It was quite interesting reading Brian Delay’s War of a Thousand Deserts for this week, as I have heard the story of the Mexican War many times before, usually abbreviated as “we wanted land, the Mexicans refused to give it up, we fought, and the Mexicans lost.” Therefore, it was rather fascinating reading Delay’s accounts of relations between the Indians and (what was then) northern Mexico. What struck me in particular, however, was one simple fact: the Indian raids were far more than just a nuisance: the raids mattered.
The raids mattered because they created divisions between the northern border provinces and Mexico City. The raids mattered because the United States, to whom the removal of the “savage Indians” was a prerequisite for advancing civilization, grew ever frustrated by Indian raids from Mexico and Mexico’s refusal to mount a dedicated campaign against them. And most of all, the raids mattered because they provided the Americans with a casus belli: in this context, the Mexican War was not a blatant land grab but a pacification. In this context, much like how we went to war against the Taliban to get at Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, the Americans felt like they were going to war against Mexico because they were harboring Indians. I realize making that comparison across widely different times, circumstances, and contexts is a bit of historical heresy on my part, but it was my train of thought nonetheless.
As an aside, recently I was able to bring up what we learned regarding Westward mobility in another class. Last Thursday in my American Religious History post-1865 class, we were discussing the predominance of neo-Gothic style churches built in the Mid-West during the 1880s and 90s. Recalling what we learned about the massive movements Westward and the creation of numerous new communities, I theorized that the popularity was due to the fact that Gothic-style look very fixed and permanent, and that perhaps the permanence of these churches was a response against an age of massive social change, mobility, and movement. I went on to ask if, considering the massive movements of population west, these imposing structures were meant to intimidate newcomers, stating that the community here was already fixed, so it would be best to keep moving elsewhere. This was a perspective my fellow classmates had not considered, and the discussion continued in new and interesting directions. This is just an aside, but I have always enjoyed the occasions when what I’ve learned in one class helps inform discussion in another.