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MEXICO: Chapultepec revisited



From messages received, it is clear that the Battle of Chapultepec stimulates patriotic juices. Just the facts, please. Distorted versions on either side simply damage a country's credibility. Just who were the Mexican "Boy Heroes"? Paul Simon says: "while fighting to the last man has a certain gallant romance about it, I have to agree with the General that the cadets could hardly be called "boys" if they are typical cadets at an officer's school. At West Point, US Army Cadets are trained, pumped, armed and ready to fight (and of age). What were the demographics of cadets, weapons, number of faculty and staff bearing arms, etc. at Chapultepec, I wonder?"

We are indebted to Raúl Escalante of Mexico for this clarification:

"There seems to be some confusion as to what precisely the US Army took in the Battle of Chapultepec Castle. To American military historians the battle seems to encompass the capture of the whole Chapultepec area on the West of Mexico City.

To us Mexicans, the castle is a prominent landmark and therefore the skirmish which caused it to fall (and the extraordinary circumstances under which it was defended) have caused it to be considered a full-fledged battle, and the "Niños Heroes" to be idolized. In Mexican history the skirmish for Chapultepec Castle is treated separately from the "Heroic Defense of Molino del Rey", which is what we call the part of the battle General Sullivan apparently writes about. Click on the link below for a Mexican version which matches Gen. Sullivan's version pretty closely.

http://www.arts-history.mx/calendario/molino.html

Maybe losers need to glorify every single heroic exploit to lessen their loss (echoes of The Alamo are ringing in my head).

An apocryphal version of the battle for the castle itself has it that, instead of the "Niños Heroes" being unrestrainable patriots, they were under arrest for drunkenness or lack of discipline (I believe they were between 13 and 17 yrs. old) and simply got left behind in the retreat from the castle. By the time they broke out of their imprisonment, it was apparently too late to escape, so they decided to defend the castle. If this were true, they wouldn't exactly be the crack troops both sides seem to believe in. In any event, this is a much more colorful story.

These are sad chapters of both our histories. For us they encompass a period in which incompetence in our leaders and the weakness in our institutions led to great territorial losses, and during which the conditions for economic growth and industry were extremely precarious. From an economic perspective the XIX Century (at least from 1812 to 1870) was one of complete stagnation for Mexico. I believe the invasion of Mexico is a sad incident from the US perspective because it portrays the first (?) major violation of the spirit which gave the US its independence. I am an idealist and greatly admire the principles the US was founded on (both for their effectiveness in founding a true state, and for their loftiness).

Henry Thoreau seems to have held this view. Wasn't he imprisoned for refusing to pay taxes as a show of civil disobedience over the "Mexican War"? The following link leads to an essay in Civil Disobedience from the period.

http://www.cs.indiana.edu/statecraft/civ.dis.html

The illustrations on both side present a problem. General Sullivan's first two attachments show the heroic Marines charging...where? Linda Nyquist says: "·I believe there was a sharp drop from the rocks at Chapultepec at the time of the Ninos Heroes event. Old drawings of the castle show a rocky promontory with a steep drop below. This may merit investigation". Both the US and Mexican versions are drawn from the imagination. Linda's rocky promontory may well have been invented to suit the story about their death. There are I believe no photographs of that war. Am I right?

Ronald Hilton - 11/15/01


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