Monday, November 11, 2013


Excellent article.

This article was originally written for publication in the Alamo Journal, the official quarterly publication of the Alamo Society, of which the author is a member.

"Thermopylae had her messenger of defeat-the Alamo had none."
-Thomas Jefferson Green

THE TYRANT APPROACHED, an overpowering army at his command. Before him, a freedom-loving but fractious and disunited people feared for their lives and their homes. Deliberately, a small band of resolute defenders prepared to fight the invaders and stop them at the frontier. They chose the best defensive spot they could and sent for help. But the help never arrived, and the few cannot defy the many forever. Even strong positions have their weak points, and despite heroic efforts, the gallant defenders were ultimately surrounded and destroyed to the last man. (Or almost.) But their example inspired their countrymen to continue resistance, despite setbacks, and in the end a stunning victory was won. The autocratic ruler returned to his faraway capital, his mighty army humbled, and liberty (by the definitions of the day) was guaranteed for the poor but valiant citizen-soldiers and their land.

Isn't this a stirring story to every reader of the Alamo Journal? Yet it describes not the Texas Revolution, but events from twenty-five centuries ago-at the Pass of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans laid down their lives for Greece.

"Thermopylae had her messenger of defeat; the Alamo had none." How many Alamo enthusiasts around the world understand the meaning of this famous (if only half-true) epigram? Part of the reason why the appeal of the Alamo cuts across national boundaries is its universality. Most people can point to an "Alamo" in their own mythic or historic past. Images of valorous last stands appear again and again-sometimes these take the form of simple military disasters, such as the Little Bighorn, Isandhlwana, Teutoberg Forest, or the British retreat from Kabul in 1842. 

Others embody a nobler, self-sacrificial quality: Roland at Roncesvalles, the Swiss at St.-Jacob-en-Birs, the French Foreign Legion at Camerone, or even, in its own way, the story of the 47 Loyal Ronin from feudal Japan. The battle of Thermopylae presents a clear parallel to the saga of Travis and his Texians, a comparison that was obvious immediately to observers in 1836, who dubbed the Alamo "America's Thermopylae." It is not surprising that when Stephen Harrigan was immersing himself in research for The Gates of the Alamo, one of the books he consulted for some perspective on how to capture the feel of a struggle against all odds was Steven Pressfield's vivid (but woefully inferior) novel Gates of Fire, the most recent recasting of the Thermopylae legend. Those who have "crossed the line" of the Alamo Society will recognize many familiar elements in the tale told below.

The King with half the East at heel is marched from lands of morning;
Their fighters drink the rivers up, their shafts benight the air.
And he that stands will die for nought, and home there's no returning.
The Spartans on the sea-wet rock sat down and combed their hair.

-A.E. Housman, from "The Oracles"

At the beginning of the fifth century B.C., the Empire of the Medes and Persians welded together with blood and iron by Cyrus the Great scarcely two generations before was the most powerful state in the Mediterranean world.

More @ U Texas

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