The War Nerd: The Museum of Defeats

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Mexico City guidebooks are always a little nervous about the National Museum of Interventions. Their queasy descriptions make it clear that most Anglo travel writers find the idea of an entire museum devoted to violations of Mexico’s sovereignty depressing, or just plain weird.

Yet they can’t ignore the Museum, because everything about it, right down to the ground it’s built on, hums with surplus geomancy. The Museum is in Churubusco, now part of the southern suburbs, but it’s had many previous incarnations, all central to Mexican history. It started out as a shrine to an Aztec god before the Spanish smashed it, walled the site and made it a convent, Santa Maria de Churubusco. Thanks to those strong walls, designed to keep nuns in and pole-vaulting lechers out, General Pedro Anaya chose to make his stand at the convent in 1847. He’d been stuck with the job of keeping the invading Yankees away from the capital city. It was one of those doomed last stands that seem to occur often in Mexican history. Anaya had 1,300 men, most of them rookie volunteers; the Americans brought a force of 5,000 stone killers who’d slashed a path all the way from Texas. Anaya’s only experienced troops were American deserters. He knew he had no chance, but held off several Yankee advances before running out of ammunition. Most Mexicans don’t remember the defeat as much as Anaya’s cool, smart-ass answer when the American officers asked where his ammunition was: “If I had any left, you wouldn’t be here…”

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