Saturday, January 26, 2008

So Far From God: The U.S War with Mexico

John Eisenhower -son of Dwight- has the personal experience to validate his authority on military matters. He served in both WWII and Korea, later retiring with the rank of General. And while military prowess is not often linked to literary excellence, he demonstrates in "So Far From God" that his writing is up to the challenge of his pedigree.

The war with Mexico in 1846 is not prominent in our current appreciation of American history. This is remarkable due to it's tremendous impact on our nation: the resulting Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo annexed Texas, California and New Mexico. In addition to this tremendous addition of acreage, political divisions deepened during the war and precipitated the Civil War. So, it's safe to say that this part of our history deserves some research and understanding.

And research Eishenhower did. His book is an excellent balance of personal memoirs, official governmental correspondence and military history. For those not overly interested in warfare particulars, the detail given to specific battle movements could be a bit overdone.

The opening hostilities were the most interesting to me. As I have looked into the origins of American wars, I have become alarmed at how often the President has misled the public into aggressive action. The Gulf of Tonkin and the Iraq War being the two most blatant abuses. The Mexican-American War is often included in that discussion. The pressing question seems to be whether American troops were attacked on American soil. This was the claim of President Polk and, if true, could have justified the sacrifice required by war.

The answer is not clear-cut, but Eisenhower was clear in his opinion. He writes that "the kindest thing that can be said about Polk's message is that he probably believed it himself." What happened is....

Texas declared it's independence. It was offered two choices: The Mexican government agreed to recognize it's independence if it did not join the United States, and the United States offered to annex it as a state. Texas chose to become a state and Polk sent General Taylor down to defend Texas from an attack. Soon after, Mexican infantry attacked a small platoon of American soldiers. This much is agreed upon. The tricky part is Taylor set up camp at the Rio Grande when the Nueces River was the internationally recognized border of Texas. The competing claim of Rio Grande as the border was based on a treaty with the Mexican president that was signed while he was in captivity. Further, that treaty was never ratified by the Mexican congress. With this evidence, it is sadly evident that the Mexican-American war is another conflict that started with a President's misleading words.

Alaska: Saga of A Bold Land

Alaska. That's almost all that needs to be said. It is the last American Frontier and a treasure of history. Walter Borneman's book "Alaska: Saga of a Bold Land" is a great place to enrich yourself with the story of it's early exploration, purchase, and subsequent adventures. Mitchner's "Alaska" is better known at this point, but it is fiction and the real story is so interesting that I recommend going with Borneman.

Each chapter provides an excellent break-down of an era. The stories are full of larger-than-life characters such as John Muir and Bob Marshall, both personal heroes. The only critique could be that the book is too long. I love this subject and still found it overwhelming. The maps are a great support to the text. Overall, one of my favorite books of the year.