This week Ozzy Osbourne will tape a History Channel show in San Antonio where he will apologize for urinating on the Alamo Cenotaph in 1982. But why apologize?
Phil Collins, the former drummer with Genesis who went on to be one of the biggest pop stars of the 1980s (“In The Air Tonight,” “Invisible Touch”) was in San Antonio on June 26, 2014 for a press conference at the Alamo. Collins announced that he was donating his vast collection of artifacts related to the 1836 Battle of the Alamo to the museum which sits on the Alamo grounds, just up the street from San Antonio’s famed Riverwalk.
Collins, who traces his Texas obsession to recreating the Battle of the Alamo with figurines as a kid in his English backyard, has been visiting the site periodically since 1973. He has written a book, The Alamo and Beyond, which is a coffee-table tome with photos and essays he’s written about each of the two hundred items in the collection. Collins has also written a forward to a book on music about the Alamo.
Collins claims he may have actually been at the Battle of the Alamo 178 years ago. Perhaps it’s that psychic backstory which causes him to speak, ad nauseum, about only the details of the 1836 battle in which Mexican troops annihilated a force of two hundred men of the Republic of Texas army. Yet Collins says he supports a full interpretation of the Alamo’s entire history. So let’s go there.
The Mexican troops who attacked the Alamo are always described in the history books as the aggressors, so the first thing to clarify is that the Alamo was in Mexico. The so-called “Texians” who were in the fort representing the Republic of Texas were part of an attempt by U.S. slave states to expand the scope of slavery westward.
The Republic of Texas was an outgrowth of the colony founded under the leadership of Stephen F. Austin which brought slavery onto Mexican soil in 1821 (today Austin has a university named after him). In 1825, twenty five per cent of the 1,800 people in Austin’s colony were slaves and by 1836 there were 5,000 slaves in Texas. James S. Mayfield, Secretary of State for the Republic of Texas, said that “the true policy and prosperity of this country [Texas] depends on the maintenance of slavery.”
Toward that end, during the siege of the Alamo, delegates met at a Republic of Texas constitutional convention in Washington-on-the-Brazos. The Alamo defenders fought and died for that constitution, which declared in Sections 6, 9 and 10:
“All free white persons who emigrate to the republic…shall be entitled to all the privileges of citizenship.’
“All persons of color who were slaves for life previous to their emigration to Texas, and who are now held in bondage, shall remain in the like state of servitude… Congress (of Texas) shall pass no laws to prohibit emigrants from the United State of America from bringing their slaves into the Republic with them…nor shall Congress have the power to emancipate slaves; nor shall any slaveholder be allowed to emancipate his or her slave or slaves…no free person of African descent either in whole or in part shall be permitted to reside permanently in the Republic without the consent of Congress.”
Yet Phil Collins was pleased as planter’s punch to be inducted as an honorary member of the Sons of the Republic of Texas in 2008. He said that he was inspired by “The idea of these men and women, your ancestors, having a choice and staying to fight for what they believed to be just and right.”
Collins’ words would have been more appropriate if they had been addressed to the descendants of the Mexican troops who were resisting the slavers at the Alamo. Early in the nineteenth century slavery was abolished in Mexico and fugitive slaves from Texas or any other place were welcomed.
One of Phil Collins’ Alamo heroes is Jim Bowie, famed for the development of a long-bladed knife which became known as the “Bowie knife.” Less well-known is that shortly after the War of 1812, Bowie went into business as a slave trader and was a partner in a Louisiana sugar plantation. Bowie later moved to Texas where he was a leader of one of the most extreme group of expansionists.
The fever dreams of the Texians didn’t die at the Alamo. On March 1, 1837 the United States formally recognized the Republic of Texas, which joined the U.S. as a slave state in 1845. This was just in time to be a key part of the Mexican-American War, which resulted in the annexation of one third of Mexico’s territory. In 1861, Texas was the seventh state to secede and join the Confederacy.
In Phil Collins’ native England, hundreds of warships and hundreds of thousands of guns were manufactured for the Confederate Army. According to writer David Keys, this lengthened the Civil War by two years at a cost of 400,000 American lives. Only 183 men died at the Alamo. Phil Collins never mentions the disparity. Instead he says “You know, I’ve never been to Gettysburg. But we know what happened there, and you go to pay respects.” In other words, there were no real issues in the Civil War. It was more like a football game where some fans root for the South, some for the North.
The war between Mexico and Texas-based reactionaries continues today. Phil Collins’ host at the San Antonio press conference was his friend Jerry Patterson, the outgoing pro-fracking Texas Land Commissioner who finished last in the 2014 Republican lieutenant governor primary despite the endorsement of Ron Paul. In that campaign, Patterson’s immigration platform was: No amnesty, militarization of the border, and a guest worker program to provide business with cheap labor.
Decades worth of demeaning stereotypes of Mexicans have helped to convince a section of the public to support such measures. For example, the 1983 hit song “Illegal Alien” by Genesis, co-written by Phil Collins. The song’s singer (Collins) describes how his sister is willing to grant sexual favors to border guards in order to secure safe crossing for her brother. This is played for yucks, even though the reality of women on the border is an ongoing wave of rapes and murders. In the song’s video, Collins and the rest of the band portray themselves as lazy, drunken Mexicans.
This ties in neatly with the way that those inseparable twins, the Alamo and the Confederacy, continue to get good press in America. For instance, a July press conference featuring South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier reflected the same politics as Phil Collins’ press conference at the Alamo. South Carolina opens its 2014 season at home against Texas A&M, whom the Gamecocks have never played before. The winner will get a trophy named after South Carolina native and Alamo defender James Bonham.
“I’m sure Bonham did some good things,” Spurrier said. What might those be? James Bonham was the older brother of Milledge Luke Bonham, a brigadier general in the Confederate Army who served as Governor of South Carolina from 1862 to 1864. Earlier, the elder Bonham served as an aide to Governor James Hamilton Jr. during the Nullification Crisis of 1832, a direct precursor to Southern secession. It’s no surprise that James Bonham died fighting for slavery at the Alamo.
Conditioned by everyone from John Wayne to Phil Collins, by everything from movies to children’s books to the constant hype about the state of Texas, 2.5 million tourists visit the Alamo every year. They have no idea what it represents. Republican Governor Rick Perry knows, which in 2012 led him to endorse a petition drive calling for the secession of Texas from the Union, the result of which would be the end of any lingering protections for women, children, immigrants, and workers. The petition generated much boastful talk about states rights and living as an island in North America. How long could people live on such an island? Texas already ranks last in health care services. Yet 125,000 Texans saw fit to sign the petition. Phil’s friend Jerry Patterson opposed secession, saying it would be better instead to expel New York, California, Connecticut, and Massachusetts from the United States.
Such clown politics continue to defile the American body politic while providing useful cover for the Democrats, who have nothing better to offer in Texas or anywhere else. In the background, Phil Collins sits at his drum kit, counting off the beat and playing out of time.
This article originally appeared in the print issue of CounterPunch magazine.