Thursday, May 5, 2011

Two Paths, One Journey

One hundred and fifty years ago during the American Civil War, Union and Confederate forces squared off against one another in York County, Virginia near Williamsburg. In what became part of a series of battles known as the Peninsula Campaign, there was no victor but the loss of life on both sides was staggering and, more ominously, a harbinger of what was to follow.

I mention this, because today is Cinco de Mayo which many think is Mexican Independence Day but it's not. I tend to compare it to Flag Day or more like the morning after at Fort McHenry which inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star-Spangled Banner.

Mexico declared its independence from Spain about thirty-five years after their Northern neighbors suggested HRH George III go pack sand and when you read the earliest days histories of the two New World fledgling democracies, it was no picnic for either of us.

By 1862, the USA was knee deep in the gore of a fratricidal war and European powers were shaking down the Mexican government attempting to collect on debts owed by, shall we say, the previous management. No nation in Europe "recognized" the Confederate States of America, but no one would have been upset had they succeeded in their secession.

It was that desire to smash and grab that set the stage for the Battle of Puebla, which is what Cinco de Mayo is all about. French Emperor Napoleon III placed Maximilian on the newly created throne of what he hoped would be a monarchy and started to create a logistics base to supply the Confederate States in contravention of the Union naval blockade.

Marching from Vera Cruz to capture Mexico City and force the capitulation of the government, the much larger French army and cavalry was, instead, smashed to pieces in the mud at the Battle of Puebla, abruptly ending the dream of another French empire and also effectively cutting off the Confederate States from their chief, and clandestine, provisioners.

A little more than a year later, at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the high water mark of the Confederacy was reached when its assault was turned back by Union forces and the inexorable end of all hostilities at Appomattox, Virginia on April 9, 1865, though not yet visible on the horizon, became inevitable.

You don't have to be a Civil War buff to see the connection between our two nations--though it's a damn sight easier if you are so inclined. This is a good day to wish our neighbors to the South who celebrate, all the best on a day whose impact is nearly as great for both of our nations for entirely different reasons.
-bill kenny

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