Propaganda is “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.” So you can say just about everything you see during the day is propaganda. The use of propaganda during wartime is almost as old as war itself and certainly has had its place in American Military History.
The examples that you see in the picture are from the Korean conflict. Pamphlets like these were disseminated to the general population to convince them that the UN/South Korean troops were the good guys. The goal was to either get people to fight, flee, or at least not support the enemy. There is an ongoing debate as to how effective it is or was during this conflict. Other times the effective use of propaganda has proven very valuable.
Before and during the American Revolution the use of propaganda was vital to sway people to the side of the rebels. Paul Revere’s engraving of the Boston Massacre that took some liberties with events. The stories that surrounded young Jane McCrea led to the British defeat at Saratoga. Propaganda proved an invaluable tool in gaining the support needed to win the American Revolution.
Several times it was not just used to gain support for a war, but to actually get one started!
During the lead up to the Mexican War is an example. The administration was able to convince the people that Mexican soldiers had attacked American soldiers on American soil. (A dubious and purposeful claim that a young Abraham Lincoln took exception to.)
Don’t forget using the sinking of the USS Maine to throw us into war against Spain. There many more examples in our history. Now expand that to the rest of the world. It seems that propaganda is just as important as guns and money to starting, fighting and winning a war.
The Spot Resolution – Mexican American War
In August 1846 Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress as the Whig representative for his Illinois district and officially embarked on his national political career. When he took his seat in December 1847 he was a freshman representative he found himself in quite a quandary. Most of his supporters back home were supporters of the current Mexican-American War, Lincoln not so much.
While he was not outright opposed to the war he did question how it was being fought and the reasons why it was being fought. Sort of an early version of “I support the troops, but not the war” that has been all the rage the last twenty years by people in Washington. For Lincoln though one particular thing sort of stuck out to him. In most ways the Mexican War was fought over the disputed border between Texas, now a state, and Mexico. Tensions ran hot on both sides. It was not until a unit of the US Army was “bushwhacked’ by the Mexican Army on American soil did the war actually start-up. At least that was the story given by President Polk in 1846 when he asked Congress for a declaration of war.
Lincoln and The Spot
Lincoln decided to challenge the President’s version of events. He requested to be shown on a map the exact spot where the soldiers had been killed. The Spot Resolution, as it became known, was Lincoln’s first real taste of the national stage. It did not go over well. His own party sort of back away from any support for him. The Democrats accused him of being unpatriotic for questioning the President. The resolutions were tabled, never debated or voted upon. Lincoln only ended up serving one term in the House before retiring back to his law practice.
For the record it should be noted that the “spot” of the actual ambushed happened well inside the disputed area. So “technically” the attack happened on Mexican soil. Truth be told it was not the first, nor the last time the US went to war under questionable circumstances.
The Tulacingo Cuirassiers
During the Mexican-American War (1846 to 1848) the US forces matched up against a Mexican Army that was on one hand, well-trained professional soldiers and untrained peasants on the other. While outnumbered in almost every battle the US forces were able to dominate almost every battlefield and successfully win their first war on foreign soil. Winning this war gave the United States most of the Southwest portion of the country.
One of the most colorful units of the Mexican Army was the Tulancing Cuirassiers. They were a heavy cavalry unit that saw action in many battles of the war. The chest piece (or cuirass) and helmet above belonged to one of the soldiers from that unit. In effect these men were tanks. Large, heavily armored and used for smashing into the lines of enemy infantry. Normally they would carry a long sword and two pistols.
The Tulancing Cuirassiers uniform was reportedly something spectacular. The officers (which the piece above probably belonged to) wore a sky-blue coat with crimson cuffs an collars. Their pantaloons were crimson, and most likely had a sky-blue stripe. The helmet made of solid brass with a long black horsetail plume attached. Around the base of the helmet was a band of jaguar skin. They were patterned on the classic French Cuirassier units from the Napoleonic Wars, with a bit of hometown flair.
The piece above is missing some parts and it’s a little hard to imagine what it looked like back in the day. The picture under the display gives you an idea of what the full piece looked like. The gentleman in the middle shows the entire uniform in all its glory. All in all, while not much actual protection on the battlefield, but they certainly made for some snappy dressers.
A (Santa Anna) Leg Up On the Competition
That leg in the carriage above belonged to Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. False though it may be the man who owned it is an amazing part of American History. With the nickname “Napoleon of the West” one would expect a man of great ability and military skill, but in reality you would find a politician that talked a good game who found himself as “president” over ten times none for very long.
In 1835 Texas, which at the time was a part of Mexico settled mainly by Americans (look it gets complicated) rebelled against the Mexican government. In 1836 it declared itself an independent state. Santa Anna led the Mexican army north to deal with the rebels. Along the way he stopped at the Alamo where he crushed and murdered the out numbered defenders. In April 1836 at the battle of San Jacinto the Texans defeated Santa Anna and captured him. He was forced into signing a treaty granting Texas its sovereignty.
Once that was settled he found himself facing the French, losing his leg in battle at Veracruz. That win however could not keep him in power and he was forced into exiled. Fast forward now about ten years to 1846 and the Mexican American War.
VS United States
At the start of hostilities, Santa Anna (still in exile) started communications on both sides. He promised the Mexican President that if he were allowed to return he would work with him to drive the Americans out. Meanwhile he told the Americans that if they helped put him back in power he would end the war. Even promising to sell them the Southwest. Everyone agreed to his terms. Soon found himself back in Mexico, reneging on both deals and taking power for himself.
On April 18th, 1847 the Mexican Army led by Santa Anna personally fought the US Army at Cerro Gordo and lost badly. Such was the route that soldiers from the 4th Illinois came upon Santa Anna’s carriage which had been abandoned in haste. In it they found his artificial leg, his roast chicken lunch (still warm) and $18,000 in coins. Numerous times since the war Mexico has asked that the leg be returned. Yet it still sits on display at the Illinois State Military History Museum.
Santa Anna himself was exiled after the end of the war. He passed time living in many places from Cuba to New York. Finally his incredible journey came to an end in 1876 at his villa in Mexico City.
Robert Utley is by far one of the most accomplished experts in his field and that shows in the composition of this book. Dealing with the years between the Mexican War and the Civil War, Utley provides several different views of the period and the task in front of the men in blue.
From the end of the Mexican War, the role of the US Army was focused on expansion of existing trading routs and helping to create settlements that would soon be feeding the great westward migration. At the same time they had to secure much of the vast new mineral wealth that was gained from the war. The men that undertook this task were a special breed and were not always fitted to the role.’
Of course at the center of the story is the many Indian tribes that already lived out on the plains. These people lived a different sort of life, one that was so different from the Americans that the two sides were never going to be able to coexist. Utley spends a lot of time on these conflicts, societal and military that lead to atrocities on both sides of the equation. Once the two groups came into conflict and the Eastern politicians got involved, things became even more messy.
The final sections of the book deal with the coming Civil War and how this small frontier force of regulars would take in and integrate the huge number of “volunteers” that would swell its ranks.
The most interesting aspect of this book is that it sets the stage for the plains wars of the post Civil War era which most people are much more familiar with. In the end it is a good read and is highly recommended.