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Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Remember the Alamo - but don't push your luck

Tuesday 3rd

On Tuesday, August 3rd, I walked to the Alamo with two Australians, Mark and Bret. We were 140 years late, but I was still excited to be there, having been brought up on tales of Davy Crockett and gone cat hunting as a kid because Liverpool had no raccoons.

The over-heated patriotism I found a little disturbing - like the Women’s Institute in Britain recounting Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain to tourists; a tale where British pluck and German villainy remained pickled in aspic. It would be bizarre when you consider The Battle of Britain was over seventy years ago – even more bizarre considering The Alamo took place over 140 years before we got there.

Almost as bizarre as John Wayne playing Davy Crockett. I found that a bitter pill to swallow.

We were shown round by a white-haired woman with a face like rawhide and a voice to match. Her scorn could wither at ten paces, and much of it she reserved for Moses Roses, a much maligned Frenchman. A very much maligned Frenchman when you consider his ‘cowardice’ was still being invoked during the recent Iraq war. He was the original ‘cheese-eating surrender monkey’.

As the story goes, Jim Bowie offered everyone in the doomed fort a chance to escape before they were completely surrounded. No one availed themselves of the offer except one man: Moses Roses. He took one look at the forces arrayed against them and made an instant decision.

My heart went out to him. Moses Roses was the most experienced soldier there. He was a veteran of Napoleon’s Grand Armée that had conquered most of Europe and a good chunk of Russia before things went terribly wrong.

This man had survived the Battle of Borodino – the largest and bloodiest single day of action in the Napoleonic wars. 250,000 men died in that one battle, and then there were the 70,000 casualties. Moses Roses must have thought himself a very lucky man as September 12 1812 drew to a close.

He would also have counted himself lucky to have survived the retreat from Moscow when almost half a million French soldiers perished along with 200,000 horses.

What a sensible decision it must have seemed: retirement in the American sun-belt, away from the blood and glamour of European wars.

God has a wonderful sense of humour, and why Moses Roses decided to enlist in the Texas militia, God only knows. But one thing for sure, Roses knew bad odds when he saw them, knew that even his luck couldn’t hold out on this one: fewer than 300 men against over 2,000 Mexicans? He mightn’t have been big on Thermopylae, but no way was he going to be one of those 300 Spartans.

I’m glad I didn’t know all this at the time. That Texan woman looked the kind that could detect dissent. She’d have fixed me with her squinty eyes, bull-whipped me with her rawhide tongue.

In the Museum, I discovered a fair number of English and Irish had died in the battle; also one Welshman: Lewis Johnson – but like Welsh consonants, things are not always what they seem. He was in fact Virginian. The Welsh hero was a pretender, an inaccuracy.

On the way to the museum we saw a battalion of Twirlers – earnest seven year olds practising their twirls beneath a baking sun. Santa Anna would have minced them. Time for a drink. To night we were hitting the night life of San Antonio.


Maria Zannini said...

I’ve never been much into Alamo history, but I have to believe there were deeper reasons why those men stayed to fight what they knew was a lost cause. I know men of that time period, (in Europe as well as here) were driven by a certain code of ethics, but these were frontier people. They did whatever was necessary to meet a purpose and damn the principles of society.

All I know for sure is that their sacrifice inspired such vengeance and fortitude in later battles that it became a battle cry that held entire armies together.

It’s a shame I didn’t know you back then, Mike. We would’ve had a blast. Did you tour any of their other missions? The preservation is remarkable. I really enjoyed visiting them.

PS I think it was very wise not to push your luck with the docent. I hear Texas wimmin can be quite the handful. :grin:

Mike Keyton said...

I agree. I recognise their courage. My only reservation is that sometimes mythmaking is designed to manipulate others. You say 'inspire', but I'm suggesting it's a thin dividing line. When I hear the old Imperialist song:
Soldiers of the Queen, tears well in my eyes - but I'd think twice about put on the uniform :)


Which one is best?


Yes, we could have had a blast in San Antonio - especially if you could jitterbug

Maria Zannini said...

Ah, but you and I are talking through the veil of maturity. We've had years to distance our thinking.

A young man, full of spit and testosterone is willingly 'inspired' or 'manipulated'. That's why all armies take YOUNG men and not old ones. (That and the bad knees.)

And what is myth but manipulation? There is very little of the world that isn't orchestrated to inspire the required response.

We're like little lab rats. Some of us recognize the subterfuge and go around the cheese, but most swallow it whole.

Mike Keyton said...

Ah...the knees