You’ve probably heard more than once that there’s no such thing as a ‘good’ war. The sentiment driving this notion is noble, and easy enough to understand: it’s hard to take any joy from a victory when even one life has been needlessly cut short. Moreover, there is also the sad legacy of war’s victims who survive the conflict only to return to shattered, empty lives.
World War II is sometimes considered a ‘good war’ in that it very literally halted the extinction of an entire people. This view necessarily tends to discount the ugly reality that the war cost the lives of just as many people and a great deal more, but was more egalitarian in that it distributed the horrors among a variety of nations. Others consider the US’s ill-fated War of 1812 among this select group of noble atrocities, because the dream of liberating Canada from her tyrannical British masters was a righteous and Heaven-sanctioned one, despite the ingratitude and surprising unhelpfulness of the Canadian people.¹
But the little known Mexican-American War is something everyone can get behind. Having recently acquired the Independent Republic of Texas, the United States under President James Knox Polk was looking for a little more real estate. Polk had long prized such material assets as the Napa Wine Country, Camp Pendleton Marine Base and California Adventures, so America’s 11th President–and by any estimate its most effective One-Termer–set his sights on wresting the Golden State from Mexico.²
Polk was initially stymied in his efforts by that age-old bugbear of democratic republics, the notion that you can’t just go starting a war for no reason. But when it was determined that Mexico’s General Antonio López de Santa Anna (an early forerunner of future bad-guy, Adolf Hitler) was stockpiling Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) in the Sonora Desert, America was left with little choice but to act.
Although no WMD were ever found, the story did end happily, with the Mexicans chased all the way to Tijuana by the victorious gringos, and the Stars & Stripes lofted over the golden, rolling hills of California. However, it has so often been said that ‘a lawn does not cut itself,’ and like the storied swallows of Capistrano, in a final righting of history, the descendants of those long-ago Californios have since returned to California, bringing with them a great many friends whose ancestors had previously never been north of Michoacan.