Thorough account of the cynical, opportune US war against Mexico.
Former AP reporter Wheelan (Jefferson’s War, 2003, etc.) writes with vivid immediacy of desperate battles on desert sands and tropical beaches, but the best parts here take place in well-appointed Washington offices. As Wheelan notes, the war was precipitated by border skirmishes, particularly an attack by Mexican cavalry on a US army unit in April 1846 that, President James K. Polk insisted, took place on American soil inasmuch as Texas had recently been persuaded to join the Union. Whether the Mexicans actually forded the Rio Grande is unclear, but, by Wheelan’s account, what is certain is that Polk had been spoiling for a war of conquest “to divest Mexico of California and the New Mexico territory” in order to fulfill Jeffersonian notions of manifest destiny. Congress willingly budgeted $10 million and 50,000 soldiers for the task, silencing members who had protested—the nucleus, Wheelan notes, of the first major antiwar movement in the country’s history. Mexico’s government was weak and crumbling, so Polk had an easy enough sitting-duck target; thus, he rejected entreaties for peace by which Mexico would have ceded most of the desired territory for a mere $30 million if Santa Anna were allowed to return from exile to power and given a fund by which to bribe any Mexican legislators who opposed the deal. Instead, Polk unleashed a war most of whose American participants came to feel was unjust from the very start, and that, most historians of the period agree, set the American Civil War in motion: As Ulysses S. Grant, who distinguished himself at Chapultepec, said of the conflict, “Nations, like individuals, are punished for their transgressions. . . . We got our punishment in the most sanguinary and expensive war of modern times.”
A useful history of a war little studied on this side of the border.