By James E. Lee
In 1847, the United States was at war with Mexico. Under the leadership of General Winfield Scott, the United States achieved victory at the Battle of Chapultepec and Old Glory was hoisted over Mexico City.
Besides being the decisive battle of the war, Chapultepec is known for at least two other reasons. First, and most well-known to Americans, is that the victory at Chapultepec is the reference made in the Marine Hymn line, “from the Halls of Montezuma…”
More famously for Mexicans is that the battle was the source of the legend of Los Niños Heroes – The Child Heroes. As the story goes, five teenage cadet students at the military school located in the Castle of Chapultepec committed suicide rather than surrender to American forces. These boys have since served as a point of Mexican pride for their noble sacrifice in a valiant cause.
In 1947, while in Mexico City, President Harry Truman honored the teens by visiting the Niños Heroes Memorial.
According to David McCullough’s biography, “Truman,” the president was asked why he had done this.
He replied, “Brave men don’t belong to any one country. I respect bravery wherever I see it.”
Also according to McCullough, a Mexican woman was astonished that the President of the United States would come there to apologize for something that had happened a hundred years earlier. Whether Truman meant the gesture as an apology or as appreciation for Mexico’s assistance in World War II, it was a shrewd act of foreign diplomacy.
Truman’s specific goal was to secure “mutual security” agreements with other American nations during the rising tensions of the Cold War. The Truman Doctrine, in short, broadened the United States’ willingness to engage in distant conflicts so as to protect our interests and contain communism.
Nearly 70 years since his visit to Chapultepec, the significance of Truman’s actions live on. Our relations with Mexico have never been more critical; trade, drug trafficking, border issues and the presidential campaign promises to deal with all of these.
The Truman Doctrine is often criticized and praised, explicitly and tacitly, as a result of our role as world policeman and the fight against terrorism. Just consider from the past few decades — Rwanda, Arab Spring, Haiti, North Korea, Taiwan, and on and on.
Earlier in 1947, Truman had delivered a message to Congress that includes one of his more famous quotations that voiced optimism for his time and can do the same for ours.
“…America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.
“The job at hand today is to see to it that America is not ravaged by recurring depressions and long periods of unemployment, but that instead we build an economy so fruitful, so dynamic, so progressive that each citizen can count upon opportunity and security for himself and his family.
“Nor is prosperity in the United States important to the American people alone. It is the foundation of world prosperity and world peace. And the world is looking to us.”