Thinking About The Alamo—And Those Self-Organizing Americans

by Allan Wall


The Alamo

opened in theatres Friday dogged by some of the worst

pre-release buzz

Expensive talent Russell Crowe and Ron
Howard dropped out when Disney cut the budget from
immense to merely very large. And many Texans and
conservatives are

that Disney does not have the guts to make
an accurate movie about Mexicans behaving badly.

Texan with the wonderful name of

John Lee Hancock
, who had a surprise hit in

The Rookie
pinch-hit as director. Hancock`s
natural pace is slow: his fine little baseball biopic
took over two hours to tell a story that a
TV-movie-of-the-week would have zipped through in 88
minutes. His first version of The Alamo, a
complex epic, clocked in at around 180 minutes. Hancock
missed the planned Christmas 2003 release date as he
struggled to cut The Alamo down to its current
137 minutes.

But I think the movie turned out decently. It lacks
pizzazz, but it`s quite respectable: a basic three stars
out of four film. The main shortcomings are that the
filmstock is intentionally underexposed, giving a
slightly gloomy air to the proceedings, and that Dennis
Quaid, who was so good in The Rookie, plays Sam
Houston as if he has a painful intestinal disorder.

Of course, it helps if you have some level of interest

American history

For example, when one character is introduced
brandishing a knife bigger than Crocodile Dundee`s,
you`ll be able to follow the complicated plot better if
you immediately realize he`s

Jim Bowie

Bowie Knife
fame. Unfortunately, Hollywood`s most
treasured demographic—the male lumpen youth
market—generally doesn`t know Jim Bowie from David

suspect the eventual DVD release, with the deleted
scenes restored, might be even better. In the

final cut
, for example, there`s

no mention
of the horrendous

Goliad massacre
when Mexican dictator Santa Anna
treacherously murdered 400 American POWs. And some
additional backstory on these

larger than life characters
would be fun. For
example, something not mentioned in the theatrical
release is that when Houston`s new bride left him in
1829, he

resigned the governorship of Tennessee
and dragged
his broken heart off to live with wild Indians for three


last film version

John Wayne

Davy Crockett
, the frontier superman of

comic legend
. Here, the genial and loquacious Billy
Bob Thornton is perfectly cast as David Crockett, the

wry ex-Congressman
who grows into the heroism of his
popular but largely fictitious alter ego, Davy

This Alamo uses the alternative story favored by
some historians who believe Crockett did not die
fighting, but was captured along with five others and
executed. A

Mexican officer`s diary
reads: “These
unfortunates died without complaining and without
humiliating themselves before their torturers.”

Dying fighting suited the imposing Wayne, but dying
smarting off to Santa Anna—”If your whole army
surrenders to me, I`ll try to see that my friend Sam
Houston goes easy on you”
—suits the witty Thornton.

Santa Anna is treated as the

cruel, egomaniacal, and bungling villain he was.
the movie assuages Mexican pride by giving Santa Anna an
adjutant who is an honorable old soldier and despises
his commander`s vulgarity and viciousness. And handsome
Spanish actor Jordi Mollà plays the Americans` Tejano

Juan Seguin.

While Santa Anna was a

uniquely awful leader
in Mexico`s history (and
that`s saying a lot), it`s important to note that Santa
Anna`s career says something important about the
difference between American and Mexican culture. He
ruled Mexico five separate times. That`s like

Dennis Kucinich
being President five times.

Paul Johnson
wrote in

A History of the American People
about the
subsequent Mexican War:

“It is difficult now
to conjure up the contempt felt by most Americans in the
1840s for the way Mexico was governed, or misgoverned,
the endless coups and pronunciamentos, the intermittent
and exceedingly cruel and often bloody civil conflicts,
and the general insecurity of life and property. It made
moral as well as economic and political sense for the
civilized United States to wrest as much territory as
possible from the hands of Mexico`s

greedy and irresponsible

Mexican culture`s inadequacies at self-rule help explain
Santa Anna`s bizarre,

career. Mexicans would grow sick of his
dictatorial ways and overthrow him. After a few years of

and near-anarchy caused by their
inability to trust anybody beyond their

extended families,
they`d start to long for a man on
horseback, and bring him back. Then they`d find he only
got worse with age.


Allen Wall

pointed out
, the Texas Revolution is modern
immigration`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 a

Republic of Texas
out of Mexico in just a couple of
decades because of their talent for self-organizing, a
knack that Mexicans seldom have down to this day.

The movie makes this American talent clear. The
circumstances were certainly unpropitious within the
Alamo: Several large and volatile personalities, each
leading his own private army, were crammed together with
almost no time to work out how they`d cooperate. And yet
they did, putting up a unified 13 day defense that
allowed Houston time to unite fractious units and
capture Santa Anna six weeks later at the

Battle of San Jacinto,
freeing Texas from Mexico…permanently?

Walking around downtown Philadelphia a couple of weeks
ago, it occurred to me that

Ben Franklin
started more civic institutions than
have all three million people of Mexican descent in Los
Angeles County.

As Gregory Rodriguez wrote in the

Feb. 29 Los Angeles Times

example, in

Los Angeles,
home to more Mexicans than any other
city in the U.S., there is not one ethnic Mexican
hospital, college, cemetery or broad-based charity.”

This lackadaisical record at institution-building
suggests that the danger of

Mexican immigrants
getting well enough organized to
pose a credible threat of

from America may not be high.

On the other hand, America`s historic talent for civil
society, displayed under such desperate circumstances in
1836, will be slowly eroded by

mass immigration

And that will make us ever more like Mexico—until the
lessons of the Alamo become irrelevant.

[Steve Sailer [email
him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and

movie critic

The American Conservative
His website
features his daily