Blog History Teachers

Just War Theory and the Mexican-American War

The Mexican-American War provides the teacher with a perfect opportunity for introducing students to Just War Theory as well as giving them an opportunity to apply said theory.



  1. Assign both readings well in advance, as long-term assignments.
  2. Have students annotate each work, following the guidelines of Mortimer Adler. This will ensure they can find relevant textual evidence during the seminar.
  3. Communicate to students that annotations will be graded, and contributions will be tracked and graded during the seminar.

Seminar Questions

  1. Did the US decision to declare war on Mexico satisfy the requirements of jus ad bellum? 
  2. Did US conduct during the war satisfy the requirements of jus in bello?
  3. Zinn quotes a number of prominent Americans who took stances against the war. Who were these Americans? Why were they opposed to the war?
  4. President Polk claimed that, “Mexico has passed the boundary of the United States, has invaded our territory and shed American blood upon the American soil…” Is this a true statement?
  5. Col. Hitchcock believes that the war with Mexico is unjust. Yet, he follows orders and participates in the war with Mexico. Is this decision morally sound?
  6. What was the experience of the average American soldier in the war?
  7. At the time of the conflict, Mexico only had about 35,000 citizens in New Mexico, and 3,000 citizens in California. Was this enough settlement to expect to hold on to the 750,000 square miles that the US took from Mexico as a result of the war?
  8. Was there a “right” way to take this land from Mexico?