Everything that’s wrong with revisionist history is summed up in the lead paragraph of Time magazine’s new piece, “We’ve Been Telling the Alamo Story Wrong for Nearly 200 Years. Now It’s Time to Correct the Record.”
Authors Brian Burrough and Jason Stanford begin with a hypothetical: America opens up Alaska for colonization, and Canadians move in. They refuse to pay American taxes and follow American laws. When confronted, they shoot American soldiers then openly revolt.
“As an American, how would you feel?” the authors ask. “Now you can imagine how Mexican President Jose Lopez de Santa Anna would have felt in 1835, because that’s pretty much the story of the revolution that paved the way for Texas to become its own nation and then an American state.”
Revisionist history discards the evidence and context that make up our historical knowledge; instead, it views everything through the lens of modern (and postmodern) beliefs and biases. And most of all, it swaps facts for feelings—How did Santa Anna feel? How would you feel?
These authors, along with Chris Tomlinson, have a new book out called (naturally), “Forget the Alamo.” Like the New York Times’s debunked 1619 Project, the book is an effort to diminish the great figures of history and place slavery at the center of every story. According to them, “at its roots, the Texas Revolt was about money, how Texans made it, and why the Mexican government objected.” They claim Texas revolted because Santa Anna threatened to free their slaves—slaves they needed to work their vast cotton plantations.
But this radical reinterpretation of history doesn’t jibe with the facts. Author James Donovan shot down this claim nearly a decade ago.
“At the outbreak of the revolution in the fall of 1835, the plantation system was in the early stages of development,” Donovan wrote in 2012. “There were only 2,000 to 3,000 slaves in Texas, and the issue was not a major factor in the rebellion. (On the eve of the Civil War 15 years later, this repellent institution would comprise 183,000 bondsmen in Texas alone, and 3.5 million in the seceding states.)”
These facts don’t deter the authors of “Forget the Alamo.” They’re satisfied with nothing less than the de-canonization of the founders of Texas.
“The battle, in fact, should never have been fought,” they write. “[William Barrett] Travis ignored multiple warnings of Santa Anna’s approach and was simply trapped in the Alamo when the Mexican army arrived.”
The Alamo’s defenders, they claim, “pretty much died for nothing.”
This viewpoint leaves President Jose Lopez de Santa Anna as the one in the right; “This was a government defending its rightful territory,” Tomlinson contends. Yet history tells us that Santa Anna’s misrule of Mexico caused widespread unrest. In 1834, he rejected the constitution of Mexico and declared himself dictator.
“Uprisings occurred in at least half of the Mexican states, and armed resistance broke out in a few,” Donovan wrote. “Santa Anna repressed them all, some of them brutally, then raised a 6,000-man army and marched north. Texas was next.”
Santa Anna’s brutality at the Alamo was the result of his wounded pride—nothing more. William Travis, he would later write, had been “insulting.”
And, of course, he ordered the massacre of more than 400 prisoners of war at Goliad.
Yet this is what revisionist history does—makes heroes of the villains and villains of the heroes. Real historians know that no figure from the past, not one as saintly as Abraham Lincoln nor as despicable as Benedict Arnold, can be portrayed as either fully hero or villain. Human beings are complicated, and so too must their historical reckoning be. The shameful institution of slavery did exist in Texas, and no teacher of history should shy away from that.
At the same time, Texas is the extension of America’s founding, based on the principles of ordered liberty, self-government, and equality.
It was only a matter of time before the revisionists came for Texas and for the Alamo (indeed, they’ve made forays before). Foreseeing this, we at the Texas Public Policy Foundation have begun work on a film series, “Forging Texas,” a compelling look at the lives, causes and passion for freedom that drove Texas and the Texans to independence—and then to greatness.
Two episodes have been completed so far, covering the early days of the conflict (“Season of Revolution”) and Goliad (“Season of Defeat”); more are in the works. Our goal is to tell the story of Texas—without the revisionism that seeks to subvert the facts and substitute a woke narrative.
Why go to the effort? Because the story of the Texas Revolution is just as relevant in 2021 as it was in 1836. Time magazine, in urging us to “Forget the Alamo,” knows it, too.