An Interview with Dr. David Crockett

“It is a complicated history, but the values that it has become soaked in, in terms of how the culture perceives it, I think are certainly worthy values to try to emulate.”

Do you think it’s important to remember the Battle of the Alamo?

Yeah, I mean, it’s important on a variety of levels. It’s important because we should remember our history. It’s important for Texans for sure to learn their history because it’s obviously a major event in the state’s history. You know, why we are what we are today. So, in that sense, there’s a lot of mythology about the Alamo. And the fact that there’s mythology about it, or the fact that people have certain perceptions of it in terms of why you would remember it: courage, valor, self-sacrifice, stuff like that. Even if history is more complicated, the general understanding of what happened serves the purposes of civic virtue and binding citizens together with some common understanding of our heritage. It is a complicated history, but the values that it has become soaked in, in terms of how the culture perceives it, I think are certainly worthy values to try to emulate.

How do you feel about the restoration plan for the Alamo?

I notice that Proposition Seven on the Republican ballot has something to do with preserving the Alamo as it is with no changes, which I think is nuts. It’s crazy. And why this becomes a liberal-conservative issue just boggles my mind. It’s this testament to how everything becomes tainted by these partisan perceptions. 

So, I will admit, I like going to battlefields. I have an interest in military history. And when I go to a battlefield, I like it when the battlefield is as close to what it was like back then as possible. 

I have done numerous tours of the Alamo with friends and family members. I took Charles Krauthammer on a tour of the Alamo. I took Milo Yiannopoulos on a tour of the Alamo. I took Chip Roy on a tour of the Alamo. So, every once in a while someone comes here and Crockett’s the guy to take him on a tour of the Alamo. And I always have to explain stuff to them because when you go down there, it’s rather underwhelming. People who know it and love it, of course, wouldn’t say that. But if you’re driving by there as an out of town visitor and you see this adobe fixture, you think ‘So, okay, it all happened in that building?’ 

Virtually nothing happened in that building! People just have a completely disoriented sense of what happened, the space involved, the challenge for the defenders… Just facts of the battle itself. 

If I had my way, I would remove the federal buildings on the north side, the buildings on the left side, I’d move that cenotaph and try to recreate the walls as close as we can. Now, I can’t do that. We’re not going to destroy the federal buildings. And I’m not saying we should get rid of the buildings on the west side. I think we should get rid of the obscene businesses that are there, because it taints what should be an important battlefield. So, I’d give them a lot of money to move somewhere else and whether you destroy the buildings and do something else or preserve the buildings and make it a museum—there are all sorts of things you can do—but I have no problem with major renovations. 

By the time we have the bicentennial of the battle of the Alamo in 2036, people will be down there and they’ll see how big this Alamo plaza was and how impossible it was for 200 people with single-shot flint locks to defend themselves against 5,000 trained Mexican soldiers. And you’d have sensible stuff in that area to try to orient people, instead of trying to explain ‘Oh, where this road is is this thing, and that little bit over there is where the cannon was.’ I don’t mind doing that because it’s kind of fun to orient people. It just becomes underwhelming for a lot of visitors. 

There’s nothing about the businesses across the street that are sacred. The cenotaph is fine, but there’s nothing sacred about the location. It’s not where they burned all the bodies, and it’s not a tomb or where any remains are kept. So, if you move it 500 feet down outside the Alamo grounds as a sort of entryway to the Alamo, I think that’s perfectly fine. 

Get that plaza back where people can walk up there and realize, ‘Oh, this is where the walls were, there would have been a well right here’ and things like that. So you can have all sorts of signs and stuff to educate people about what was going on. 

I actually am a big fan of the plan. Now, if it becomes politicized in stupid politically correct ways, then I would probably be annoyed. My father thinks that nothing should be done and he doesn’t want anything other than the Battle of the Alamo to be represented there. I have no problem with the history of the Alamo as a mission being depicted, everything from when it was founded in the 1700s up through the Battle of the Alamo to the fight to preserve the Alamo structure that took place at the turn of the 20th century. So, there are all sorts of ways you can do that without taking away from what happened on March the 6th, 1836. I am actually not opposed to lots of radical work being done. I’m kind of passionate about it.

Now, that all seems long-term. Is there anything you think should be done right now for the grounds of the Alamo to preserve it and educate people on the history?

They’ve done a little bit of that. So along the long barracks they have these little steel dioramas that depict what the Alamo looked like at different phases. So that kind of thing is nice and educational. They have those pictographs that give you a vision of what the Alamo would have looked like in 1836 if you were standing right there. That kind of stuff they have spread out in different locations, so that’s a start. 

Until you actually make the move to do something with the plaza itself, move the cenotaph and get the hucksters off of there, I guess I would have no problem with regrading the whole property to make sure that there aren’t steps there. So if that means lowering the whole property a few inches that’s fine. If we stop vehicular traffic, I have no problem with that. I’m a little bit agnostic about exactly what should be done. I’m willing to be briefed on that. But I do think that lots of interesting things could be done without ruining anything. 

I mean, the cenotaph has been there since the 1930’s, so I guess we had no cenotaph for a hundred years. And it’s not like bad things happened because of it. The idea that there’s something holy and sacred and untouchable about these things, I think, is just silly. I have never been to Gettysburg, but my understanding is that the Gettysburg Battlefield is really, really good on this idea. You go there and you see what it looked like in 1863. So, I look forward to going to Gettysburg someday. But that’s the kind of thing I like. 

You know, I went to Verdun when I was in Germany. We went to the battlefield at Hastings and Bannockburn when I was up in Scotland. I like seeing the land and walking the land where these things happen. It’s very difficult to do that without any sense of understanding unless you have someone like me saying, ‘See the Ripley’s? Believe it or not, that’s where Travis’ headquarters was.’

So, there are other things like the Woolworth Building down there on the corner is where they had some Civil Rights sit-ins back in the day. I have no problem keeping that structure there as part of the larger history of Alamo Plaza and telling that story too. It’s a good thing.”

You mentioned the politicization of the restoration plan. Can you say a bit more about the politicization of the Alamo’s history?

I don’t know where it started, but I suspect what has happened is that people in the state who are conservative distrust people they believe are liberal, for obvious reasons. Especially as polarization gets worse, we cease to think of our partisan opponent as our opponents and instead see them as our enemy. They’re bad, they’re probably morally bad or even evil. We think what they want to do is also bad. 

The fact that mayors in San Antonio have typically been center-left—certainly Ron Nirenburg is—means that conservatives in the city are predisposed to distrusting anything that comes out of that group of people. And so, that taints anything that’s recommended. 

So people see elites working on an Alamo project to do some big things down there, and they think, ‘You’re moving the cenotaph because you don’t want to recognize the sacrifice of Texans. And you think that all white males are imperialistic, just the patriarchy, and all that kind of stuff. And they’re white-washing history and trying to make it more politically correct by having less of a focus on Jefferson and more of a focus on Cesar Chavez.’ You know, that kind of stuff. 

Some people have interpreted these things because it comes from political leaders. Even though the mayorship in San Antonio is not a partisan position—they don’t run as Democrats and Republicans. But everyone knows that Ron Nirenberg is a Democrat. And so, they simply assume that if you want to do light-rail that’s wrong because that’s Democrats. Or the land-bridge where I live out where the land bridge is going to go over between two halves of the Hardberger Park. It’s a big $25 million operation. Most of my friends are opposed to the land ridge because they’re conservative and think it’s a waste of money. I like the land bridge myself because I think it’s kind of cool and half of it was raised by Phil Hardberger, so that’s fine. But I think that’s what’s going on. People who are predisposed to distrust anything that comes out of city hall because most of them are ‘lefties.’ And people that want to do something to Alamo Plaza probably can’t be trusted because, rather than focus on the battle, they’ll focus on what we did to Native Americans or who we had as slaves, or that all the people who defended the Alamo wanted to have slaves in the Republic of Texas. So, it’s impossible to have a sane conversation when discourse degenerates to that point. 

I actually got called on the phone several weeks ago by someone who was working with an organization trying to stop any of this from happening. So, I just had some fun with him, saying that I actually approve of doing some things in Alamo Plaza. He gave me the standard lines about destroying the cenotaph, or damaging it, or this and that and the other. Finally, he just had to hang up because obviously he wasn’t going to get anywhere with me. Part of this, I think, is knee-jerk fear-mongering, and as a conservative who takes second place to no one in terms of my conservativeness, I don’t understand why that has to be that way. It’s possible to do some really interesting things down there, and to honor completely the sacrifice my namesake made and other people without it being some sort of ‘Liberal Agenda.’ 

I think polarization and the cynicism about politics and the automatic distrust of anyone from the other side feeds some of this. Of course, this means that elected leaders, who are more often than not somewhat cowardly by nature—especially members of the House, who get every two years. And so it’s very easy to have a vote on something that they’re not going to like. And so if a Republican member of the House from San Antonio were to support what they’re doing, I’m sure they would draw a primary challenge. So it probably shouldn’t be a big surprise at the pressure on members of Congress who have a say in what’s going on, or at least have an opinion about what’s going on in San Antonio. They tend to be in favor of this ‘the sky is falling and it hit us on the head’ kind of argument. But I’m not.