Book Review: Fire and Blood – A History of Mexico
Fire and Blood: A History of Mexico, published in 1973, is still the best history of Mexico and the Mexicans available. Written by San Antonian TR Fehrenbach, with whom I shared a 40-year friendship, the book sympathetically explains Mexican history, culture, character and personalities. Mexico’s friends should read this history, written before political correctness, as we ponder how best to confront the seemingly unsolvable dilemma on our southern border.
Porfirio Diaz famously remarked, “Poor Mexico, so far from God; so close to the United States.” And yet, the United States was not Mexico’s problem.
As Fehrenbach shows, within Mexico’s pre-European culture, a tiny minority subjugated the populace.
Under the Spanish Colonial system, a tiny European minority subjugated everybody through a repressive Christianity allied with economic feudalism in which most land ownership was held in a few hands. European diseases were the greatest Colonial tragedy—claiming 90 percent of the population.
Independence from Spain saw 100 years in which power bounced back and forth between “conservatives,” a coalition of church, landowners and military, and “liberals”, left-leaning utopian dreamers.
The Mexican Revolution (a civil war which killed 20% of the country) used classic Marxist bait/switch/control, to replace the church with single party rule, and, landowner monopolies with economic concentrations. As always, a tiny minority controls a population irresistibly drawn to strongmen offering leftist, big government ‘solutions’ presented with a democratic veneer. Like its predecessors it blames its failures on the US.
Two centuries after independence, Mexico, unlike its northern neighbors, has yet to demand the capitalist freedoms which enable rule of law as well as real democracy and prosperity. Fehrenbach wrote this 40 years before the prominent emergence of the criminal cartels that are interdependent with police, military, courts, big government and big business. His conclusion regarding this modern coalition would be: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
Despite these handicaps and contrary to Diaz’s statement, Mexico has been drawn forward because of its neighbor the United States. Absent the often-vilified American president, James K. Polk and his Mexican War, which brought Utah, California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas into the United States, the American Southwest would have shared the fate of “pobre Mexico.”
Mexican history comes to life in this “fascinating” work by the author of Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans (The Christian Science Monitor).
Fire & Blood brilliantly depicts the succession of tribes and societies that have variously called Mexico their home, their battleground, and their legacy. This is the tale of the indigenous people who forged from this rugged terrain a wide-ranging civilization; of the Olmec, Maya, Toltec, and Aztec dynasties, which exercised their sophisticated powers through bureaucracy and religion; of the Spanish conquistadors, whose arrival heralded death, disease, and a new vision of continental domination. Author T. R. Fehrenbach connects these threads with the story of modern-day, independent Mexico, a proud nation struggling to balance its traditions against opportunities that often seem tantalizingly out of reach.
From the Mesoamerican empires to the Spanish Conquest and the Mexican Revolution, peopled by the legendary personalities of Mexican history—Montezuma, Cortés, Santa Anna, Juárez, Maximilian, Díaz, Pancho Villa, and Zapata—Fire & Blood is a “deftly organized and well-researched” work of popular history (Library Journal).