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Remember the… er… hang on…. it’ll come to me….

March 6, 2016


Some years ago I was in San Antonio for a conference.

It occurred to me that it would be hilarious if I had my picture taken in front of the Alamo looking puzzled, as though I’d forgotten something.

You know – because then I clearly couldn’t “Remember the Alamo” even when it was standing right behind me.

So, when I got home, I put this image up on Facebook with the caption “Struggling to remember something…”

But nobody got the joke.   Not only does nobody remember the Alamo – nobody seems to remember “Remember the Alamo”.

The climax of the Battle of the Alamo was on this very date.  March 6th.  Remember?

1836.  Bowie, and Travis and Crockett etc.  met their strange apotheosis exactly 182 years ago today at the hands of Santa Ana’s besieging forces.   I remember seeing an intriguing documentary which suggested that the last of the defenders did not die standing their ground after all but actually made a break for it, were captured and were then executed.

If this version of events is true then the historical implication are, I have to say, negligible.  The overlapping histories of the USA, Texas and Mexico are affected not one jot.  Nor does an escape bid affect my opinion of the heroism of the defenders in the slightest.  I never think less of anyone for making a reasonable attempt to preserve their lives.

But insofar as this version of events differed from the legendary account, interviewed Texans reacted passionately against it.  One guy, wearing a Texan state flag tie, declared that since the letters from Santa Ana’s officer describing the capture and execution of the last defenders was discovered in the 1970s, this letter must be a fake – because the 1970s were a cynical and unpatriotic decade.  Anything discovered in the 1970s must be corrupt and deceitful.

The only time I’ve been to San Antonio, I stayed in a hotel just across the street from the Alamo – or from the chapel and the few bits of buildings that have survived (sort of) from the Alamo complex.   The Alamo is probably the smallest building in down town San Antonio and certainly the strangest.

Outside the chapel is a sign which reads “Without the Alamo – there would be no Texas”.

This statement does not invite any cost-benefit analysis of this proposition.

Indeed, the Alamo has been preserved not so much as a museum as a shrine.  The word “shrine” is used.  A shrine where all the priests have guns.  Once a place of Christian devotion, the shrine now celebrates military patriotism and Jesus has been pretty much evicted.   Over the space of less that 40 years, this ground belonged to Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the USA, the CSA and the USA again.  The classic account of the last day of the siege of the Alamo is preserved because it is the national Thermopylae – with Texians standing in for Spartans as notyetAmericans who are prototypical Americans.   The Alamo is Thermopylae just as the Battle of New Orleans is Agincourt.

The aesthetics of military sacrifice fascinate and alienate me in roughly equal measure.

Remembering the Alamo is about remembering the persistence of militarised mythology.  Remembering the Alamo is about remembrance itself – about how and why and WHAT we seem to need to remember.

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  1. Reblogged this on conradbrunstrom and commented:

    On the anniversary of the Battle of the Alamo…

  2. NMac permalink

    Sorry Conrad, the “Alamo” was (just) before my time, so don’t remember it.

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