While Kruiser is away, Stephen Green and I will play, and the playground is the Morning Briefing. Green ably led the line yesterday. I’ll do my best today.
Today is March 2. Outside Texas this is just another day but in Texas it’s Texas Independence Day. On March 2, 1836, while the 189-odd Texians, Tejanos, and European rebels (and a bunch from Tennessee, however you choose to classify them) were under Santa Anna’s brutal siege at the Alamo, Sam Houston, Lorenzo de Zavala, and other Texas leaders were holed up at Washington-on-the-Brazos. They were hashing out what to do, as one of the largest armies in the Americas, under the command of the self-styled “Napoleon of the West,” would soon bear down on them. The name of the town they met in ought to strongly hint to us today what the Texas revolution was all about. It would, but the cancelers have gone after George Washington.
The kids and grandkids of the American Revolution and their Tejano allies were fighting for individual liberty and federalism; Santa Anna was a dictator who had abrogated the republican constitution, betrayed the federalists, and would soon prove to be as bloody-minded as any warlord in history. Signing a declaration of independence against him was no small choice. In 1836 Texas it got you marked for death. Zavala was an experienced rebel by 1836, since he supported Mexico’s independence from Spain before signing on for Texas’ independence from Mexico. He’d help write the Texas constitution and become the Republic of Texas’ first vice president.
As we hit the 185th anniversary of Texas Independence and the fall of the Alamo, then the rise of Texas, we have a problem. Some are revising the story to put slavery front and center, when it was not. It was an issue, but not the primary issue. The Texas State Historical Association’s chief historian wants us to forget the Alamo and view its defenders — and their supporters now — as racists. Walter Buenger, Ph.D. and TSHA chief historian, recently slammed the Alamo as an insignificant battle then and a monument to white supremacy now. The facts don’t support that at all.
I reached out to the TSHA at the time Buenger made those comments and asked if it stands by his statement. TSHA provided a “no comment,” which as flacking goes, isn’t a rousing defense. Members protested by canceling and letting TSHA know why. I’ve heard from insiders that Buenger is woke and leading TSHA in that direction, which is well outside Texas’ mainstream.
Another problematic quote of his has recently come to light. In August 2020, Buenger said the following about the Alamo in an interview with HistoryNet:
Have you ever caught flak for your viewpoints? I always catch flak. One example: I often say that in 1836 the Alamo had a flat roof. That fancy top was added a decade later, and that’s a metaphor for understanding the Texas Revolution and much of Texas history: It’s been added on after the fact. The average student’s or average non-historian’s knowledge of Texas and U.S. history is heavily influenced by what someone wants to believe or what their ideology, status, or uncritical reading encourages them to believe. I take students and all who will listen back to 1836, and alert them to the dangers of listening to what was added on after the fact.
Somebody sure is adding something to history that wasn’t originally there. The Alamo church didn’t have a roof in 1836, as anyone who knows the Alamo much should know. The flat part he’s talking about is atop the façade above the main door, not the roof, and he’s right that the iconic hump was added in the 1840s. The U.S. Army added it to cover the gabled roof it had installed because there was no roof prior. So Buenger is bungling the facts a bit here to make his misleading political point and add his spin to Texas history long after the fact. Some of the greatest heroes of that war are the Tejanos, such as Damacio Ximenez, Juan Seguin, Jose Toribio Losoya (one of his descendants is currently on the city council), and Antonio Menchaca. We need to learn more about them and why they fought, and why several other Mexican states also rebelled against Santa Anna at the same time, which was not for “whiteness” or slavery as Buenger and some others allege.
Buenger wasn’t done.
Do some topics lend themselves more to interpretation than others? Capitalism, say, can be viewed from very different angles. Yes, of course. Many in the profession do argue about capitalism. I find the argument that enslaved labor was an extreme form of capitalism and a tool to reduce the cost of production to be a compelling one. Still, if you assume capitalism to have been built upon wage labor, elements of slavery are pre-capitalist.
One need not be a historian to know that slavery pre-dates the invention of capitalism by thousands of years. Buenger may be parroting some other social historians and ignoring a great deal of other scholarship. Slavery can be traced to ancient China, Mesopotamia, Greece, the Americas (the Aztecs and Mayans both practiced it, as did many other peoples of pre-Columbian America), Egypt, Rome, India, Europe, Africa, and nearly everywhere else people and cultures came into contact with one another. The Vikings took slaves. Biblical and other ancient texts speak of slavery’s existence throughout human history. Slavery long predates industrial production and predates the colonial period, long before anyone ever even thought of such a thing as America. Capitalism doesn’t even come along until the 16th through 18th centuries. Don’t take my word for it; look it up.
Buenger has no authority over the Alamo itself, and is not a specialist in the Alamo or the Texas Revolution. He’s a 20th-century social historian. None of his books are about the Alamo or the revolution, yet he offers much comment on it all and media provide him a platform. TSHA’s Handbook of Texas is considered authoritative and used by media and researchers any time Texas history is a topic. Buenger strongly influences that as its chief editor, and TSHA influences what is taught in Texas public schools.
So this is important. Cancel culture is real, as even Bill Maher recently admitted. Academic freedom is dying at the hands of critical race theory and cancel culture, which views history through a very narrow, modern Marxist lens that condemns capitalism but overlooks communism’s true, current slavery (in China, for instance), and ignores its ghastly historic body count. Academics, believing their own careers will be canceled, fear taking a stand against woke cancel culture. Buenger seems to be on the cancel side of ideological history, and thus should be of concern to Texans and anyone else who doesn’t want to see the Alamo canceled. It could be, by diminishing the battle and the revolutionaries who fell there and smearing them and Texas itself as irredeemably evil. Slapping it all with the “white supremacy” label is a step toward cancellation.
And then what? Statues of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, U.S. Grant, and others have been pulled down all over the country over the past year. The New York Times is still chipping away at America’s founding via its 1619 Project (which was debunked by the Smithsonian Magazine even before its publication) by pushing it into public schools. To believe that the Alamo is somehow immune from these cultural forces is deeply naïve. The cancel-minded would like nothing better than to cancel one of the world’s most potent symbols of the fight for freedom. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and a few others are standing up for the Alamo. More leaders and academics must, or they will have no one else to blame when the Alamo falls again.
Notice I didn’t say “if.” I said “when.”
He’s an alien, a shapeshifting alien…
If you’re not watching Resident Alien, starring Alan Tudyk as a not-nice space alien trying to solve a murder mystery while trapped in Colorado, you should be. It’s delightfully subversive of current culture in ways similar to Community. Tudyk is good in everything and he has a great supporting cast here. Plus he’s from Texas.
Let the musicians play
The other day I was deep-diving live music clips on YouTube, vibing to Dennis Chambers — the best drummer alive — blowing the roof off some joint with Carlos Santana, and being sad that the COVID pandemic killed concerts. I went to my last concert a year ago this month, of course having no idea that concerts would just go away. It was 90 minutes of metal. My ears rang for days and I loved every second of it. Then it was gone.
To get a sense of what’s happened to the music industry over the past year, here’s Chambers in a live Guitar Center drum-off from long before the plague. Live music — dead or driven online. Guitar Center — bankrupt. Venues and festivals — hammered to dust. 2020 won, so far.
But after defeat, victory. Live music may be coming back to Austin this fall — ACL is apparently on. Music is good for the soul and live music, more so. We need to #SaveOurStages and let musicians work again.
NASA is still doing amazing things. Last week it landed a rover on a dime on Mars and we saw the action in HD. This week it’s doing final prep for the James Webb Space Telescope. That’s Hubble’s successor. None of this is possible with woke math. It’s doable with real math.
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Postscript: Santa Anna isn’t popular in Mexico today, despite the fact that he was president/dictator off and on for decades. He did lose Texas, so there’s that. His legs are in Illinois, by the way. His prosthetic ones, that is. He had his real one buried with full military honors. Sorry, King of the Hill fans. The prosthetics were never kidnapped.
Dennis Chambers has no formal drum training. He played his first gigs at age six.