Thursday, April 09, 2009


Now that I am even more conscious of the conditions in the places where Marines might be sent - as opposed to being concerned only with the long-term foreign policy implications - I am wondering about Mexico. While Chris was told at boot camp that he would probably be deployed to Afghanistan, the subject of Mexico did come up a few times. There were many Hispanics in his platoon. I don't know their provenance, or whether they are second generation. Chris said that a few were Puerto Rican, which makes sense.

My limited understanding tells me that military careers are not unusual in Hispanic, especially Mexican-American, culture. I wonder what that would mean for deployment of American servicemen of Mexican birth or heritage. The kneejerk reaction would be to worry about where their loyalties lie (as we would about natives of any foreign country in our armed services - I'm not singling anyone out here). The second kneejerk reaction would be to recognise the enormous humint advantage such soldiers would have. I think the reality would be much more complicated - more complicated than even the soldiers themselves anticipate.

Given the thugs who are taking over large parts of Mexico, it's not a stretch to think that the average Mexican-American soldier would have no divided loyalty at all: I am defending both my old country and my new one. That would be all to the good, and those would perhaps be among the best that we sent. Yet there would be a few who would be unreliable, and the effect of those could be devastating. More subtly, the local population would be making its own compromises and hedging of bets. We would wish that Mexicans would be entirely loyal to goodness, truth, and the best interests of their nation as a whole, but seeing that we don't do that ourselves - we have a third of an entire major political party which is more loyal to the UN than to the US - I don't see how we can expect other humans to be nobler than we are ourselves.

In the villages, families and factions will shift, and loyalties will be more fluid. Part of this will be simple survival, but part will also be that locals are making different calculations than Americans about what is in their best long term interest. Mexican-American soldiers will be faced with emotional conflicts which none of us would wish to face. To those of my readers who react in anger to this, expecting that new citizens from Mexico should display especial loyalty to America, I would say I agree. But put yourself in the position thirty years from now, if we have elected a succession of Obamas to the presidency and are sending active troops to Alaska, or to defend a corrupt Lebanese government against democratic Israel - where does your loyalty lie then? Is it so simple?

Loyalty among fallen humans is never simple. Americans are enormously blest to live in a place where trust levels are so high, and consensus so general that these questions have not come to us. We cannot assume that such blessings will endure forever.


Gringo said...

While there may be loyalty to family and traditions back in Mexico (mole tastes a litter better than a Happy Meal..),that loyalty does not extend to the government of Mexico. Ex.: the extortionate insurance rates that returning Mexicans are forced to pay for having their US-registered car several weeks in Mexico. Of course, dislike of the Mexican government could work both ways, as most likely US troops would be used in support of the Mexican government.

I hypothesize that one factor in the decreased corruption and improved transparency in the Mexican government compared to what it was 30 years ago is having Mexicans hear the reaction of their relatives visiting from the US complain about how Mexican government looks compared to what is in the US. Pressure from below.

Anonymous said...

Your supposition may be more complicated to explain than this, but as someone who served in the Marines for 29 years, I can tell you that at no time did I ever see a Hispanic Marine exhibit any confusion about his or her primary allegiance. The dedication Marines display towards one another, their utter devotion, transcends race or ethnicity. Whether your son serves along side Marines of other ethnicities, is led by them, or even leads them himself, you will find no confusion about the fact that the color of every Marine is green. That is as it should be. Forty-three Hispanics have been awarded the Medal of Honor.

Anonymous said...

Assistant, just FYI, I'd bet that "most hispanics" in the US today have roots much farther back than just 2nd generation, and the young generations tend not to even speak spanish. In Texas, those of hispanic descent (as the government persists in labeling everyone who had a hispanic ancestor) may call themselves "Mexicans" but they mean an ethnicity, or, more aptly, a heritage, not a nationality, and the US of A is their only country. Just as with any other bunch of people (like those immigrants whose ancestors came from England/Ireland/Scotland, or Germany, or Italy or Russia or China or vietnam), it's nearly impossible to predict how individuals out of a group might behave or respond about specific issues. But I will say this, that people of traditional hispanic culture have more in common with people of traditional US culture than gets notice in the media. We share a common heritage, historic religion, and a geography. Texas would not be Texas without it. :-)

Mustang, thank you for your support. As the mother of a Marine who joined in wartime because he felt the need to serve his country - the US is the only country he has ever had - I can confirm everything you said. His ethnicity is so immaterial that it does not even warrant mentioning. He's an American Marine, as are all his fellows. Thank you for your own service, and for upholding a tradition that my son is so proud to continue! :-)

(Sorry to post anonymously, but Blogger does not ever seem to recognize my log in :-/ )