The history of humankind proves the point that wars are inevitable. Real or fictitious reasoning, based on the need in resources, new lands, or ambitions of few people usually leads to bloodshed. The war between U.S. and Mexico is no different. It had also required justification to pull the fact of annexation through the masses so it was justified by some followers of the idea of aggression. These followers had, of course, argumentation of legitimacy, pursuing certain goals. The paper explores historical documents highlighting justification of the U.S. - Mexico war, argumentation of legitimacy, and the goals of those people who saw opportunities in this war but not blood and suffering.
The U.S. - Mexico War and its Background
The war between the United States and Mexico did not break out suddenly. It was prepared thoroughly and shrewdly. America had already acquired Texas but President Polk James K. Polk wanted more and set his sights on the territories that belonged to Mexico, namely California and New Mexico. Determined to get those territories at any cost, Polk was ready to buy them and fight for them, if buying them did not work out. He allotted $30 million for purchasing the provinces of New Mexico and California from the Mexican government and sent John Slidell to settle the deal (Henretta, Brody, & Dumenil, 2008). However, in December 1845, this plan failed when Mexican officials refused to meet Slidell because they had not accepted annexation of their territory by America.
Polk did not expect much from Slidell’s mission and had already prepared for an alternative, which was to organize a rebellion in California and persuade residents with influence to declare independence that would later result in a peaceful annexation by America (Henretta, Brody, & Dumenil, 2008). This plan was supported by the naval squadrons in the ports of California and the troops of General Zachary Taylor stationed in Texas in case Mexicans decided to invade the newly acquired American state (Brinkley, 2010). Following Polk’s orders, General Grant had to move towards Rio Grande to provoke Mexico into an armed response (Henretta, Brody, & Dumenil, 2008). Americans succeed in provoking Mexico to attack their troops first, and President Polk immediately declared a war on Mexico.
At first, Americans were successful and victorious, crossing the border and occupying Matamoros and Monterrey, even though the battle for the latter was quite fierce and lasted for six days. Soon, one of Mexico’s ports Tampico was seized by the navy. Having taken California and a big part of Mexico, American troops expected that the government of Mexico would concede defeat. Nevertheless, Mexicans fought fiercely and their President Santa Anna did not want the country to surrender. Only after Americans had hit Mexico City and seized it did the government of Mexico agree to sign a peace deal on unfavorable terms.
Justification of the U.S. - Mexico War
At the beginning, the U.S. - Mexico War had a wide support in American society. There was nothing unusual about that since at that time, the idea of manifest destiny was quite popular in society. The author of the term ‘manifest destiny’ was John L. O’Sullivan who wrote in his article “Annexation” that it was “our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions” (Chavez, 2007). More to say, O’Sullivan justified annexation of Texas, which had been one of the factors that led to the U.S. - Mexican War, in the following way: “if Texas became peopled with an American population; it was by no contrivance of our government, but on the express invitation of that of Mexico herself” (Chavez, 2007). In other words, it was Mexico’s fault that Texas had desired to be with America, and it was the right of American people given to them by Providence to spread their ideas and institutions across the continent. Such was the justification of the war given in newspapers and by politicians.
One should note that even in Mexico, some newspapers published articles that pictured Americans in a favorable light, aiming to show superiority of American gentlemen living in Mexico in comparison to the Mexican ones. Thus, in the article “Comment on Interactions between Mexicans and Americans” the author wrote that Americans would never allow themselves to treat anyone badly, especially local women (Chavez, 2007). This article was published in November 1847 in a Mexican newspaper “American Star”, which meant that the local population was being prepared for the American invasion.
Argumentation of Legitimacy
Declaring the war on Mexico, President Polk put forward the following argument regarding its legitimacy. In his message to Congress in May 11, 1846, he stated:
This had become necessary to meet a threatened invasion of Texas by the Mexican forces, for which extensive military preparations had been made. The invasion was threatened solely because Texas had determined, in accordance with a solemn resolution of the Congress of the United States, to annex herself to our Union, and under these circumstances it was plainly our duty to extend our protection over her citizens and soil (Chavez, 2007).
America had all legislative right to defend Texas from invasions, as President Polk had put it, because the Congress of Texas had issued an act that settled its boundaries. This act was approved by Congress, which made the territory of Texas a part of America. Therefore, any attack against Texas would mean an attack against America. President Polk showed to the entire world how it was possible to create a legitimate field for protection of annexed lands, using laws and regulations of the country, considered as the most democratic and advanced country on the planet. Arguments were strong and simple: America acquired new lands with Americans (aggressively occupied, actually) and this land had to be protected by any means necessary. Americans in the USA did not need any other arguments or proof to approve such state of things if consider the fact that work of such journalists like John O’Sullivan were praised and welcomed (Chavez, 2007). In other words, if people want to believe in something they do not need complicated concepts and complex words. They would believe anything they were told to believe into.
Legitimization of a war can be very simple and straightforward. However, this process can become utterly delicate and complicated.
It depends on the situation that had led to a war and goals the legitimizers would like to achieve. For example, the war for independence and protection of one’s lands from the aggressors and occupants does not require sophisticated propaganda to be used. People will follow leaders and generals and will fight for their families, for their homes, for their land until the last drop of blood and last breath. Expansive war is different. It presupposes annexation and occupation of lands, belonging to other peoples and countries. In this case, war ideologists and promoters must use tons of propaganda and brainwashing techniques to literally make own people believe that war in the foreign lands is legitimate.
Such legitimization of the war can be made using different methods. Articles can be purely propaganda ones, such as John O’Sullivan’s “Annexation,” published in the “United States Magazine and Democratic Review” in August 1845. More to say, there can be more sophisticated pieces of cultural pressure on the minds of the people of the aggressor nation and the people of the victim country, as it was presented in American Star in November of 1847 in the article “Comment on Interactions between Mexicans and Americans”. Thus, O’Sullivan writes, “Texas is now ours” (Chavez, 2007). He says it in this way because he truly believes that the U.S. is the cradle of democracy and, according to manifest destiny, American have the right to bring democracy anywhere they want, using any means. War becomes legitimate in the minds of American people because they start to believe that God chose them to kill Mexicans to … liberate them (Chavez, 2007).
“American Star” authors are more delicate. They appeal to the interactions between Americans and Mexicans on the levels, available to the citizens of large cities, such as Mexico City. The authors condescendingly write, “We are speaking, rather, of the intelligent and cultivated portion of the citizens, than those who give no tone to society and exert no influence upon it” (Chavez, 2007). The goals they achieve, legitimizing war are segregation of Mexicans to those who are “decent” enough to interact with Americans and those who have no such privilege and to plant the idea that Americans can do anything they want because they are Americans.
Any war can be justified and legitimized by an aggressor, if the goals are good enough (for the aggressor). The U.S. - Mexico War of 1846-1848 showed that this statement is always true, regardless of the century and personalities. The situation in Ukraine, suffering from Crimean annexation and aggression of Russian Federation from the East, repeats the story of that war line-by-line, proving the point that history develops using spiral model. It, unfortunately means, that more wars are to come and more blood and deaths will be on the hands of such “gatherers of lands” as Polk or Putin in the future.