Like other historians who tackle the subject of the Mexican War, Peter Guardino begins his work by noting that both the United States and Mexico have a historical blind spot when it comes to the war. The Dead March is a masterful telling of the Mexican-American War that blends together the stories of the United States and Mexico as they went to war from 1846 to 1848. It provides a cultural and social history of the war that focuses primarily on what Guardino refers to as the "experiences and motivations of Mexicans and Americans of relatively modest social status, the men and women who did the hardest work and faced the greatest risks not only in Mexican and American armies but also in Mexican and American societies" (4). The Dead March is an example of the "new military history" that incorporates elements of cultural and social history to add context to the experience of war.
Through the experiences of men and women in Mexico and the United States, the book takes aim at the reasons behind the outcome of the war, addressing the question of why one side lost and one side won. Guardino sets out to address the theory that Mexico lost the war because it was not as strong of a nation and had less of a sense of itself as a nation than the United States. He focuses on the United States and Mexico not as many nationalist boosters wanted to see them, but "as they were" in the nineteenth century (7). Guardino notes that even historians often fall into the [End Page 526] habit of comparison when it comes to the two countries during this period. Such comparisons often imply one's fitness as a nation and the other's lack of nationalism. The reality, according to Guardino, is that the United States was not nearly as cohesive a nation as its proponents made it out to be, a truth that would become evident once it experienced the Civil War. Mexico was a heavily divided nation, but still Mexicans possessed a national identity before the war that helped them sustain their fight. Mexicans at all levels of society invested time and energy into fighting the war. Guardino notes that President James K. Polk and his supporters hoped for a short war, yet the national fealty of Mexicans sustained the army and the war for two long years. Their interpretation of the nation was based on much more local concerns, such as protecting their homes, families, and the Catholic religion. For Guardino, the reason that Mexico lost the war was its lack of resources, which is a much more plausible argument than one emphasizing a lack of nationalism. The American economy in the 1840s was far larger than that of Mexico, and the U.S. government was propped up by the enormous resources at its disposal as a result of the market revolution that began decades before the war.
Mexicans' national commitment to the war, however, consistently thwarted Americans' preconceived notions of them and their own ability to bring the war to a swift and tidy end. Their notions were grounded in ideas about gender, race, and religion. This conception of American racism toward Mexicans has been discussed in other works considering U.S. Mexican relations, yet Guardino complicates them by noting that Mexicans responded to accusations of effeminate men, criminality, and Catholicism. Mexicans articulated counterarguments that denounced American religious diversity, immigrant populations, and territorial greed.
The Dead March follows several other studies of the Mexican-American War, such as Amy Greenberg's A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico (2012) and Brian DeLay's War of a Thousand Deserts: Indian Raids and the U.S.-Mexican War (2008). These studies address specific aspects of the Mexican-American War and are primarily focused on the United States or Southwest Borderlands. Guardino draws on these studies and earlier treatments of the Mexican-American War to provide context for many of...