bureaucracybusters

REMEMBERING THE ALAMO: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military on March 3, 2015 at 12:48 am

Americans “remember the Alamo”–but usually for the wrong reasons.

Some historians believe the battle should have never been fought.

The Alamo was not Thermopylae–a narrow mountain pass blocking the Persian march into ancient Greece.  Santa Anna could have simply bypassed it.

Mexican troops advancing on the Alamo

In fact, several of Santa Anna’s generals urged the Mexican dictator to do just that–leave a small guard to hold down the fort’s defenders and wipe out the undefended, widely-separated Texas settlements.

But pride held Santa Anna fast to the Alamo.  His brother-in-law, General Perfecto de Cos, had been forced to surrender the old mission to revolting Texans in December, 1835.  Santa Anna meant to redeem the fort–and his family honor–by force.

In almost every movie made about the Alamo, its two co-commanders, James Bowie and William Barret Travis, are portrayed as on the verge of all-out war–with each other.

James Bowie

William B. Travis

In John Wayn’e heavily fictionalized 1960 film, The Alamo, Bowie and Travis agree to fight a duel as soon as they’ve whipped the Mexicans besieging them.

In fact, the frictions between the two lasted only a short while.  Just before the siege, some of Bowie’s volunteers–a far larger group than the regular soldiers commanded by Travis–got drunk.  Travis ordered them jailed–and Bowie ordered his men to release them. Bowie then went on a roaring drunk.

The next day, a sober Bowie apologized to Travis and agreed they should share command.  This proved a wise decision, for just as the siege started, Bowie was felled by worsening illness–typhoid-pneumonia or tuberculosis.

In Wayne’s film, Bowie repeatedly leaves the Alamo to ambush unsuspecting Mexicans.

In reality, he stayed bed-ridden and lay close to death throughout the 13-day siege.

Most people believe the Texans intended to make a suicidal stand.

Not true. From the first day of the siege–February 23–almost to the last–March 6, 1836–messengers rode out of the Alamo seeking help. The defenders believed that if they could cram enough men into the three-acre former mission, they could hold Santa Anna at bay.

It’s widely believed that no reinforcements reached the Alamo.

Not so. On March 1, 32 men from Gonzalez–the only ones to answer Travis’ call–sneaked through the Mexican lines to enter the Alamo. Meanwhile, the largest Texan force lay at Fort Defiance in Goliad, 85 miles away.

This consisted of 500 men commanded by James Walker Fannin, a West Point dropout. Fannin was better-suited for the role of Hamlet than military commander. Upon receiving a plea of help from Travis, he set out in a half-hearted attempt to reach the mission.

But when a supply wagon broke down, he returned to Fort Defiance and sat out the rest of the siege.

After it became obvious that the Alamo would not be sufficiently reinforced, the Texans still refused to evacuate. “I’ll die before I run” might have been their official motto.

The Alamo garrison was fully prepared to confront the Mexican army.

False.

When the Mexicans suddenly arrived in San Antonio on the morning of February 23, 1836, they caught the Texans completely by surprise.

The previous night, they had been celebrating the birthday of George Washington. The Texans rushed headlong into the Alamo, hauling all the supplies they could hastily scrounge.

Santa Anna sent a courier under a flag of truce to the Alamo, demanding unconditional surrender.  In effect, the Texans were being given the choice of later execution. Travis replied with a shot from the fort’s biggest cannon, the 18-pounder.

Santa Anna ordered the hoisting of a blood-red flag and the opening of an artillery salvo.  The siege of the Alamo was on.

Many Americans believe that San Houston, who was elected general of the non-existent army of Texas, desperately tried to relieve the siege.

Not so.

At Washington-on-the-Brazos, 169 miles east of San Antonio, Texan delegates assembled to form a new government. When news reached the delegates that Travis desperately needed reinforcements, many of them wanted to rush to his defense.

Sam Houston

But Houston and others declared they must first declare Texas’ independence.  On March 2, 1836, they did just that. Houston spent a good deal of the time drunk.

Did Travis draw a line?

Easily the most famous Alamo story is that of “the line in the sand.” On the night of March 5–just prior to the final assault–there was a lull in the near-constant Mexican bombardment. Travis assembled his men and gave them a choice:

They could surrender and hope that Santa Anna would be merciful. They could try to escape. Or they could stay and fight.

With his sword, Travis drew a line in the dirt and invited those who would stay to cross over to him. The entire garrison did–except for two men.

One of these was bed-ridden James Bowie. He asked that his sick-bed be carried over to Travis.

The other was a veteran of the Napoleonic wars–Louis Rose.

REMEMBERING THE ALAMO: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In History, Military, Politics on March 2, 2015 at 11:08 am

On March 2, 1836–179 years ago today–Texas formally declared its independence from Mexico, of which it was then a province.

Sixty-one delegates took part in the convention held at Washington-on-the-Brazos. Their signed statement proclaimed that the Mexican government had “ceased to protect the lives, liberty, and property of the people, from whom its legitimate powers are derived.”

Meanwhile, 169 miles away, the siege of the Alamo–a crumbling former Spanish mission in the heart of San Antonio–had entered its ninth day.

The Alamo. The mission that became a fortress.  The fortress that has since become a shrine.

The Alamo Chapel

The combatants: 180 to 250 Texans (or “Texians,” as many of them preferred to be called) vs. 2,000 Mexican soldiers.

On the Texan side three names predominate: David Crockett, James Bowie and William Barret Travis. “The Holy Trinity,” as some historians ironically refer to them.

Crockett, at 49, was the most famous man in the Alamo. He had been a bear hunter, Indian fighter and Congressman. Rare among the men of his time, he sympathized with the Indian tribes he had helped subdue in the War of 1812.

David Crockett

He believed Congress should honor the treaties made with the former hostiles and opposed President Andrew Jackson’s effort to move the tribes further West.

Largely because of this, his constituents turned him out of office in November, 1835. He told them they could go to hell; he would go to Texas.

James Bowie, at 40, had been a slave trader with pirate Jean Lafitte and a land swindler. His greatest claim to fame lay in his skill as a knife-fighter.

James Bowie

This grew out of his participating in an 1827 duel on a sandbar in Natchez, Mississippi. Bowie was acting as a second to one of the duelists who had arranged the event.

After the two duelists exchanged pistol shots without injury, they called it a draw. But those who had come as their seconds had scores to settle among themselves–and decided to do so. A bloody melee erupted.

Bowie was shot in the hip and then impaled on a sword cane wielded by Major Norris Wright, a longtime enemy. Drawing a large butcher knife he wore at his belt, he gutted Wright, who died instantly.

The brawl became famous as the Sandbar Fight, and cemented Bowie’s reputation across the South as a deadly knife fighter.

William Barret Travis had been an attorney and militia member. Burdened by debts and pursued by creditors, he fled Alabama in 1831 to start over in Texas. Behind him he left a wife, son, and unborn daughter.

William Barret Travis

From the first, Travis burned to free Texas from Mexico and see it become a part of the United States.

In January, 1836, he was sent by the American provisional governor of Texas to San Antonio, to fortify the Alamo. He arrived there with a small party of regular soldiers and the title of lieutenant colonel in the state militia.

On the Mexican side, only one name matters: Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, president (i.e., absolute dictator) of Mexico. After backing first one general and would-be “president” after another, Santa Anna maneuvered himself into the office in 1833.

Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna

Texas was then legally a part of Mexico. Stephen F. Austin, “the father of Texas,” had received a grant from Spain–which ruled Mexico until 1821–to bring in 300 American families to settle there.

The Spaniards wanted to establish a buffer between themselves and warring Indian tribes like the Comanches.

These immigrations continued after Mexico threw off Spanish rule and obtained its independence.

But as Americans kept flooding into Texas, the character of its population changed, alarming its Mexican rulers.

The new arrivals did not see themselves as Mexican citizens but as transplanted Americans. They were largely Protestant, as opposed to the Catholic Mexicans. And many of them not only owned slaves but demanded the expansion of slavery–a practice illegal under Mexican law.

In October, 1835, fighting erupted between settlers and Mexican soldiers. In November, Mexican forces took shelter in the Alamo, which had been built in 1718 as a mission to convert Indians to Christianity. Since then it had been used as a fort–by Spanish and then Mexican troops.

Texans lay siege to the Alamo from October 16 to December 10, 1835. With his men exhausted, and facing certain defeat, General Perfecto de Cos, Santa Anna’s brother-in-law, surrendered. He gave his word to leave Texas and never take up arms again against its settlers.

Texans rejoiced. They believed they had won their “war” against Mexico.

But others knew better. One was Bowie. Another was Sam Houston, a former Indian fighter, Congressman and protégé of Andrew Jackson.

Still another was Santa Anna, who styled himself “The Napoleon of the West.”  In January, 1836, he set out from Mexico City at the head of an army totaling about 7,000.

He planned the 18th century version of a blitzkrieg, intending to arrive in Texas and take its “rebellious foreigners” by surprise.

His forced march proved costly in lives, but met his objective. He arrived in San Aotonio with several hundred soldiers on February 23, 1836.

The siege of the Alamo–the most famous event in Texas history–was about to begin.

REPUBLICANS: SLANDERING THE HEROES OF 9/11

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics on February 27, 2015 at 1:53 am

With their newfound majorities in both houses of Congress, Republicans are holding the budget of the Department of Homeland Security–and the safety of their fellow Americans–hostage.

Amidst all this turmoil, it’s easy to forget another Republican outrage that happened five years ago: The slander they cast on the patriotism of the tens of thousands of police, firefighters, construction workers and others who risked their lives to save their fellow Americans on 9/11.

The World Trade Center on September 11, 2001

This “gift” was sponsored by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) and eagerly supported by other Republicans in the House and Senate.

Rep. Cliff Stearns

The responders were informed that their names must be run through the FBI’s database of suspected terrorists. Otherwise, they would be denied treatment for their numerous, worsening ailments.

In 2010–nine years after the worst terrorist attack in American history–Congress passed the Democratically-sponsored James Zadroga 9/11 Health And Compensation Act.

The law was named for a New York City detective who died of a respiratory disease in 2006 after his contact with toxic chemicals at Ground Zero.

The law authorized $1.8 billion to be spent over five years to treat injuries of police, firefighters, emergency workers, construction and cleanup crews caused by exposure to toxic dust and debris at the site.

From the outset, Republicans bitterly opposed the legislation.  They argued that providing healthcare for ailing September 11 heroes would bankrupt the nation.

Of course, they hadn’t voiced such concerns when President George W. Bush needlessly launched the nation into a $1 trillion war against Iraq in 2003.

For Republicans, the heroes of 9/11 had become “welfare-seeking bums.”  If they couldn’t afford their own medical care, so what?

Republicans slandered the proposal as a new “entitlement program,” like Medicare.  They demanded that the responders return to Congress every year to make their case, claiming this would prevent fraud and waste.

“If this issue is so credible based on the results of September 11, we shouldn’t be afraid of going through the (budget) authorization process and fight for the spending bill,” said Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.).

Republicans forced Democrats to accept an amendment that deliberately cast a slur on the men and women who answered their country’s call in its supreme moment of agony. Only then was the legislation passed.

The amendment read: “No individual who is on the terrorist watch list maintained by the Department of Homeland Security shall qualify as a screening-eligible WTC survivor or a certified-eligible WTC survivor.

“Before determining any individual to be a screening-eligible WTC survivor…or certifying any individual as a certified eligible survivor….the Administrator, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, shall determine whether the individual is on such list.”

The amendment provoked outrage among non-politicians, Democrats and even some Republicans.  Among these:

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)  whose district encompassed Ground Zero, said it was “absurd” to consider that any of the 9/11 heroes would be terrorists.  He added that the screenings were a “waste of money.”
  • Rep. Peter King (R-NY) called the exercise “shameful” and “a waste of time,” adding: “It put a cloud over extraordinarily good people for no reason.”
  • “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart noted that the federal government didn’t run background checks on any other group of people receiving financial benefits. These included Social Security recipients, Medicare patients and even Wall Street bankers bailed out during the recession.

Dr. John Howard, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, advised doctors and hospital administrators to begin letting patients know before the new program took effect in July, 2011.

Specifically, patients seeking help under 9/11 treatment and monitoring programs were told that their

  • names
  • birthplaces
  • addresses
  • government ID numbers
  • and other personal data

would be provided to the FBI to prove they were not terrorists.

Firefighters rescuing victims at the World Trade Center

Howard’s instructions to medical providers included a sample letter to responders designed to minimize alarm:

“Although neither we nor [the Centers for Disease Control]/NIOSH anticipate the name of any individual in the current Programs will be on the list, CDC/NIOSH is expressly required by law to implement this particular requirement of the Act.

“Thank you for your understanding. We look forward to working with you and ensuring that you continue to receive uninterrupted services under the new WTC Health Program,” it concluded.

By August, 2011, the FBI had screened some 60,000 emergency responders to the attacks on the World Trade Center and had not uncovered any suspected terrorists. To date, no matchups have occurred between known terrorists and those seeking treatment.

Glen Kline, a former NYPD emergency services officer, best summed up the disgrace of these background checks: “This is absurd. It’s silly. It’s stupid. It’s asinine.  I mean, who are we even talking about–the undocumented workers who cleaned the office buildings?

“We know who all the cops, firefighters and construction workers were. They’re all documented.  Is the idea that a terrorist stayed to help clean up? And then stayed all these years to try and get benefits?”

Thus, self-righteous Right-wing legislators–who never lifted a beam from a trapped 9/11 survivor or inhaled toxic fumes that spewed from the crater that was once the World Trade Center–now stood in judgment over those who did.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,484 other followers

%d bloggers like this: