September 11, 1998

"The U.S.-Mexican War (1846-1848," A Documentary About a Historic Conflict That Few Americans Remember and Few Mexicans Will Ever Forget

The U.S.-Mexican War was a conflict between neighboring nations struggling for land, power and national identity.

The U.S.-Mexican War (1846-1848), a two-part documentary series exploring the events surrounding the conflict between two neighboring nations struggling for land, power and national identity will be broadcast Sunday, Sept. 13 and Monday, Sept. 14, 1998 (9:00-11:00 PM, each night) on PBS.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the war that changed the boundaries of the two countries, with Mexico losing nearly half of its territory —over half a million square miles of land—to the United States, including the present states of New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, California, and parts of Oklahoma, Colorado and Wyoming. This newly acquired land made the United States a formidable transcontinental power, stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The victory heralded the youthful republic's coming of age.

During the U.S.-Mexican War, thousands of American troops were sent to fight on foreign soil for the first time. And when the battle pushed into the heart of Mexico City, it was the first time that American soldiers had occupied a foreign capital. From the battlefields of this war emerged a group of American military men who would later go down in history. Among them were Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, Robert E. Lee, future President General Zachary Taylor and his rival, General Winfield Scott. Others, like the young Second Lieutenant Ulysses S. Grant, who was just two years out of West Point, had their first combat experience during the U.S.-Mexican war. It was to prepare them for their next major conflict, the Civil War.

Despite its enormous impact, the war is a chapter in history that few Americans know about but which few Mexicans will ever forget. Now, for the first time, the story of this significant encounter will be told on national television from multiple perspectives, with prominent historians from both countries examining the conflict. Produced by Dallas/Fort Worth public television station KERA 13, The U.S.-Mexican War (1846-1848) is the centerpiece of a binational education project produced in English and Spanish for television viewers on both sides of the border. In Mexico, the documentary series can be seen in Spanish on KERA 13's sister station, KEIPN Once TV, where it is scheduled for broadcast this November. When it airs in the U.S. on September 13 and 14, many viewers here with stereo television sets will have the option of choosing the Spanish-language version by selecting the Second Audio Program (SAP) feature on their remotes. A bilingual web site with more information about the documentary can be viewed at www.pbs.-org/KERA/usmexicanwar.

Leading the Fight: President James K. Polk (top left) led the United States into the U.S.-Mexican War seeking to expand the country's territories in North America. Kit Carson (lower right), a frontier trapper, helped push the U.S. boundaries westward into California. Some Americans were opposed to the war, including author Ralph Waldo Emerson (top right). In Mexico, President Antonio López de Santa Anna (lower left) a career military officer who had risen to the presidency through shrewdness, ambition and guile, seemingly conjured up an army out of thin air.

"To fully understand the relationship between our two neighboring, it is vital to understand the causes and legacy of this pivotal event," says Sylvia Komatsu, executive producer for the series. "How the United States and Mexico will narrow the divisions that remain between them depends in part on how we understand the history we share."

On the one side was the United States, a vibrant young nation trying to realize what it considered to be its "manifest destiny." On the other side was Mexico, a country steeped in tradition with a deeply rooted centuries-old culture. Newly independent from Spain, Mexico was still finding its footing. Although unable to control the far reaches of its territories, Mexico refused to sell its land to the ambitious United States. In the showdown that followed, the Mexicans fought longer and harder that the Americans had anticipated.

The U.S.-Mexican War (1846-1848) also documents what historian Richard Griswold del Castillo, an advisor on the series, calls "the birth pangs of the Mexican-American people". These were the individuals caught in-between—those living on the disputed lands who were forced to choose between land and nation, between loyalty and friendship. Today, their descendents, living in the U.S., inherit the legacy of the war and its continuing cultural conflicts. Mexican-Americans have never forgotten that they are natives to the land. As project advisor Deena González puts it, "We did not come to the U.S., it came to us."

The U.S.-Mexican War was the first conflict to be brought to the entire country by the media. From newspaper accounts and books, to lithographs and print music, graphic accounts of the war fed the masses with a romantic notion of a just war. Among the many writers of the time was Walt Whitman, the poet and editor of the Brooklyn Eagle, who fanned the flames of patriotic passion with his prose asserting the United States' right to crush the enemy, while the-then little-known writer Henry David Thoreau, in an essay called "On Civil Disobedience," challenged Americans to follow their consciences and stop the invasion.

Return to Homepage