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Remembering the Forgotten War

The Enduring Legacies of the U.S.-Mexican War

Michael Van Wagenen

Publication Year: 2012

On February 2, 1848, representatives of the United States and Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo officially ending hostilities between the two countries and ceding over one-half million square miles of land to the northern victors. In Mexico, this defeat has gradually moved from the periphery of dishonor to the forefront of national consciousness. In the United States, the war has taken an opposite trajectory, falling from its once-celebrated prominence into the shadowy margins of forgetfulness and denial. Why is the U.S.–Mexican War so clearly etched in the minds of Mexicans and so easily overlooked by Americans? This book investigates that issue through a transnational, comparative analysis of how the tools of collective memory—books, popular culture, historic sites, heritage groups, commemorations, and museums—have shaped the war’s multifaceted meaning in the 160 years since it ended. Michael Van Wagenen explores how regional, ethnic, and religious differences influence Americans and Mexicans in their choices of what to remember and what to forget. He further documents what happens when competing memories clash in a quest for dominance and control. In the end, Remembering the Forgotten War addresses the deeper question of how remembrance of the U.S.–Mexican War has influenced the complex relationship between these former enemies now turned friends. It thus provides a new lens through which to view today’s cross-border rivalries, resentments, and diplomatic pitfalls.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press

Series: Public History in Historical Perspective


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quote

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pp. xi-xiv

The pursuit of collective memory has been a fascinating journey, one that has taken me throughout the United States and Mexico. Many kind and generous people on both sides of the border have assisted me along the way. At the University of Utah, Robert Goldberg has devoted considerable energy to this project, and I am thankful...

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A Note on Perspectives

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pp. xv-xviii

Like many authors writing about the U.S.– Mexican War, I am faced with the “American” dilemma. Much to the dismay of the many other nations that share the American continents, residents of the United States have long monopolized the term to describe themselves...

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Introduction: Of War and Soccer

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pp. 1-8

The clatter of iron horse shoes on cobblestone echoed through the darkened streets of Mexico City on the morning of September 14, 1847, as U.S. troops cautiously moved toward the great central plaza. The Mexican government had abandoned the capital hours earlier...

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1. Victory and Dissolution: The United States, 1848–1865&

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pp. 9-40

On June 25, 1848, the Unitarian minister Theodore Parker took the stage at the famous Melodeon Theater in Boston. Word had arrived a few days earlier declaring that the U.S. Congress had ratified the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, officially ending...

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2. In the Shadow of Defeat: Mexico, 1848–1866

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pp. 41-58

In December 1847 fi fteen Mexican military officers met in Santiago de Querétaro, north of Mexico City, to organize a select association. After the American occupation of the capital, Querétaro served briefl y as the interim seat of Mexican government...

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3. Old Soldiers and New Wars: The United States, 1866–1895

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pp. 59-80

In 1884 Ulysses S. Grant retired from public life to write his memoirs. This final endeavor was a race against time as throat cancer steadily closed off his airway. Poor financial investments had left Grant impoverished, and his manuscript offered him a last...

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4. Creating Heroes: Mexico, 1867–1920

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pp. 81-100

On an August eve ning in 1871 nine men gathered at the famous Concordia restaurant in Mexico City. As officers in Mexico’s army, some of these gentlemen had helped free their nation from French occupation in 1867. More important, these veteran soldiers were distinguished alumni of the Military College and, twenty- four...

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5. Empire and Exclusion: The United States, 1896–1929

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pp. 101-127

On a spring afternoon in 1904 the eighty- four- year- old Daniel Gould Burr arrived at the city fairgrounds in Paris, Illinois. Bedecked in the regalia of a U.S.– Mexican War veteran, the frail man took a seat under some nearby trees. At an appointed hour he rose to his feet and read aloud the roster of Company H of the Fourth Regiment...

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6. Rituals of the State: Mexico, 1921–1952

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pp. 128-152

On October 12, 1921, the president of Mexico, Álvaro Obregón, appointed José Vasconcelos minister of the newly created Secretaría de Educación Pública (SEP). As a young, idealistic attorney and writer who belonged to a group of revolutionaries known as the Ateneo de la Juventud (Athenaeum of Youth), Vasconcelos was a natural choice...

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7. Good Neighbors and Bad Blood: The United States, 1930–1965

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pp. 153-173

On February 26, 1931, dozens of law enforcement officers surrounded a park in Los Angeles known as La Placita. In a meticulously planned operation they corralled approximately four hundred people who had been enjoying a leisurely afternoon in the sun. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) agents lined up the detainees...

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8. Resisting the Gringos: Mexico, 1953–1989

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pp. 174-191

On September 13, 1953, President Adolfo Ruiz Cortines of Mexico officiated at the commemoration of the Boy Heroes held at the newly dedicated Altar to the Fatherland in Chapultepec Park. Curious visitors crowded around the towering stone pillars and marveled at the crypt that enshrined the bones of the beloved cadets...

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9. Contesting American Pasts: The United States, 1966–1989

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pp. 192-213

On April 1, 1967, a dragline construction crew in Brownsville busily excavated a new home site along the scenic Resaca de la Palma. As a large load of soil dropped from the steel bucket, a worker noticed human bones spilling out onto the ground. While modern residents of the city enjoyed the natural beauty of the oxbow lake...

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10. Remembrance and Free Trade: The United States and Mexico, 1990–2008

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pp. 214-239

On May 22, 1990, President Carlos Salinas de Gortari addressed the Mexican Senate. Standing beneath a gold- lettered motto that read, La Patria es Primero (The Fatherland Is First), he proclaimed that Mexico would seek “free trade with the United States and Canada...

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Conclusion: Putting the Skeletons to Rest

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pp. 240-246

In 2009 Walter Plitt labored earnestly on a new project involving the U.S.– Mexican War. Mexican officials had recently announced that they had uncovered the graves of U.S. soldiers near Monterrey, Nuevo León. Plitt proposed that the United States exchange the Mexican skeletons found at Resaca de la Palma in 1967 for the newly unearthed...


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pp. 247-314


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pp. 315-329


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pp. 330-330

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About the Author, Back Cover

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pp. 369-370

Michael Scott Van Wagenen is an assistant professor at Georgia Southern University, where he teaches courses in public history. He is the author of The Texas Republic and the Mormon Kingdom of God and co- editor...

E-ISBN-13: 9781613762134
E-ISBN-10: 1613762135
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558499294
Print-ISBN-10: 1558499296

Page Count: 352
Illustrations: 30 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Public History in Historical Perspective
Series Editor Byline: Marla Miller See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 830023583
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Remembering the Forgotten War

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Mexican War, 1846-1848 -- Influence.
  • Mexican War, 1846-1848 -- Public opinion.
  • Collective memory -- United States.
  • Collective memory -- Mexico.
  • Public opinion -- United States.
  • Public opinion -- Mexico.
  • Public history -- United States.
  • Public history -- Mexico.
  • Mexico -- Relations -- United States.
  • United States -- Relations -- Mexico.
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