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A world without war or borders

May 19, 2006 | Page 12

I WANT to thank SW for its excellent in-depth coverage of the immigrant rights movement and the politics and history of immigration. I particularly liked Paul D'Amato's column on the history of the U.S.-Mexico border and the bloody war that defined it ("The border crossed us," April 28).

Another excellent resource on this history is a chapter in Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. Reading this chapter, I was struck by the parallels to the current war in Iraq. While the war was waged by a Democrat, James Polk, the opposition party, the Whigs, were unwilling to oppose it except in empty rhetoric. Thus, while Abraham Lincoln gave famous speeches against the war, he continued to vote for funds and supplies for it.

However, there was substantial opposition to the war by abolitionists and organized labor. Henry David Thoreau's famous "Civil Disobedience" essay was written while he was in jail for refusing to pay taxes to support the war.

When the war began, a convention of the New England Workingmen's Association condemned it and said they would "not take up arms to sustain the Southern slaveholder in robbing one-fifth of our countrymen of their labor." There were demonstrations of Irish workers in New York City, Boston and Lowell, Mass.

Just like today, those who served in the war were "volunteers," but were mainly recent German and Irish immigrants who were enticed by monetary rewards. As the war became increasingly unpopular, recruiters resorted to outrageous lies and bribes to get people to enlist.

"By late 1846," writes Zinn, "recruitment was falling off, so physical requirements were lowered, and anyone bringing in acceptable recruits would get $2 a head. Even this didn't work. Congress in early 1847 authorized 10 new regiments of regulars...promising them 100 acres of public land upon honorable discharge. But dissatisfaction continued."

Many who enlisted were quickly disillusioned and began to sympathize with the Mexicans, who they were supposed to fight. For Irish immigrants, the invasion was no doubt reminiscent of the British occupation of Ireland.

Hundreds defected to the Mexican side, including, most, famously the San Patricio (St. Patrick's) Battalion. Others staged mutinies against their commanders or simply deserted. The total number of deserters during the war was 9,207 (5,331 regulars and 3,876 volunteers).

When faced with the true history of the U.S.-Mexico border, it is impossible to view it as anything but an arbitrary line drawn in blood. We should draw inspiration from those who opposed it then and fight for a world without war or borders now!
Leela Yellesetty, New Haven, Conn.

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