I first learned about the Alamo in earnest from the late John David Lewis. This Objectivist thinker and teacher demonstrated the central facts about the battle with passion, mastery and perfection. I had interviewed Dr. Lewis about the Alamo as a source for an article I was writing to compare Ron Howard’s and John Wayne’s Alamo-themed movies with the truth.
This fall, I visited the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas. I’m conducting research for fiction writing. What I experienced during my visit is both inspiring and alarming. The Alamo is a solemn, simple place. It’s surrounded by shops, bland corporate offices and a courthouse and post office. Docents and staff are as dim as I’d had every reason to expect. The tourists are brighter. The front line defense is especially sharp.
The grounds are haunting. I don’t mean this in a superstitious sense. Tragically, some visitors, guides and workers focus on ghost stories to the exclusion of philosophy, knowledge and history. The Alamo haunts in the best sense but only if you know why.
Every American ought to study and know the facts, grasp what happened and visit this sacred site. The experience stirs, affirms and regenerates one’s sense of what matters in life. Every shadow, stone and rustle of leaves evokes the distant yet pressingly relevant memory of what men knew, vowed and held until the end. As John Lewis taught, theirs is a uniquely American defense and they knew it. They were few, they were united and, ultimately, they were unconquered.
These early American heroes, most of whom were Texans, knew why exercising one’s free will to choose, stay and fight for individual liberty is vital.
The meaning of this revered ground lies in the barracks, the church (which had been secularized and converted into a fort with cannons) and at the walls, where the men defended themselves and took refuge against a tyrant who sought to dictate their lives. I found myself feeling free to linger, stroll and reflect. At every plaque, statue and memorial, at each historical demonstration, monument and cannon, I was at liberty to remember details of what they’ve done. The battle for the Alamo made America more viable as a republic.
In visiting here, I draw renewed strength, resolve and fortitude. I know that I, too, face the fundamental choice to summon these qualities in America’s darkest hours to come. Like Boston’s Tea Party insurgents on this date in 1773 and the patriots at Concord and Lexington and Black Tuesday’s passengers on United Airlines flight 93, the choice to live free or die — “VICTORY OR DEATH”, as William Travis wrote at the Alamo — is mine to make.
I found the one at the Alamo who understands this. This individual is not a cashier; the clerk who sold my ticket is uninformed about the place’s history. The person is not a guide; the guide is an officious, dogmatic and duty-bound dolt. The one is not among other Alamo staff, whom I found to be cynical, mindless and blank. The one is a police officer. In an effort to protect the innocent, to paraphrase the old Dragnet broadcast, I won’t divulge the identity or the exact job.
That the Alamo police officer alone thinks, acts and speaks with knowledge, passion and reverence shows that, as long as there is one who stands to know, understand and remember the Alamo, the Alamo can be be saved and left to inspire “all Americans in the world.”
Even if you think it’s too soon.