Santa Anna’s prosthetic leg at the Battle of Cerro Gordo. Sergeant Burr, however, was a by-the-book soldier who refused to commandeer...

  12. 6 Rituals of the State MEXICO, 1921–1952
    (pp. 128-152)

    On October 12, 1921, the president of Mexico, Álvaro Obregón, appointed José Vasconcelos minister of the newly created Secretaría de Educación Pública (SEP). As a young, idealistic attorney and writer who belonged to a group of revolutionaries known as the Ateneo de la Juventud (Athenaeum of Youth), Vasconcelos was a natural choice to head the SEP. His radical ideas intimidated the former president Venustiano Carranza, who had forced him into exile in the United States. The day after Carranza’s assassination, however, Vasconcelos returned to Mexico City eager to help his nation. By centralizing the administration of all of Mexico’s schools...

  13. 7 Good Neighbors and Bad Blood THE UNITED STATES, 1930–1965
    (pp. 153-173)

    On February 26, 1931, dozens of law enforcement officers surrounded a park in Los Angeles known as La Placita. In a meticulously planned operation they corralled approximately four hundred people who had been enjoying a leisurely afternoon in the sun. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) agents lined up the detainees and demanded proof of citizenship or legal immigration status. News of the raid spread rapidly throughout Los Angeles. The Mexican vice consuls Ricardo Hill and Joel Quiñones rushed to the scene to protest the mistreatment of their countrymen. In spite of allegations that large numbers of illegal aliens frequented the...

  14. 8 Resisting the Gringos MEXICO, 1953–1989
    (pp. 174-191)

    On September 13, 1953, President Adolfo Ruiz Cortines of Mexico officiated at the commemoration of the Boy Heroes held at the newly dedicated Altar to the Fatherland in Chapultepec Park. Curious visitors crowded around the towering stone pillars and marveled at the crypt that enshrined the bones of the beloved cadets. This was Ruiz’s first ceremony as president, and he carefully choreographed the event to usher in a new era in the memory of the War of North American Intervention. The observance deviated from those formerly held at the nearby obelisk in several key ways. Ruiz, along with the presidents...

  15. 9 Contesting American Pasts THE UNITED STATES, 1966–1989
    (pp. 192-213)

    On April 1, 1967, a dragline construction crew in Brownsville busily excavated a new home site along the scenic Resaca de la Palma. As a large load of soil dropped from the steel bucket, a worker noticed human bones spilling out onto the ground. While modern residents of the city enjoyed the natural beauty of the oxbow lake, in 1846 its meandering banks provided the forces of the Mexican general Mariano Arista with a natural defensive line against U.S. troops. The Battle of Resaca de la Palma was a rout, and the Mexican army retreated in chaos across the Rio...

  16. 10 Remembrance and Free Trade THE UNITED STATES AND MEXICO, 1990–2008
    (pp. 214-239)

    On May 22, 1990, President Carlos Salinas de Gortari addressed the Mexican Senate. Standing beneath a gold-lettered motto that read, La Patria es Primero (The Fatherland Is First), he proclaimed that Mexico would seek “free trade with the United States and Canada.” The declaration pleased the senators, who had previously encouraged the president to take radical steps to end Mexico’s economic stagnation. Garnering legislative support was only the beginning of Salinas de Gortari’s challenges. For de cades a lingering anti-Americanism had seeped into the culture of Mexico. Generations of textbooks had defined national identity and patriotism in terms of resistance...

    (pp. 240-246)

    In 2009 Walter Plitt labored earnestly on a new project involving the U.S.–Mexican War. Mexican officials had recently announced that they had uncovered the graves of U.S. soldiers near Monterrey, Nuevo León. Plitt proposed that the United States exchange the Mexican skeletons found at Resaca de la Palma in 1967 for the newly unearthed Americans. Plitt, a seasoned veteran of the struggle to establish a national park at Palo Alto, found himself facing an insurmountable wall of bureaucracy and diplomatic red tape. The Mexican bones had been deposited in Austin for over forty years, safeguarded by the Texas Archeological...

  18. NOTES
    (pp. 247-314)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 315-329)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 330-331)