Today, we get a twofer. On this day in 1846, the Mexican–American War started. And also on this day but in 1898, the Spanish–American War started. Okay, that’s not exactly true. In 1846, the first battle of the Mexican-American War — the Thornton Affair — took place. Effectively, Mexico had declared war two days before. The US Congress didn’t declare war until 13 May. The US Congress actually did declared war against Spain on 25 April 1898. Spain had declared war two days before.
What I think is interesting about these wars is that growing up, I didn’t really know what the difference was between them. They were just these minor wars fought against Spain in different countries. Well, that’s not exactly true. Mexico was independent from Spain by that time. But it was close enough. And more important, these wars weren’t minor. Tens of thousands died in both.
The Mexican-American War started after years of tension following the Texas Revolution in 1836. And specifically, there was a dispute over where exactly the border was. The war became much broader than this, and Mexico ended up losing almost all of what is today the western United States. Just the same, I think this would have happened regardless. The history of Texas shows this: the Texas Revolution really wasn’t a revolution. It was more Americans flooding into the territory, staging an armed revolt, and eventually becoming a state.
The Spanish-American War was pretty much just the end of the Cuban War of Independence. It is definitely a war that we shouldn’t have fought. Basically, the Democrats and various business interests pushed President McKinley into it. The sinking of the USS Maine certainly added fuel to the fire. No one knows for sure the cause, but one thing is for sure: Spain didn’t want the United States entering that war. So I suspect that it was just an accident that was used — just like today — as an excuse for those who thought they would profit — politically and economically — from the war.
Both of the Mexican-American War and the Spanish-American War could have been avoided. But the push for war is strong. There is something about humans that makes us want to lash out rather than reflect. And one thing is very true: it is a lot easier to whip up people into a frenzy of anger and fear than it is to calm them. And the ultimate geopolitical outcomes are more or less what all parties knew they would be — bigger, better equipped armies almost always beat smaller, less equipped armies. But in the process, people die. Lots of people.
We mark the anniversaries of these two unfortunate wars.