The Aftermath of War
"'Apuntes' and the Lessons of History"
A Conversation with Jesús Velasco-Márquez
Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México
Tell us about the group of writers who published a book on the war within just a few weeks of General Winfield Scott's departure from Mexico City?
These fifteen writers created a book called "Apuntes para la historia de la guerra entre México y los Estados Unidos" ("Notes on the History of the War between Mexico and the United States"). They were young men who had participated in the war, who had lived it. They had served in the National Guard and witnessed the capture of Mexico City. Ideologically, they were all liberals.
After the U.S. Army occupied Mexico City, they fled to Querétaro with the country's provisional government. It was there that they decided to collect material that not only included their personal experiences but also other documents in order to examine the causes of the war. They wanted to understand why Mexico had lost the war and the nation's territory. They wanted to present this study in the form of "Apuntes" so that the information could serve as an example of how to preserve the nation in the future. That is the great achievement of this work. That the writers hoped it would teach other generations about the critical moments Mexico had experienced, about what had led to them, and how we could correct our course in order to preserve what remained of the territory and the nation.
Later they became politicians and worked together with the generation led by Benito Juárez. Their experiences during the U.S.-Mexican war helped them when they had to face the French invasion in the 1860s. Eventually they did carry out the work of consolidating Mexico.
What do you see as the effects of this war?
I think that the war had effects in both countries, both short-term and long-term. In the case of the U.S., I think that it acquired the territory that it wanted, however, at the expense of laying the foundation for a conflict that would come later, and that would be very costly: the Civil War. For Mexico, we lost our territory, but the experience of being invaded gave us, as Mexicans, the necessary elements to think about how to recreate our country...to consolidate our nation.
In the long-run, I think that the war should leave us with a lesson for both countries, which is that geographically and historically we are intimately intertwined, and that we can affect each other greatly. Of course, given the asymmetry of power, the U.S. affects Mexico more. But some Americans already have said it: I think that it is in the best interest of the U.S. to have a partner who is strong, solid, trustworthy and stable.
I think that becoming familiar with this period of history is extremely important, because history not only helps to explain the present, but also enables us to learn from the past. As George Santayana would say, those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it.
When you think about the war, what do you feel?
Basically, I feel tremendously sad that we lost our original territory, and that the experience of having an invader in our country was so brutal. But, on the other hand, I do believe — and I agree with the writers of "Apuntes" — that, as Mexicans, this painful experience forced us to reevaluate our country. I think that in history nothing ever happens that is totally bad or totally good.