[David Swanson’s War Is a Lie, Chapter 2, “Wars Are Not Launched in Defense” inspired this blog. It involves the participation of Irish soldiers in the Mexican-American War. His book is available at http://justworldbooks.com.]
The Mexican-American War (1846-48) occurred right smack dab in the middle of the potato famine in Ireland (1845-52) which led to massive migration of Irish Catholics to America. I would argue that neither debacle needed to happen. The so-called famine was a ploy by England to keep the poor subservient to the crown. The Mexican-American War was a ploy by the United States to acquire more land. Imperialism and acts of aggression in both cases.
Irish immigrants found the streets of New York were not paved with gold. They faced irrational prejudices not unlike those faced by immigrants from other places over the years in this land of the free and home of the brave. Religion was a factor (Islam today), as was their willingness to work for lower wages than incumbents (Mexican day laborers). And so, many young Irish men enlisted in the American Army. Imagine that: willing to go to war just to survive. In its time of need, at least, the US government did not post signs saying,
“Irish need not apply”
Because tyranny forced them to leave their beloved homeland, Irish soldiers in the American Army soon recognized that, like their own situation with the British, the Mexicans had done nothing to provoke American aggression.
Enter activist/poet/songwriter David Rovics, an American born in 1967. A non-partisan peacenik, he is both anti-conservative and anti-liberal whenever he believes war hawkishness dominates debate. He is also interested in history and the history of war, in particular. He found, for example, much similarity between the plight of mid-19th century Irish farmers and Mexicans forced to fight for their own land during the same period. He wrote about this brotherhood. The following lyrics provide the gist of Rovics’ message. The song’s title is
Saint Patrick Battalion
It was there in the pueblos and hillsides / That I saw the mistake I had made / Part of a conquering army / With the morals of a bayonet blade / So in the midst of these poor, dying Catholics / Screaming children, the burning stench of it all / Myself and two hundred Irishmen / Decided to rise to the call / From Dublin City to San Diego / We witnessed freedom denied / So we formed the Saint Patrick Battalion / And we fought on the Mexican side.
And there you have it. The Irish were mercenaries, basically, in the beginning. Soldiering was one of the very few paying jobs they could find. But in the end, they could not morally support the cause they were allegedly fighting for. Mexicans posed no threat to America just as the Catholic minority Irish posed no threat to England. They followed their conscience.
In respect to present day conflicts, particularly in the Middle East, Swanson has something to say.
In response to the pro war argument that we must defend our standard of living by protecting oil supplies, a common statement on posters at antiwar marches in 2002 and 2003 was “How did our oil get under their sand?” To some Americans “securing” oil reserves was a “defensive” action. Others had been convinced the war had noting to do with oil whatsoever.
Swanson also opines that the “worst thing about peace advocates is how many times they turn out to be right.”