Archive for June, 2013

Messin’ with history to find a grievance

People with a chip on the shoulder trying to rationalize their envy tend to distort reality. When it comes to national issues, that reality is often history. Looking back at the past is especially susceptible to distortion as matters of context and environment can be difficult to discern and placing what was into the context of what is now is very easy to do. The immigration issue provides an example as described by John Bennett in Amnesty and Historical Guilt: the Mexican American War.

Land, race, nation, and historical grievance are powerful forces that pro-amnesty Republicans have utterly failed to take seriously.

Some Mexicans see the American southwest as land stolen from them, and that attitude is not conducive to assimilation.

To see this attitude at work, consider the CBS report on the Mexican-American War, which concluded with a statement that troubled several historians. Speaking to CBS about that war, Yale historian Amy Greenberg said, “A lot of [American] people live in land that was taken from Mexico in this war and they’re not aware of that.””

Of course, for this guilt manufacturing and violence rationalizing thing to work, one must forget that Mexico was a cauldron of Spanish and French influence with dictators like Santa Anna trying to establish their own independent power base. The Mexicans could not encourage their own to migrate to the land from Texas to California so they encouraged others. Those ‘others’ had closer affiliations to the U.S. than to Mexico.

Historian Douglas Richmond tells me that Greenberg’s remarks imply something deeply political: that America wrongly took Mexican land and thus we shouldn’t be opposed to amnesty, an idea he rejects.


Another historian, professor John Pinheiro of Aquinas College, believes that Greenberg’s comments were “too simplistic”: “Mexico’s government could not get its citizens to move to its northern frontier, which is why in the 1820s it began giving land to Americans who were willing to settle there. In the meantime, successive coups and rebellions had left California virtually autonomous.”

Pinheiro disagrees with Professor Greenberg’s key assertions, like the claim that the Mexican-American War was “the first war that is fought for greed rather than principle in American history,” and that it “was the first [American] war that was started with a presidential lie.”

Pinheiro asserts, “What labeling [President Polk’s] land claims a knowing lie does is obscure the fact that Mexico wanted war with the United States because it (and the rest of the world) thought it could easily win one.””

Some folks have constructed a reality that shows their hostility to the hand that feeds them. The put everything as a consequence of U.S. “greed” and “aggression” and political corruption. The problem is that such assertions are often more projection than reality. As Pinheiro suggests, it was the Mexican dictator who was trying to take advantage of a perceived U.S. weakness and involved in his own denial of rights, greed, and corruption that was a major force in the Mexican-American war.

Go find out about the source of the Cinco de Mayo celebration, the regime of Santa Anna, and this history of Texas (and California) to find out what was really going on.

Leave a Comment