- Dueling Eagles: Reinterpreting the U.S.-Mexican War, 1846–1848
Reinterpretation lies at the heart of the historical enterprise, especially when powerful events continue to reverberate through the lives of subsequent generations. Dueling Eagles consists of eight papers from a 1996 sesquicentennial symposium on the U.S.-Mexican War. Sponsored by the University of Texas at Arlington and the National Park Service, the symposium devoted particular attention to the social and cultural aspects of the conflict in an attempt "to promote a better understanding of the war's significance and its impact upon the people who live along both sides of today's border" (p. vii). Five essays written by American scholars explore matters relating to neglected aspects of North American prosecution of the war. Sam Haynes analyzes how British diplomacy, particularly the careless activities of [End Page 564] Charles Elliot (England's chargé d'affaires to the Republic of Texas) heightened expansionists' determination to annex Texas, raised tensions between the United States and Mexico, and precluded diplomatic alternatives to war. Once armed hostilities were underway, as coeditor Richard Francaviglia stresses, cartography played a formative role in a war carried out "on a huge and incredibly diverse geographic stage consisting of almost half of the entire North American continent" (p. 1 ). Francaviglia sees this war as one of the first modern conflicts in which maps circulated among a broad readership, acting in this case to generate popular support for the war within the United States.
For many in the United States, the information coming from new maps validated their romantic nationalist inclinations. Robert Johannsen discusses how the notion of a "Young America," popular among intellectuals and politicians, exalted U.S. wartime success as a new chapter in the march of liberty. In the age of the telegraph, the rapid transmission of war dispatches fed a public appetite for tales of adventure and heroism. As Michael Roth notes in his essay, the U.S.-Mexican War "introduced the modern war correspondent to the world of journalism" (p. 103 ). In a phenomenon reminiscent of present-day "embedded journalism," he quotes an 1848 source estimating that some 1 ,000-1,500 press people joined the invading army. U.S. military success did not guarantee that all was well among the troops in the field, however. Bruce Winders uses the case of an 1847 mutiny near Saltillo to analyze how U.S. "reliance on citizen-soldiers, or volunteers, made it impossible to keep politics and patronage out of the camp and field" (p. 67 ). Then, as now, military service could serve as a stepping stone to elected political office.
Only one U.S. scholar, coeditor Douglas Richmond, makes matters within Mexico his central subject matter. He analyzes why the regions in Mexico most distant from Mexico City—Alta and Baja California, New Mexico, northern Mexico, and the southeast—offered the least opposition to the invading armed forces during the war. Richmond argues that because regional economies depended heavily upon international trade, local elites sought to maintain trade with U.S. markets. They collaborated with the occupying enemy and rejected the attempts at resistance generated by popular guerrilla forces. Miguel A. González Quiroga, one of the two Mexican contributors to Dueling Eagles, offers a counterpoint to Richmond by stressing how socially and economically unprepared Mexico was for a military conflict with the United States. González Quiroga attributes the lack of recruits for guerrilla resistance in the area of Monterrey to "ambivalence about the war" (p. 99 ) and the pressing demands of daily material survival.
The other Mexican essay in the volume, that of noted historian of nineteenth-century Mexico Josefina Vázquez, does the best job of living up to the book's title. In looking at the causes of the war, Vázquez's unremitting focus on the "dueling eagles" operates in the service of a deliberate project of "reinterpreting"—"ending the unjust accusation that attributes to Mexico much of the...