Thinking About The Alamo—And Those Self-Organizing Americans

[Seealso ¿OLVIDATE DEL ALAMO? [FORGET THE ALAMO ?]by Allan Wall] The Alamoopened in theatres Friday dogged by some of the worstpre-release buzz since Titanic. Expensive talent Russell Crowe and RonHoward dropped out when Disney cut the budget fromimmense to merely very large. And many Texans andconservatives areworried that Disney does not have the guts to makean accurate movie about Mexicans behaving badly.ATexan with the wonderful name ofJohn Lee Hancock, who had a surprise hit in The Rookie, pinch-hit as director. Hancock`snatural pace is slow: his fine little baseball biopictook over two hours to tell a story that aTV-movie-of-the-week would have zipped through in 88minutes. His first version of The Alamo, acomplex epic, clocked in at around 180 minutes. Hancockmissed the planned Christmas 2003 release date as hestruggled to cut The Alamo down to its current137 minutes.But I think the movie turned out decently. It lackspizzazz, but it`s quite respectable: a basic three starsout of four film. The main shortcomings are that thefilmstock is intentionally underexposed, giving aslightly gloomy air to the proceedings, and that DennisQuaid, who was so good in The Rookie, plays SamHouston as if he has a painful intestinal disorder.Of course, it helps if you have some level of interestinAmerican history.For example, when one character is introducedbrandishing a knife bigger than Crocodile Dundee`s,you`ll be able to follow the complicated plot better ifyou immediately realize he`sJim Bowie ofBowie Knife fame. Unfortunately, Hollywood`s mosttreasured demographic—the male lumpen youthmarket—generally doesn`t know Jim Bowie from DavidBowie.Isuspect the eventual DVD release, with the deletedscenes restored, might be even better. In thefinal cut, for example, there`sno mention of the horrendousGoliad massacre when Mexican dictator Santa Annatreacherously murdered 400 American POWs. And someadditional backstory on theselarger than life characters would be fun. Forexample, something not mentioned in the theatricalrelease is that when Houston`s new bride left him in1829, heresigned the governorship of Tennessee and draggedhis broken heart off to live with wild Indians for threeyears.Thelast film version starredJohn Wayne asDavy Crockett, the frontier superman ofcomic legend. Here, the genial and loquacious BillyBob Thornton is perfectly cast as David Crockett, thewry ex-Congressman who grows into the heroism of hispopular but largely fictitious alter ego, DavyCrockett.This Alamo uses the alternative story favored bysome historians who believe Crockett did not diefighting, but was captured along with five others andexecuted. AMexican officer`s diary reads: “Theseunfortunates died without complaining and withouthumiliating themselves before their torturers.”Dying fighting suited the imposing Wayne, but dyingsmarting off to Santa Anna—”If your whole armysurrenders to me, I`ll try to see that my friend SamHouston goes easy on you”—suits the witty Thornton.Santa Anna is treated as thecruel, egomaniacal, and bungling villain he was. Butthe movie assuages Mexican pride by giving Santa Anna anadjutant who is an honorable old soldier and despiseshis commander`s vulgarity and viciousness. And handsomeSpanish actor Jordi Mollà plays the Americans` TejanoallyJuan Seguin.While Santa Anna was auniquely awful leader in Mexico`s history (andthat`s saying a lot), it`s important to note that SantaAnna`s career says something important about thedifference between American and Mexican culture. Heruled Mexico five separate times. That`s likeDennis Kucinich being President five times.Paul Johnson wrote in A History of the American People about thesubsequent Mexican War:

“It is difficult nowto conjure up the contempt felt by most Americans in the1840s for the way Mexico was governed, or misgoverned,the endless coups and pronunciamentos, the intermittentand exceedingly cruel and often bloody civil conflicts,and the general insecurity of life and property. It mademoral as well as economic and political sense for thecivilized United States to wrest as much territory aspossible from the hands of Mexico`sgreedy and irresponsible rulers.”

Mexican culture`s inadequacies at self-rule help explainSanta Anna`s bizarre,tragicomic career. Mexicans would grow sick of hisdictatorial ways and overthrow him. After a few years ofcorruption and near-anarchy caused by theirinability to trust anybody beyond theirextended families, they`d start to long for a man onhorseback, and bring him back. Then they`d find he onlygot worse with age.As VDARE.COM`SAllen Wall haspointed out, the Texas Revolution is modernimmigration`s Worst Case Nightmare Scenario: immigrants(in Texas` case, Anglos) flood into a border state,refuse to assimilate, secede.But Americans were able to carve aRepublic of Texas out of Mexico in just a couple ofdecades because of their talent for self-organizing, aknack that Mexicans seldom have down to this day.The movie makes this American talent clear. Thecircumstances were certainly unpropitious within theAlamo: Several large and volatile personalities, eachleading his own private army, were crammed together withalmost no time to work out how they`d cooperate. And yetthey did, putting up a unified 13 day defense thatallowed Houston time to unite fractious units andcapture Santa Anna six weeks later at theBattle of San Jacinto, freeing Texas from Mexico…permanently?Walking around downtown Philadelphia a couple of weeksago, it occurred to me thatBen Franklin started more civic institutions thanhave all three million people of Mexican descent in LosAngeles County.As Gregory Rodriguez wrote in theFeb. 29 Los Angeles Times:

“Forexample, inLos Angeles, home to more Mexicans than any othercity in the U.S., there is not one ethnic Mexicanhospital, college, cemetery or broad-based charity.”

This lackadaisical record at institution-buildingsuggests that the danger ofMexican immigrants getting well enough organized topose a credible threat ofsecession from America may not be high.On the other hand, America`s historic talent for civilsociety, displayed under such desperate circumstances in1836, will be slowly eroded bymass immigration.And that will make us ever more like Mexico—until thelessons of the Alamo become irrelevant.[Steve Sailer [emailhim] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute andmovie critic forThe American Conservative.His features his dailyblog.]