In this book, Timothy J. Henderson examines the origins, outcomes, and modern-day consequences of the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). A Glorious Defeat is organized around two central questions: why did Mexico go to war with the United States in 1846 and why did the war go so badly for Mexico? Henderson does provide the answers to these questions, based on the reader having some knowledge of the expansionist history that the US partook in with its southern neighbors, but who are “far less certain why Mexico went to war with the United States” (xviii).
Henderson provides this book to as a means to correct the current Anglo-centric literature that circulates America, in which blames Mexico for its own losses “because they were proud to the point of delusion, arrogantly overestimating their own strength” (xviii). He states that it is fair and adequate to state that neither side of the battle is to blame, when in fact stemmed from the weakness of the Mexican nation, not by the aggressive nature of the US. The fact is Mexico was not the thriving and well established US; it was a meek and frail nation.
The US, after the annexation of Texas, saw Mexico with the government’s bonds to the northern states and own political standings, as a challenge that can be devoured by the victorious nation. There was also Mexico’s own acknowledgement of its nations weakness that drove the political leaders to engage in a war with an obvious superior nation, in attempts to gain power and defend its honor. War with the United States gave Mexican leaders the opportunity to “indulge in the illusion” that the nation was not rent by economic, ethnic, and geographic divisions, but was instead“ resolute and united against a foreign foe” (191).
Henderson attempts to “understand Mexico’s weakness and how that weakness helped land it in a war with the United States,” relying heavily on evidence of Mexico’s disadvantages in comparison to the vitality and abundance of the United States (xix). In order to demonstrate the historical, demographic, and geographic weaknesses that hindered the Mexican nation from the beginning, Henderson contrasts the Mexican and US colonial legacies, ethnic compositions, routes to independence, and geographic landscapes. This methodology allows Henderson to move through complex histories at a fast, easy clip, while staying faithful to his organizing principles of Mexico’s inherent weaknesses and the United States’ inescapable victory.
His explanation on the geographic landscape demonstrates the complications that Mexico faced with chasms and volcanic mountains and lack of natural features, such as rivers, to provide an easy transit. He also brings the similarities of the colonial connections between Mexico and the US. Yet due to Spain’s “medieval” influence empowered a Mexican elite who “clung” to the traditional rights, inherited privileges, and material inequalities that they believed were established by God and the church (4-5).
The US, in contrast, was formed and led by men steeped in the theories of the Enlightenment and who favored reason, progress, change, individualism, merit, equality, and a just social contract. While literacy in the US grew and advanced improved the nation and brought them together, Mexico fought the boundaries of both class and race. “In Mexico there is not, nor is there a possibility of developing, a national spirit, because there is no nation” (12). The Indians in the United States, however, were “too scattered, weak, and unorganized to put up successful resistance, leaving them vulnerable to ruthlessly efficient extermination or relocation at the hands of whites” (5).
With the Mexican mind set being the most present figure within this book, Henderson makes a psychological impact by describing the founders of the US republic as being “enlightened,” “liberal,’ and vigorous” and their politics “assertive” and “robust” (5, 12) with respect to the expansionist ideals. Where as Mexico and Mexicans are described in another light with references to a holocaust and “violent and traumatic.” Spaniards were “brutal and callous,” and Spanish law a “chaotic jumble” (7, 10, 13).
As Henderson weaves the imagery of a very defenseless nation and the precognition of defeat and lose for Mexico, the political spectrum is placed into sight as he examines the encounter with Hidalgo and states the indigenous people were “indulg[ing] themselves in an orgy of looting, pillaging, murder and mutilation,’ forcing he stance towards independent Creoles like Hidalgo to “gaze into the maw of barbarism” (20). The images placed forth are very descriptive to create a savage stance, one based on no type of foundation to rely on and lack of morals to guide in the past events.
It is no surprise to know how the Mexican nation was to be viewed in response to the Texas Revolution and the US invasion, but then again if there is any type of conflict even within the US, there is always going to be an altercation and one side that is left to feel threated, provoked, and aggression towards that entity. Flowing through the history, with Santa Anna leading Mexican troops against the Texas disaffiliation, the battle was fought with “vagabonds, Indians and criminals” to turn the tide in favor of Mexico, and again against the US roughly a decade later could be categorized as “ragged” (93, 106).
Where is the difference in these categorizations and the gorilla tactics that the US has employed, I think the only difference is the US was more eager for battle and defense, where the Mexican nation was still in its finest hour of rejoice in figuring out the new nations formation. Many have stated Santa Anna as being a “tyrant” who you could say founded the gorilla ideology by demonstrating “brutality” and “cruelty” as he “slaughtered prisoners at the Alamo and engaged in other “butcheries” in response to the Anglo-American soldiers and settlers (92, 96, 97, 99, 101). But on the contrary, General Scott was “gifted in both the military arts and those of diplomacy” and “carefully cultivated the good will of the people” (168). Is this choice in words to further the animosity towards the US historical figures?
In reading Henderson’s A Glorious Defeat, the views are as apparent as the title. You know you are expecting to encounter a novel that is from the Mexican standpoint. To sum up the entire book, Henderson himself put it exceptionally well. “Certainly it’s not hard to find examples of Mexican bluster and bellicosity, but the great irony and tragedy of the war is the fact that nearly all Mexicans in a position to make decisions realized full well that entering a war with the United States was folly and that Mexico’s loss was a foregone conclusion” (188). Doubtless to say, any novel with respect to one perspective, is going to have that bias projected upon the audience. I will mention, among this analysis of his work, I enjoyed the novel, due to usually hearing the typical US version of encounters; however, I believe this novel would have been made superior to the norm, by inviting the opposing council and having a mixed novel, kind of bringing the view of a slave and the slave owner within the same realm. This would invite the ultimate view between both sides.