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What Would Ulysses (S. Grant) Do? The Iraq Invasion…

1 May 2004

A foreign country, that had been left a monarchy by the departing colonial power, has fallen into the power of a dictator … who incidentally, is known to have massacred civilians in a rebellious province. That province, populated by a religious and linguistic minority, has been protected by the United States. The dictatorship’s people and religion are alien to the United States, and the media has been full of stories on the looming threat these people and their co-religionists pose to our way of life.

The dictatorship is particularly rich in resources the United States needs to expand it’s economy. The president, and his advisors, have personal interests in this resource.

The dictatorship has a huge army, but not a sophisticated one. The people are said to be clamoring for a democracy, but are either in fear of the dictator, or indifferent to his regime.

Fear of the dictatorship’s co-religionists (already blamed for some terrorist acts in the US), the desire to protect the minority rebels, and the desire to foster democracy in the region (as well as an understanding that the dictatorship’s resources will help the US economy — and the president’s interests in particular) have led to a troop build-up and rising tensions.

And, so … in November 1846, President Polk sent the troops into Mexico. It’s not an exact parallel (Santa Ana happened to be in disgrace at the time), expanding slavery isn’t exactly the same as controlling oil and anti-Catholicism might not be completely the same as anti-Islamic fervor, but there’s enough similarities between Polk and Bush’s wars to worry about the eventual outcome.

US troops had little opposition initially, and the Mexican army was as bad as the planners thought. But, they did fight back, and bogged the army down enough that we had to open a second front (and how about this for a parallel — we had to come in through Veracruz, the second largest city and the main seaport). The second front invasion required heavy bombardment and high civilian casualties. What Winifield Scott hadn’t anticipated was the civilian resistance to the invasion. Shocked and awed Veracruzanos refused to give any aid or assistance to the occupying army, and turned to assassinations and guerrilla warfare. The army stuck in the north faced heavier resistance than planned — the Mexicans bottled up Zachary Taylor at Buena Vista, and there was organized guerrilla warfare there as well.

Mentioning that the war was for the economic interests of the President was considered disloyal and un-American to say the least. An Illinois congressman who was gauche enough to say this, was targeted by the President’s party and overwhelmingly defeated in the next election. And who remembers Congressman Abraham Lincoln? I saw on the news where a Moslem GI got so sick of the anti-Islamic propaganda that he threw a grenade at our guys. In Mexico, it was anti-Catholicism. It was pretty stupid, since so many soldiers were Irish immigrants, fleeing British religious persecution and economic hardship. The US Army still doesn’t like to be reminded that almost a quarter of the US Army deserted in Mexico. The Irish soldiers who joined the Mexican Army were the best soldiers on either side — sort of the Republican Guard of their time. Just as an aside, I’d add that President Polk was a realist: he was a virulent anti-Catholic (as was most of Congress) but paid two priests to accompany the army out of the White House entertainment budget. The two officers with the lowest Irish desertion rate were two recent West Point graduates who didn’t allow religious prejudices in their units — Lts. Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant).

There wasn’t CNN in the 1840s, but the US press was as controlled by the Army as it is now (and considered by anyone outside the US as completely unreliable). The desertions and resistance were covered as Catholic fanaticism or as an unexpected setback. People who despised Santa Ana — Mexico City intellectuals, rural doctors, schoolteachers and priests — organized resistance groups, just as anti-Saddam Muslims are organizing anti-US groups all over the Middle East.

Honestly, I don’t know why anyone was surprised then — or now — that people resist when their country is invaded.

The United States, as expected, won the war eventually (after taking casualties far above expectations — ask any Marine why their uniform has a red stripe, and he’ll tell you about the army cadets who managed to wound or kill every Marine officer during the final defense of Mexico City). A new government was installed who signed the treaties giving the United States the access to resources that it wanted.

So, what happened next, or what’s going to happen after we “liberate” Iraq?

  • Instability after the fall of the old regime led to civil unrest, and civil war in Mexico. U.S. business interests were damaged or destroyed, and the Mexican economic situation caused serious problems for the US.
  • Fights over control of the resources in the US also led to a civil war.
  • The United States government was never again trusted by any Latin American government. We have never since been viewed as potential liberators, or harbingers of democracy, but as a potential neo-colonialist threat.
  • Tribal warfare had been contained by Santa Ana, basically by leaving the desert tribes alone. After the war, both the US and Mexico had 50 years of Indian warfare — Gerenimo had a lot in common with Osana bin Ladin.

And … if you have any interest in morals, Ulysses S. Grant called the invasion the “worst injustice one nation has ever done to another.” Or, if you want to go a little further (and don’t mind the “Homeland Security Gestapo” beating down your door and dragging you off to Guantanamo — our gulag by the sea), you can always refuse to pay your taxes, like that cranky Massachusetts writer, Henry David Thoreau. As he said in On the Duty of Civil Disobedience, “when … a whole country is unjustly overrun and conquered by a foreign armny, and subjected to military law, I think that it is not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize. What makes this duty the more urgent is the fact, that the country so overrun is not our own, but ours is the invading army.”

8 Comments leave one →
  1. 10 January 2007 11:12 pm

    I love my child .But i still would get angry

  2. Sacha permalink
    2 February 2007 9:55 am

    You can’t change the fact that Mexico got its ass kicked and that Mexico is still a failed nation whose people are fleeing by the million to the United States. I wish them well and hope that both those who remain in Mexico and those who flee to the United States realize that radical change is needed in their culture.

  3. 26 July 2007 9:26 am

    Nice post. Thank you for sharing your expertise. I found it enlightening.

  4. Jeffrey Rant permalink
    13 December 2007 9:37 pm

    I think you are correct about the Mexican war. However, you did not touch on “manifest destiny” and a young nations expectations of growth. It was a simple land grab, but cannot be compared to our noble efforts in Iraq. It may turn out that the United States made a mistake in invading Iraq, but there are many in Iraq who are better off for our effort. In any of our wars from the revolutionary to present there were about one third of the people who were doves, one third hawkes, and one third who did not know or care what happened. Solomen was right, there is nothing new under the sun.

  5. GeneralTHC permalink
    21 September 2008 4:16 pm

    I just came across this page and thought I’d set the record straight:

    You’re an idiot, Jeffrey Rant. You need to quit getting your info second hand from Fundamentalist hacks.

    p.s. Koheleth is the author of Ecclesiastes not Solomon.

  6. 18 September 2012 11:27 am

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    I bookmarked it to my bookmark website record and can be checking back soon.

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