K-Squared Ramblings

Fighting Irish

I caught a story on The World (PRI) today about Los Angeles band Ollin’s song tribute to Saint Patrick’s Battalion (in Spanish, El Batallón de Los San Patricios)—a group of several hundred primarily Irish Americans who, during the Mexican-American War (1846–1848), left the US Army to fight alongside the Mexicans. They fought fiercely for a year, but came to a bad end: most were captured by the US and executed as traitors.

It reminded me of a story Sergio Aragonés told last year in his issue of Solo (#11). In “Heroes,” he talks about growing up in Mexico, where the San Patricios are national heroes. They have statues, memorials, and a commemorative ceremony every year on the spot where they were executed. After telling the story of how he learned about the battalion, he jumps forward a few decades. Living in the US, with his daughter going to American schools, he wanted to see how she would learn about the heroes of his youth. So he looked through her textbook to the section on the Mexican-American war, and found only a fleeting remark about how a bunch of drunk Irishmen deserted the US Army, surrendered, and were executed.

It was a surprisingly serious story from an artist known for his comedy (some of the other stories in the issue are drop-dead funny), and an interesting commentary on how nationalism shapes our views of history, with one side elevating the battallion, and the other trivializing them.