The Texas Revolution
As I am a veteran of twenty years in the military, I am often drawn to historical accounts of military engagements. As a result, the Texas Revolution became an obvious choice for my second response essay.
There are several factors that come to mind when examining Texas Revolution combatants and warfare with the eyes of a modern armed forces veteran. It is hard not to contrast military actions of two centuries ago with those with which I am familiar.
During the fight with Mexico in 1835-36, the majority of the Texas fighting force were not professional soldiers. It was largely composed of a militia of volunteers, colonists, and farmers. The actual numbers of the small force varied drastically since members were not conscripted and virtually came and went as they pleased. Soldiers went on furlough, deserted, changed units, or simply went home, at their own discretion. In addition, the leaders of the Revolutionary Army were elected by the units and the democratic nature of these components did not lend itself to organization or discipline. Failure to obey orders to the point of actual mutiny ran rampant among its ranks. A revolving door of commanders did not improve the effectiveness. Any efforts to organize a professional military organization met with funding inadequacies.
The only way this small, ragtag group was able to defeat the much more powerful Mexican Army is that the latter was in similar disarray. Though better equipped and trained, fundamental political differences in Mexico between the Centralists and Federalists continued to take focus away from quelling the Texas revolt. Allegiances were divided between the population, military and civilian leadership, and the troops, reducing their capabilities in the north against an inferior force. Mexico had its own instability of leadership. The Texas Revolution was the beneficiary of a perfect storm.
Another element that piqued my interest was the brutality with reference to prisoners of war. It seemed the Texas policy towards them was at the discretion of the local commander. Some were released, others held captive, and still others executed. The Mexicans appeared to have had orders from the highest authority to execute detainees. These directives were not always carried out, but more often than not they were. I believe this might have been due to the Mexican government treating the Texans more as terrorists than with the deference afforded a respected military force. The Texans sometimes put to death surrendered Mexican soldiers in retaliation from the murder of their own.
We have a similar modern argument as to whether captured terrorists are to be treated as prisoners of war in accordance with the Geneva Convention. Though we do not execute them, we have tortured and humiliated them, using the distinction between a criminal and a soldier as justification.
As with most nineteenth century warfare, much of the fighting in the Texas Revolution was boots on the ground, face to face and hand to hand combat. Today's warfare can be conducted by piloting drones from the safety of a command center thousands of miles from the battlefield. This brings up some major discussions with respect to Just War Theory. It is much easier to kill an enemy when you don't have to look into his eyes and are not putting your own personnel in harm's way. In those days, senior officers actually led troops into battle and often died alongside them. In today's military, generals seldom venture to the front lines unless they have been deemed safe enough for a USO show.