WHY was President General Antonio López de Santa Anna such a crazy galoot?

I gather that most Americans still remember the Alamo.  They remember a desperate defence of around 300 Americans against the army of an evil Hispanic dictator, President General Antonio López de Santa Anna in 1836

But President General Antonio López de Santa Anna was not evil.  He was very foolish but he was not evil. He was in his mind doing something that all national leaders were once -- before the current American Left came along -- duty-bound to do:  Chase away illegal immigrants from his country.  The Texians -- inhabitants of what was then Mexican Texas -- refused to assimilate to Mexico and were generally pesky and rebellious towards President General Antonio López de Santa Anna. They even wanted their own republic

And President General Antonio López de Santa Anna could in fact be seen as something of a hero:  He led his troops personally, something that had gone out of fashion long ago at the time.

So the big question is why the battle went so badly for all concerned.  Why did the Texians and other Gringos not surrender when faced with a whole army arrayed against them?  Why did they fight to the death? They took down two Mexicans for every one of them but what good did that do?  What was gained by the death of 300 gringos and 600 Mexicans?  It was simply a grievous loss all round.

President General Antonio López de Santa Anna was responsible for that.  He was so riled up by the Texians that he declared them pirates, meaning that they would be shown no mercy of any kind.  They could only be killed on the spot.  President General Antonio López de Santa Anna was so emphatic about that that he sent a letter to the President of the United States declaring it.  And the Texians were in no doubt that he would do as he said.  There was simply no point in surrendering.

Had President General Antonio López de Santa Anna been a wiser man he would simply have given the Texians safe conduct out of there and escorted them to the Mexican border.  He would have got rid of them and done so in a way that would have been generally understood and accepted.

And after he had inflicted such a savage and humiliating defeat on the Texians, President General Antonio López de Santa Anna no doubt expected the Texians to do what his fellow Hispanics would have done:  Go home and do nothing more than talk big talk.

But the Gringos did nothing of the sort.  They were instead outraged and rallied to arms, building up an army big enough to chase after President General Antonio López de Santa Anna and give him a taste of his own medicine, which they did.

So there is a question why here also.  Why were the Gringos so outraged?  There are probably several reasons but a major one was cultural. Mercy towards the defeated was in most cases simply good policy.  It presented the victor in a good light among the vanquished and it saved him the lives of many of his troops. And that was widely known and accepted.

But there was also good history to support that policy: History going all the way back to Alexander the Great.  When Alexander defeated the Persians at Issus in 333BC. After the battle, the Hellenes captured Persian emperor  Darius' wife, his daughters and his mother, all of whom had accompanied Darius on his campaign. Alexander treated the captured women not only with mercy but with great respect.

Moving further forward into history we come to the crusades.  The Crusaders held on to the Holy Land for about 200 years but were finally routed by Egyptian armies under Saladin.  And Saladin was an unusual man.  He was a Kurd.  So he was not an Arab.  Kurds were and are Indo Europeans, people related to us.  So how did he get to lead Arab armies?  Simple:  He was very good at it.  He won a lot of battles.  And the thing that stood out about Saladin to the crusaders was his mercifulness, honorableness and chivalry.  He was not vindictive to the crusaders when he defeated them.  And the whole of Europe got to hear of that from returning crusaders. And the medieval practices of knightly and courtly behaviour were inspired by the example of Saladin.

And when the extremely pesky Napoleon Bonaparte was captured -- twice! -- he was just exiled, not executed.

So mercy to the defeated had among Europeans what we might call these days a very good press.  And that showed in the 19th century also.  When the Prussians defeated Napoleon III at Sedan in 1870, the defeat was so total that Napoleon III was himself captured.  So did the Prussians behead him?  Far from it.  There survive from the dawn of photography pictures of Napoleon having a polite conversation with the Prussian leader, Otto von Bismarck.

Why was Bismarck holding such a long sword? It was probably a cavalry sword. A cavalry sword has to be long to strike down from the back of a horse. And the cavalry was the most prestigious arm of the services. The term "cavalier" (cf. the Italian "cavallieri" or the French "chevalier") is mainly honorific but its most basic meaning is simply "horseman". Aristocrats normally entered the cavalry, usually the Hussars. So Bismarck was emphasizing his noble status

And Napoleon was eventually released on condition that he move to England and stay there -- which he did.  That episode is later than the battle of the Alamo but it illustrates a powerful current in European traditions.

So the Texians, Texans and others from further North were right to be horrified by the actions of President General Antonio López de Santa Anna at the Alamo. It went against all that they regarded as honorable and wise.

So President General Antonio López de Santa Anna earned himself a military defeat shortly after at the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836 and lost control of Mexican Texas, which soon declared itself an independent Texian republic.  President General Antonio López de Santa Anna was captured at the Battle of San Jacinto but the Texians spared his life. They could well have done otherwise but were true to their own traditions. They sent him back to preside in Mexico city

But that was not the end of his humiliations.  He never accepted his loss of territory and kept up a hostile attitude to the Gringos.  And that came to the attention of President Polk of the United States.  From his Anglo-Saxon traditions he thought that some sort of compromise might be reached which would restore peaceful relations between the USA and Mexico.  So he sent an ambassador to Mexico, with a small military escort drawn from the United States army.  So what did President General Antonio López de Santa Anna do about that?  He attacked the American military detachment!  With incredible folly, he attacked the US. army.  He really did. The USA was already a formidable power by that time so that needs explanation too.

President Polk was incensed by this vicious behavior and asked Congress for a declaration of war against Mexico, which was promptly granted.  The US army marched South and cleaned up all  Mexican forces sent against them, capturing Mexico city itself .  Mexico was comprehensively defeated and was forced via the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo to cede a third of its territory before the Gringos would go home.  That's how The USA acquired California, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and the rest of Texas.

So what on earth can have lain behind the disastrous deeds of President General Antonio López de Santa Anna?  In one word:  Machismo.  So what is machismo and what causes it?

It is a feature of Mediterranean countries and is particularly strong in Spain, and President General Antonio López de Santa Anna was for all intents and purposes a Spaniard. It arises from the fact that Mediterranean families are very mother-dominated.  Initially the grandmother is in charge and then the mother. And mamma really does rule the roost. Both sons and daughter are supposed to take orders from her. And the aim of it all is to create the family as a powerful single unit that will defend and protect all its members against outsiders.  It is a bit like how men in the army are taught to march together under a single command.

And the best known example of a Mediterranean mother is probably the Yiddisher Momma.  Israel is after all a Mediterranean country.  If you don't know about Yiddisher Mommas and the terrible things they say to keep their children in line Google should enlighten you but a cartoon below should tell you how ruthless these ladies can be in what they say to keep control.

But Mediterranean mothers do tend to emasculate their sons.  Being mother-dominated is not manly, regardless of what feminists might say. And Mediterranean men hate to think that they are under a female thumb.  But it is hard to show that they are not when they are.  So they do anything they can think of to demonstrate their masculinity.  And that can often lead to excess.  They can mistake aggression and inflexibility for manliness. And that is what President General Antonio López de Santa Anna did.  He thought "I'll show 'em" not only to the Gringos but also to his own people -- by being ruthless with the Texians at the Alamo.

So in the end it was a culture clash.  Machismo against an American culture of Northern European origin that included a tradition of mercy to the vanquished.  President General Antonio López de Santa Anna is a towering example of how foolish and destructive machismo can be

1 comment:

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