Johannsen To the Halls of the Montezumas
Uploaded by jazzy321 on Oct 26, 2011
This paper is a very brief summary of Robert Johannsen’s book about the Mexican-American War. (2+ pages; 1 source)
Robert Johannsen’s book entitled To the Halls of the Montezumas has as its subtitle, The Mexican War in the American Imagination. This is an extremely telling description, because Johannsen’s report of the conflict indicates that for a great many Americans, the war was more “style” than “substance.” It was a war that engaged their imagination.
Johannsen’s work is not merely a dry recitation of facts, it is a “cultural history” of America at the time of the Mexican War. He draws on contemporary accounts, including newspapers, military dispatches, and travelers’ tales to bring the period to life.
In 1846, when the war began, the United States was still a very young nation, struggling to fulfill Jefferson’s doctrine of “manifest destiny” and in the process, find out what it was and what it would stand for. The Mexican War was pivotal in that process of discovery.
At the time of the conflict, many Americans had come to believe that the spirit of the country was being destroyed by commercial pursuits. The Mexican War revived their faith in their country, by pitting them against a “backward” enemy—the supposedly racially inferior Mexicans. A victory here confirmed the supremacy of both the Anglo-Saxon race and the American nation.
In addition, this was the first conflict to be widely reported in the newspapers, and the accounts of the battles gave Americans their first real glimpse of a land and culture vastly different from their own.
Johannsen’s use of period documents is a tremendous asset to the work, because it lets the reader hear the “voices” of the people who lived at the time of the war. We feel their pride and optimism and a sense that America was destined for greatness. We don’t have to rely on someone else to tell us what they thought and felt; we can read their words ourselves. This brings an immediacy to the book that historical works sometimes lack, and makes it very readable. In addition, it’s beautifully illustrated; always a plus in a history.
There’s also something very poignant in reading about the exploits of the young men who fought in this war, knowing that less than 20 years later, many of them would be in combat again, often on opposite sides, as America plunged...