What the Mexican War of the 1850s Can Teach Us Today About the Israeli-Hamas Conflict

By William Kilpatrick Published on May 29, 2024

In a recent article, Dennis Prager pointed out that although Israel’s claim to its land is as solid as any other country’s to their respective territories, anti-Zionists still deny that Israel’s claim is legitimate — and as Prager points out, “They don’t say this about any other country in the world, no matter how bloody its origins.”

For example, no one denies the legitimacy of Pakistan, which was created about the same time as the modern State of Israel, but with far more bloodshed. Indeed, as Prager suggests, there are hardly any countries whose origins could be said to be pure and unsullied.

And this includes the United States. I’m not referring to the generic complaint that Americans stole their land from the Native American tribes, but to the specific claim that in the years 1846 to 1848, the United States stole a vast stretch of its present territory from the Mexicans. In other words, the present-day states of Texas, California, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and portions of Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, and Oklahoma owe their existence to a war we fought with Mexico.

Let’s take a closer look at that historical event, and then I’ll return to why we shouldn’t single out Israel in this regard.

The U.S. Takes Half of Mexico

According to Wikipedia, the Mexican-American War was an “invasion of Mexico by the United States” … following “the 1845 American annexation of Texas.”

It was more complicated than that, but it all ended in less than two years with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo following the defeat of the Mexican army and the occupation of Mexico City by American soldiers and Marines (which is the origin of the “halls of Montezuma” part of the Marine Hymn).

As a result of the treaty, Mexico was forced to cede more than half its territory to the United States, in return for which the U.S. government paid Mexico $15 million (or about 5 cents per acre).

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The treaty terms were mostly in favor of the U.S. In addition, the war itself was lopsided. In modern terms, one could argue that the U.S. was guilty of a “disproportionate response.” Although the two armies were of similar size, the Americans had superior artillery and superior rifles (the Springfield 1841 versus surplus muskets left over from the Napoleonic Wars). Moreover, the American officer corps was better trained than the Mexicans’. Many of the junior officers were graduates of West Point — and many of them, such as Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant — went on to become renowned generals in the American Civil War.

The only superiority the Mexicans seemed to possess (and this also was contested) was moral superiority. Mexico resisted American settlements in the Southwest partly because it feared that Southerners would turn the territories into slave states. Indeed, a motion to include a proviso in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which would ban slavery in the new territories failed in the U.S. Senate.

Mexico held the moral high ground over the U.S. in this matter: Whereas Mexico outlawed slavery in 1829, it took America another 35 years and a bloody civil war to do the same.

Manifest Destiny

Americans were a religious people, but some used Christianity to justify slavery, and others used it to justify westward expansion. Many Americans were imbued with the spirit of “Manifest Destiny” — the idea that God had destined the American people to expand their border all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

This sentiment resembles the conviction on the part of many Jews that God had promised them the land of Israel — a conviction that is captured in the opening lines of the Exodus Song: “This land is mine, God gave this land to me.”

Today, this sentiment is usually associated with Zionism, but in the mid-nineteenth century, many Americans used it to justify a war with Mexico.

An Unjust War?

Of course, not all Americans favored the war. Many considered it unjust and immoral. Abraham Lincoln opposed it, and so did John Quincy Adams, Frederick Douglass, Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau. In fact, Thoreau went to jail for refusing to pay a tax that would support the war effort.

Others had similar convictions. Joshua Giddings, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and an outspoken opponent of slavery, declared, “In the murder of Mexicans upon their own soil, or in robbing them of their own country, I can take no part…”

Although he took part in the war as a young officer, Ulysses Grant looked back upon it with regret. In his memoirs, he wrote:

For myself, I was bitterly opposed to the measure [the annexation of Texas], and to this day regard the war which resulted [the Mexican War] as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation.

Nicholas Trist, the man who actually negotiated the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo for the U.S., had similar regrets. Writing years later, he described the treaty as “a thing for every right-minded American to be ashamed of.”

Israel’s Claims

By historical standards, Israel’s claim of statehood is much more solid than that of most nations. Jews had lived in the land of Israel for thousands of years before most modern nations were even formed. And in the twentieth century, the United Nations, the U.S., and numerous other countries recognized the establishment of the modern state of Israel on its historic land.

By contrast, the Arab nations rejected the UN’s plan to establish two separate states, Jewish and Arab, in Palestine. On the same day Israel established its independence, it was invaded by the armies of five Arab nations. (This, it should be noted, was the same pattern that Muhammad laid down in 622 A.D. when he began his conquest of non-Muslim territory, including a dozen or so Christian lands. But that is a topic for another article.)

To be consistent, Americans who say Israel is an illegitimate state should agree that one-third of the continental United States was acquired in an illegitimate fashion.

If one judges both Israel and the U.S. by the same standards, how can anyone call Israel “illegitimate” without saying the same about California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and so forth? The land that Israel captured from Jordan and Egypt as a result of attacks from those two countries is only a sliver when compared with the huge chunk of U.S. territory that once belonged to Mexico. Moreover, in 2005 Israel gave back Gaza to the Gazans — but there has been no equivalent effort to give back New Mexico, whose statehood was established in 1912, back to the Mexicans.

To be consistent, Americans who say Israel is an illegitimate state should agree that one-third of the continental United States was acquired in an illegitimate fashion.

Manifest Destiny: Islamic Style

There’s one more consideration that has to be factored into this discussion, and it has to do with the principle of manifest destiny — a belief held in common by Jews, Americans, and Muslims. However, whereas Jews believe God promised them a parcel of land about the size of New Jersey, and American expansionists believed God had set aside half the continent of North America for their cultivation, Islam teaches that God has destined Muslims to have dominion over the whole planet.

In fact, Islam teaches that the world is divided into two spheres: the “House of Islam” and the “House of War.” The former are those lands that practice the religion of Allah and the latter are the nations that have yet to be conquered for Allah. Numerous verses in the Koran attest to this, and many passages command Muslims to fight the unbeliever until all worship is for Allah alone (e.g., 8:39, 2:193, 9:29).

This may help to explain why Israel justifies its actions in terms of self-defense even though its military is superior to Hamas’s and its population is larger than Gaza’s. Although they don’t talk much about it, Israeli leaders are justifiably worried that they could be drawn into a war with much of the Islamic world. That’s because much of the Muslim world agrees with the Palestinians that “the land between the river and the sea” should belong only to those who worship Allah.

Since Israel’s population is about nine million (roughly the same as New York City) and the population of the Muslim world is approximately 1.8 billion, they have cause to worry.

So do Americans. Our population is considerably larger than Israel’s but is similarly dwarfed by the Muslim world. America, like Israel, also happens to be part of the “House of War” — those who don’t worship Allah. Consequently, Muslims have an obligation to fight America until it enters the “House of Islam.”

Anyone who thinks defeating Israel will be enough to satisfy the Islamic world ought to consult a Koran. It might also be useful to examine a world population growth chart. Even without actual warfare, Islam’s “war of the wombs” moves it closer every year to its vision of manifest destiny.


William Kilpatrick is the author of several books about cultural and religious issues, including What Catholics Need to Know About Islam; Christianity, Islam and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West; The Politically Incorrect Guide to Jihad; and Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right from Wrong.

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