Almost 200 [sic] years after the battle which killed 200 [sic] Americans at an old Spanish church outside San Antonio, the essential argument remains the same: were these settlers fighting for their “freedom” against the oppression of a Mexican tyrant, Antonio López de Santa Anna, or were they mostly interested in preserving the slavery recently independent Mexico opposed, but [which the settlers] considered essential [sic] for the success of their burgeoning cotton farms? Burrough, Tomlinson[,] and Stanford leave no doubt [italics mine] about the correct answer. Slavery.
–The Guardian, August 30, ‘21
Praise for Forget the Alamo (2021), a celebrated revisionist history which, according to The Guardian, has laid to rest once and for all, with no room for further discussion, an argument of almost two centuries’ duration! Well, thank goodness, I say.
Nevertheless, nagging questions remain. Is the “essential argument” about the Alamo really such an antique, or is it freshly sprung from the collective conscience of the Third Millennium? Were the defenders of the Alamo really such moral paupers that they would sell their lives violently and irretrievably for nothing more than cheap plantation labor–Would you, dear reader?–or is it possible they chose to fight and die for some higher purpose? Is it conceivable that soft, comfortable, well-fed scholars whose entire lives have been spent in school–is it conceivable such persons are suddenly able to remove all doubt about the motives of men–white, black, red, or brown–who lived hard lives no contemporary person can imagine?
Forget the Alamo is a landmark document of The Woke, a populist movement of seemingly boundless authority whose acolytes seek Righteous Truth and, like Christopher Columbus, believe they have discovered a New World. However, and also like Columbus, they are mistaken, for many persons less objectionable were there long before they arrived. In any event, one quality–their first principle, in fact–renders The Woke unique: i.e., their universal condemnation of persons from the past who, through no fault of their own, were born free and white. The Woke have decided, all by themselves, that Western Civilization–from the Vikings to just yesterday–is irredeemably tainted by oppression, suppression, deception, cruelty, corruption, and lies promulgated by the white race. At best, this assumption is a grave discourtesy; at worst, it slanders people whom The Woke never met, who are conveniently dead and thus no longer around to speak for themselves.
Ironically, because The Woke have little chance–and less desire–to participate in a cause that demands physical courage and sacrifice, they have raised an Alamo of their own, a bastion of morality whence double-shotted rhetoric may be fired into the national conscience. Their Alamo is unique: being virtual, no one is able to assault it! Ambrose Bierce might have anticipated The Woke Movement when he included this definition in The Devil’s Dictionary:
Discussion, n. A method of confirming others in their errors.
Theirs is an egregious fallacy. It is Presentism, a tendency by which citizens of a distant and far different time are judged in the light of contemporary morality–judged by, in G.K. Chesterton’s words, “the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.”
For our purpose here, let us limit Chesterton’s “small and arrogant oligarchy” to, first, The Woke themselves, and second, those whom they have “awakened.” To the latter, we might well apply a cliched (but hard to improve on) simile. They are like sheep who must have a shepherd to protect them from the wolf. Tragically, shepherd and wolf are often one and the same: an entity who has understood since the days of Eden that, when it comes to control, nothing works like fear and guilt. The Great Assholes of History (including, in our time, Putin and Trump) rallied their flocks with fear–of Jews, of negroes, of Communists or Capitalists, of Armenians, of Catholics or Protestants or Democrats, what have you. The Woke, however, choose to invoke the specter of guilt. The Woke speak with the iteration of the sadistic nun in Game of Thrones–“Shame! Shame! Shame!”–and white people everywhere respond, “But what are we guilty of?”
Well, there’s Texas Independence for one, and slavery, and Jim Crow, and the Confederacy–and how about old Christopher Columbus? The Italian navigator, bold and ambitious and under Spanish patronage, set out in three primitive caravels in the belief that, by sailing west, he would discover the East. His primary motive was to open the Orient’s riches to European trade; at the same time, he would illuminate blackened pagan souls with the light of Christianity. As everyone knows, Columbus did not reach the Orient–too much geography was in the way; instead, he stumbled upon something almost as good: a world new to him, filled with possibilities for exploitation and populated by heathens ripe for conversion. Columbus and those who came after took advantage of the opportunity and set about exploiting and converting with the brutality common to Renaissance life. I was not around in the Renaissance, nor do I know a single person who was. I’ve never been rich, have exploited no one, and converting the heathen has never engaged my interest. Yet for me, for you, for the white boy pumping gas at the Shell station, The Woke have a stern admonition: For this, for the cruelty and excesses of European adventurers, are you guilty. White people–how dare you continue to celebrate as heroic, as consequential, this man Columbus! Raze his monuments! Erase Columbus Day from the calendar! Teach your children the Truth: Columbus was a piece of shit, and you all white motherfuckers are responsible! Wake! Wake to the shame!
I decline to feel responsible for Christopher Columbus, and I hope you do as well. Meanwhile, “Who’s Columbus?” asks the white boy at the Shell station.
* * * * *
Though secular in intention, The Woke manifesto gives off a strong whiff of Calvinism. The concept of Original Sin–“In Adam’s fall, we sinned all”–is revised and updated so that contemporary white people must answer not only for the disobedience of Adam and Eve, but for the collective misdeeds of their ancestors. No other ethnic group has been thus burdened, nor has any such burden been so joyfully embraced. As it turns out, The Awakened are happy to dismantle their own culture, ignoring its virtues while simultaneously ignoring the vices of all the others. The physical vandalism and destruction of monuments is an expression of a spiritual zeal not only self-indulgent, but perfectly safe. In marked contrast to those whom they condemn, The Woke make no sacrifice, face no peril, suffer no hardship. Like Medieval flagellants (but absent the pain and gore), The Woke and The Awakened revel in guilt, robe themselves in the sins of others, and spew curses on their fellows–the white ones, anyhow. The result, for them, is a warm sense of moral superiority and, even better, the happy knowledge that a culture’s entire narrative is crumbling under their hands. They do not care to create, nor do they build; they only destroy. This is their sole accomplishment and will be their only legacy.
I have said The Woke frame their judgments from Presentism, a fallacy that is itself framed from ignorance–which, I hasten to add, is not to be equated with stupidity. The latter is a mental vacuum common among those who, for whatever reason, cannot or do not wish to think, who view the world without complexity as it presents itself in the moment. Ignorance, on the other hand, is a conscious choice by persons who refuse not to be stupid. The Woke demonstrate ignorance in two ways. First, they seem to have no understanding of the ambiguities of history; second, they apparently know very little about its realities. Taken together, these deficiencies should disqualify The Woke from judgment. Instead, they form the cornerstone of the movement.
* * * * *
The principle of ambiguity, as I use it here, is hardly complex–anyone not a psychopath should find it already familiar. It begins with an unassailable premise: everybody you know, including yourself, is totally fucked up. That goes for your mother, your grandma, your best pal, the lover whom you believe hung the moon and the stars–everybody. This hard truth, once accepted–and accept it we must, soon or late–proves useful as we ponder why the world itself is so . . . well, you know.
A useful truth no doubt, but one that harbors a dangerous possibility. Should we allow it sole governance in our conduct toward others, no human relationship could endure. Indeed, it is unlikely we could endure even ourselves. Lucky for us, this first premise is only half an equation, made complete by a second equally unassailable: we have the innate, perhaps evolutionary, ability to acknowledge universal human frailty and at the same time continue to love and admire, or at least like, or at least tolerate others–and ourselves–in spite of it. Not everyone, of course, gets a free pass. Only a fool would ignore evil or dismiss injustice or excuse one whose only guide is a malignant nature. Every person is weighed in the balances, and some, in the end, deserve neither forgiveness nor mercy. In my view, however, the Total Depravity of Man, perhaps the most significant Calvinist doctrine, is, like Original Sin from which it derives, a wholly artificial concept contrary to reason, contrary to evidence, and offensive to every decent impulse of the human heart. To believe without exception that a man’s worth cannot transcend his inevitable folly is nothing less than nihilism and denies the value and purpose of existence itself.
Nevertheless, it is through the lens of Total Depravity that The Woke view history. They are merciless in their appraisal of historic figures great and small. Should a man be brought to judgment before them, his conduct in life, however honorable, is dismissed as irrelevant. In the court of The Woke, higher virtues are inadmissible evidence, and nobody gets a free pass.
Unless, of course, he is a man like George Floyd.
The Woke represent Floyd’s brutal, needless murder by Minneapolis police as emblematic of the abuse of power and authority; in this, at least, they are correct.. Floyd was a felon, a dope-head, and a thief–a troubled soul struggling to overcome his demons. He needed help, but what he got was death at the hands of an officer sworn to serve and protect everybody. However, extensive media coverage elevated Floyd above the myriads who have suffered a similar fate and made of him a symbol which The Woke were quick to seize upon for their own purposes. Now they are able to demand, and demand we accept, that men who acted in the past be replaced in our admiration by persons who are acted upon. And while the Woke ignore the egregious flaws and ambiguities surrounding a man like Floyd, they refuse to tolerate the same qualities in those they put on trial and condemn to oblivion. Like Columbus. Like General Lee and Walt Whitman. Like the defenders of the Alamo.
Hard evidence has revealed William Travis to be a cad of the first order. James Bowie, a cold killer, has always been difficult to romanticize: the knife he designed was not meant for whittling, but to cleave an opponent from stem to rudder-post. David Crockett was neither cad nor killer, but a genuine legend in his own time; his principle flaws seem to have been political ambition and his role in the “heroic Anglo narrative.” These three, and the 180-odd men who died with them, were not mythic heroes, nor were they models of Christian virtue–this, no one can deny. Still, they were possessed of humanity: like all men, like George Floyd, their souls were of light and darkness, fraught with ambiguity.
Here, however, the similarity ends. The Alamo’s defenders were nothing like us; in fact, I would argue they have no parallel in modern culture. Like the principle of ambiguity, this is an element of history The Woke cannot seem to grasp as they hold men to account and judge them by a moral standard that did not even exist in their time.
* * * * *
I alluded above to “citizens of a distant and far different time.” Here we will take a glance at how distant and how different their time actually was.
Persons living in the present are privileged to view the past as an unfolding series of complex and interrelated events. Patterns emerge that are obvious to us, but were invisible to those who took part in making them, just as we are unaware of the shape our own time will take in the view of those who come after us. And while we can gather data and facts and discern cultural shifts–while we can analyze and interpret events in a larger context–there is one thing we cannot do: we cannot now, nor will we ever, be able to enter or even begin to understand the minds of those who acted out their parts in a vanished time. A fundamental rule of science states that a thing observed is necessarily changed by the very act of observing. It is impossible, no matter how hostile or sympathetic we may be, to look upon persons of the past without interference from our own consciousness.
The defenders of the Alamo can only be viewed in the context of the 1830s, and thus are no more comprehensible to us than inhabitants of Pluto. It is easy to condemn their morality until we reflect that it was the product of their world, not this one. The same is true for any period in history, including that within living memory.
Medical science began to emerge from the Medieval around the time of the Great War. In all the long ages prior, a person who lived into adulthood was possessed of a constitution strong enough to survive; such a person, of whatever color, was an exception. In a moment, we will touch on some of the difficulties his survival brought down upon him, but here let us try an illustrative experiment. Choose a night in deep winter when the rain has turned to sleet, and the ground is covered in ice. After the temperature falls below freezing, take off your shoes and socks. No coat or thermal underwear allowed: only pants, a shirt, a hat, and a single blanket over your shoulders. Now walk out into your yard and see what happens.
If you can stand the pain more than five minutes, you are a better man than I. Ten minutes, and you are a masochist. Once back in your warm house, ponder this: it is impossible–impossible–for a barefoot (or rag-shod) human being, clad only in a thin coat and trousers and hat, to survive for weeks in temperatures below freezing. Yet, time and again throughout history, we find persons doing precisely the impossible!
As a specific example, consider the Confederate Army of Tennessee during their siege of Nashville in December, 1864. Many of the men were without shoes. Food was scarce. Firewood was scarce. They had few tents and few blankets; if a man had an overcoat, it was likely taken from a Federal corpse back in Franklin. Every morning, men would be found frozen to death. We can understand that. We are astonished the whole rebel army did not freeze to death!
How did they endure under those circumstances? The customary answer, “Well, they were tougher than we are,” is insufficient. It is too easy, glosses over too much, and fails to take into account the realities of human limitation and the demonstrable nature of Impossibility. What answer, then, can we offer in its place? Devotion to cause and country, however fervent, cannot overcome physical impossibility. Neither can the will to live, nor hatred of an enemy, nor love for one’s comrades, nor the memory of folks at home. We may salute the indomitability of the Spirit, but in the end, we must face an incontrovertible fact: the human body, unprotected against extreme cold, ceases to function. The heart stops. Death comes. There is simply no alternative.
Except . . . there was an alternative. Soldiers of the Army of Tennessee first endured the impossible, then gave a good account of themselves in the battle of Nashville. In headlong retreat–physically and emotionally exhausted, terrified, freezing, starving, debilitated–the majority not only continued to endure the impossible, but in many cases did so on their own initiative, without the support of comrades or the presence of any military discipline. They walked all the way to Mississippi, and when they stopped, they were still an army and still dangerous–individually dangerous and ready to fight again.
(In one personal account, published in Confederate Veteran magazine in the 1880s, the author tells of his experiences on the retreat from Nashville. These included wading the Harpeth River up to his armpits and emerging soaking wet on the far bank–and this at night under the same conditions as our experiment. His comment? “I walked fast to keep from freezing.”)
How did they do it? The answer is unlikely to be found, for it lies in a realm of human nature forever beyond our reach. So, too, is the answer to a parallel question: Why did they do it? To ensure the spread of slavery into the territories? To confirm white superiority? To keep the niggers in their place? These are among the responses The Woke might offer as they drive their kids to soccer practice.
When the noise, the frenzy, the fever of postmodern life grows unbearable, The Woke also drive their kids, and themselves, to therapy. When the darkness comes down, and that old anvil settles on the heart, a variety of nostrums–Paxil, Zoloft, Cymbalta–are on hand to ease the pain. Who is not thankful? The Woke are thankful, surely, but they forget that those whom they condemn had no recourse from a woeful mind, a troubled soul.
I have always believed that, for most of human history, people hovered on the brink of madness–and why not? Little in their world was soft–persons white and black and brown, rich and poor, were alike cold in winter, hot in summer, tormented by insects, in constant pain from headaches, toothaches, arthritis, pleurisy, melancholia, and for these no help but willow twigs and whiskey. They were surrounded by death in violent encounters and in their quotidian lives. The prick of a thorn might easily lead to blood poisoning; a woman had little chance of surviving childbirth, and the infant would likely die before it could walk. The specter of sickness–yellow fever, scarlet fever, cholera, consumption–lurked always in their minds, and suicide was a common escape for people who could no longer bear the sorrow or the fear. Nighttime was a stygian dark, an abyss of silence that tortured the imagination. By light of day, they broke their backs at labor and grew old before they ought. They lived at the mercy of horses, mules, milk cows, the weather, wood stoves, fires, spoiled food–and on the frontier, what they ate, they had to grow or kill for themselves. Their food, heavily salted and overcooked, was empty of vitamins and short on calories, and there was rarely enough of it. On the frontier, people were closer to the natural world, more in tune with its rhythms and moods, than anyone alive today, and they were not immune to its beauty. Yet, for them, the natural world was no Garden of Eden; it was hostile and threatening, and in every way their adversary.
We, who dwell in such ease and comfort, must allow those people their own lives and condemn, as outlined above, only those who deserve it.
Thus we return to the men in the Alamo. What they knew and how they perceived the world is unavailable to us. How they actually viewed slavery and nation-building and Negroes and Mexicans and Indians is forever beyond our grasp. We can only examine the facts, among which is this: the defenders of the Alamo fought with the certain knowledge that their lives would be the price for something they believed in. We cannot know how they saw their sacrifice: that belongs to them alone. They were deeply flawed, but for me–and I hope for you–they remain brave and honorable. They gave us Texas, and men like them gave us America for better or for worse.
* * * * *
I have said–and I believe it true–that The Woke have no interest in discussion. I will add here that The Woke are not only dismissive of, but immune to, criticism. They are at the helm, and whatever voices might be raised in opposition–including my own–will go unheard by them. How and why that happened is beyond the scope of this brief exercise. Instead, and despite the futility, I will conclude with a few paragraphs entitled simply,
A Message for the Woke.
The cruelties and inequities of the human experience are nothing new to historians who, since at least the 1960s, have struggled to temper romance with reality. Nevertheless, you believe–or behave as if you do–that you are the very first to be woke (awakened?) to the realization that some people got left out of the American story. Your attitude might have been forgiven–are we not supposed to challenge the status quo?–had you striven honorably to recognize voices heretofore silenced and to illuminate inequalities (the list is long) heretofore ignored. Such an approach might have healed old wounds and made possible a genuine reconciliation among antagonists.
Instead, you have embarked on a path that leads only to greater antagonism and separation. On behalf of minorities you cannot possibly understand, you have chosen to erase the memory of people you cannot possibly understand, who lived in a time you cannot possibly understand–all this to spite others whose view you do not wish to understand. You have shattered the old Metanarrative into a swarming pool of micronarratives that may themselves be divided into fragments, each one jealous of the rest, each one insisting on its true place as the one and only axle of the universe–and this in the name of Equitas.
Your belligerent righteousness has won the day. Soon, no one may point to an ancestor with pride, nor to any place where his kinsmen acted bravely and well. You will teach your children to be ashamed of whence they came, and pretty soon they’ll stop caring, for you will teach them that as well. The old stories will be banished and in time forgotten, and you will have no stories of your own, for, in the world you are creating, it is unlikely you will ever do anything worth telling about. Then one day, after all the monuments are pulled down, all the buildings and towns and landmarks renamed, all the long narrative of humanity purged–on that day you will look down from your moral Gibraltar and discover that you yourselves are forgotten. Or, if your movement is remembered at all, it will be as a pale, pathetic, humorless blur whose cowardice was masked as virtue, whose pandering was disguised as sympathy. You have rung the Passing Bell for others; you do not see that it tolls for thee as well.
This Message for the Woke is delivered from the ramparts of the Alamo, the Rebel trenches at Petersburg, the field of Union dead on Marye’s Heights. I speak for Jeff Davis at Monterey and Pat Cleburne musing in St. John’s churchyard; for all the unknown dead who gave up their lives for causes they believed in–and for my pals Neumeyer and Rudisill, killed in Vietnam, and for my Old Man Charlie Bahr and my daddy Gene Hereford and my Uncle Bill Gleaton who helped whip the Axis in World War II, and for my Great Grandaddy Josiah Hereford who fought in every battle of the Army of Northern Virginia, and finally from my own once-upon-a-time self, crouched on the stern sheet of a landing craft in the Tonkin Gulf. For these and for myself I speak, and for the myriads who had the great good fortune to live out their lives before you came along.
The Mean Summer of ‘22
 Actually, I have yet to see enlightened comment on the Vikings–but they were mostly white, Nordic even, so their time is coming.
 For the nature of Presentism, I am indebted to an old friend, the historian Michael Bradley. Another old friend, Frank Walker, introduced me to Chesterton long years ago.
 By this means, we excuse the reasonably intellectual and the myriads with more to worry about than the historical canon.
 This phrase is not original to me–a Woke Female of my acquaintance once used it in a media posting. Columbus as a piece of shit? A marvel of reductivism to stun the intellect!
 Presumably white themselves if illustrated Bibles are to be trusted. And The Almighty too, and Jesus and Mary and Joseph–the whole crowd save poor old Gaspar the Moor, who was no doubt oppressed and forbidden to vote.
 I challenge the reader to assemble, from all the resources of the language, a more succinct phrase to identify this fundamental human quality.
 I am aware of no woman of any class or color who has fallen under the disapprobation of The Woke–a curious omission in a movement–indeed, a generation–hyper-sensitive to gender equality.
 We are often told that God gives us no burden greater than we can bear, but, Believer, consider this: Your husband left weeks ago, and you can no longer hope he will return. Snow sifts through the chinks in the cabin, and the weight of it will collapse the roof pretty soon. You can’t remember how long it’s been since your child died; she is turning black, her eyes are glazed, and she is beginning to smell, but still you clasp her to your breast–you simply cannot let her go. The wood-box and pantry are long since empty. Every night, more and more wolves come to snuffle and scratch at the door, and it’s only a matter of time before the Kiowa or Comanche find you. Now, in a felt-lined case lies your husband’s Dragoon pistol. You take it out, see that it is loaded and primed as he taught you. What do you say to God now? Do you pray for His help, His intervention, His protection? Do you pray for a miracle? No. As you cock the pistol–it’s hard, for the spring is strong–and press its cold muzzle to your temple, you pray only that it will work. This was a reality of life, once upon a time.
 An instructive example is Evan S. Connell’s Son of the Morning Star (1984). While his titular subject is George Armstrong Custer, and the central event the Little Bighorn fight, Connell presents both in the wider context of the Nineteenth Century. I think no better demonstration of historical ambiguity can be found in the language.