Visiting professor lectures on U.S.-Mexico War

Rachel Matuszewski

Indiana University professor Peter Guardino, whose expertise is in Latin American history, spoke to Grand Valley State University students about his research and expertise in 18th and 19th century Mexico in his presentation entitled “Without Food a Man Cannot March, Nor Fight: Why Mexico Lost itss War with the United States.”

The lecture took place on Monday, Feb. 26, in the Kirkhof Center. Guardino revealed to students the reasons why Mexico lost the war with the U.S., which lasted from 1846 to 1848. The main reason: the Mexican soldiers were starving. 

Although many authors write books about their argument of Mexico not being willing enough to make sacrifices while America was, they lacked the reasons behind Mexico’s true defeat. *did he say this?? Guardino explained many setbacks which factored into Mexico’s defeat before troops were even rallied to the defensive line. 

The first was Mexico’s struggle economically. The U.S. barely increased taxes to finance the war. But with Mexico’s income being half of the U.S.’, Mexico found itself lost for money when expenses came to buy weapons, clothes and food for soldiers. Even the horses to transport their men became an overwhelming expense due to the food the animals consumed. They also lacked the necessary tools to fight. Their weapons would usually break down in battle. Regardless of their efforts to make money by imposing taxes on the population and forcing people to loan money to the government, they were still coming up short in supplying resources for their soldiers. 

“No matter what they do, Mexican soldiers are always hungry,” Gaurdino said. 

Another feat the Mexicans had to overcome was their geography. Because Mexico is largely desert and only receives rainfall three to four months out of the year, this limited their ability to grow crops. Also, because of Mexico’s mountainous landscape, their transportation was difficult. 

Besides these struggles, there was barely motivation for the poor peasant officers to chose to fight. As a result, Americans were surprised to find women traveling to battle with the soldiers. They assumed they were prostitutes or were sent out to rob the bodies of fallen soldiers. But when Mexican men were drafted, the wives and family they would leave behind would also be in trouble without them. These women became the soldaderas or soldiers’ helpers and would accompany their husbands in their travels.

“What this means (is) if you are an officer is you try to gather people together, you try to keep them fed, and you try to arrange some kind of battle before they leave,” Gaurdino said.

Soldiers became so desperate for food, in one battle, general Antonio López de Santa Anna convinced his men to cross a desert for two weeks to attack the enemy and take American food. When they arrived, the Americans had found out and set their abundant supply of food on fire. On the second day of battle, a thunderstorm sent everyone rushing to the ravines to drink what a soldier observed as bloodied water as so many had been killed and wounded. 

Although they fought for one more day, a battle which could have turned the tide of the war for Mexico was lost due to starvation. When the American delegates arrived to negotiate a truce, the soldaderas surrounded the cavalry men, confusing them as prisoners and began to offer them the little food they had left because the soldiers’ families were not with them. The cavalry men realized what was happening, opened their knapsacks and gave their food to the soldaderas. 

“That underlines what is going on here,” Guardino said. “It’s all about food. It’s not about who’s more loyal to their country, it’s about who has the material resources to actually fight this war. The answer turns out to be we did and Mexico did not. It’s a question of how can you actually fight this war without money and the answer is you can’t.” 

Attendees learned what it takes to fight a war and the differences between the U.S.’ resources and Mexico’s. 

“I liked the idea (he) discussed of the cultural and economic differences between Mexico and the United States affected their tactics in the war and how they lost it,” said GVSU student Shelby Thomas. “It doesn’t really matter how unified a country is, more so it depends on how many resources they have when it comes to the war.”