Railing against Russia’s annexation of Crimea and vowing that the United States would never recognize Russia’s “illegal occupation,” Vice President Biden angrily exclaimed yesterday that “no nation has the right to simply grab land from another.”
What about the U.S. government’s annexation of the northern half of Mexico or, to be more precise, the land grab that encompassed California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Texas, and parts of Wyoming and Colorado?
Now that’s one great big land grab, especially compared to the much smaller land grab involving Crimea.
Moreover, at least Crimea had once been part of Russia. The same can’t be said of the northern half of Mexico. That gigantic land grab was an out-and-out stealing of another country’s territory.
The U.S. government had tried to take the Mexican land peacefully and legally by offering to buy it from Mexico. The response of the Mexican government was: No, thank you. Our country is not for sale.
So, the U.S. government decided to simply steal the land — that is, take it away from Mexico by force. Since the United States was a much more powerful country militarily, the forcible annexation of the Mexican land would be no more a problem than the annexation of Crimea was to Russia.
However, the U.S. government decided that it wouldn’t look too good if it did what Russia recently did with Crimea — that is, send U.S. troops to invade Mexico and simply declare that the northern half of the country now belonged to the United States.
So, U.S. officials concocted a nefarious scheme to make their annexation of Mexico appear more palatable. The scheme called for making it look like the Mexican government had started a war with the United States. Then U.S. officials could innocently exclaim, “We’ve been attacked! We’re innocent! We were just minding our own business! We must now, reluctantly, go to war to defend ourselves from this dastardly attack.”
Then, once the war was won, the United States could claim the lands that Mexico had refused to voluntarily sell as a prize of war.
By this time, Texas, which had been part of a northern province of Mexico, had seceded from Mexico. Yet, despite Mexico’s military defeat at the hands of Sam Houston, Mexico had still refused to recognize Texas’ claim to be an independent nation.
Equally significant, Mexico claimed that Texas’ southern boundary was the Nueces River, which would mean that everything south of the Nueces was, at the very least, still Mexico. Texas, on the other hand, was claiming that the Rio Grande, which was many miles south, was Texas’s new southern boundary.
So with the aim of starting a war with Mexico but making it look like Mexico started the war, President Polk sent U.S. troops to Texas, intentionally situating them on the Rio Grande and knowing full well that Mexico considered that to be Mexican territory. When Mexican troops fired on Polk’s troops, Polk had the excuse he needed to go to war with Mexico and grab the lands that Mexico had refused to voluntarily sell to the United States.
The outcome of the war was, of course, never in doubt. Going all the way to Mexico City, U.S. forces easily defeated the Mexican army. The outcome was the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, by which the U.S. government paid $15 million to Mexico to acquire the entire northern half of Mexico, including the Mexican citizens who chose to remain in United States and a vast territory that came with centuries of Mexican, Spanish, French, and Indian laws, customs, language, heritage, and tradition.
Not everyone favored the U.S. land grab from Mexico. Henry David Thoreau went to jail for refusing to pay his taxes since part of his money would be used to fund Polk’s wrongful war against Mexico. Catholic troops serving in Polk’s army actually switched sides out of a crisis of conscience. When Polk’s military forces caught up with them in Mexico City, several of them were summarily hung without due process of law and trial by jury for desertion because Polk and U.S. military commander Winfield Scott took the position that soldiers must operate by orders, not by conscience. Interestingly, Mexico has long honored the “San Patricios” for being great heroes.
Of course, U.S. interventionists would undoubtedly say that the U.S. annexation of Mexico was a long time ago and, therefore, doesn’t count. Actually though, it’s well-settled law that title to stolen property cannot ever legally vest in the thief or in anyone who acquires stolen property. And there isn’t any doubt that the U.S. government stole the northern half of Mexico, even if it used a war scheme to do it.
I wonder what President Obama would respond if Russian President Putin were to say to him: “I’ll return Crimea to Ukraine if you’ll return California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Texas to Mexico.”