The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has just added the Alamo and four other former Spanish missions in San Antonio to its list of World Heritage Sites. That seems a curious choice since the Alamo is as much a symbol of racism as the Confederate flag.
Like those who wave the stars and bars, those who revere the Alamo would deny that and say it is all about their proud heritage. But anyone who doesn't rely on Walt Disney movies for their sense of history knows that is nonsense. Like Confederate troops, the defenders of the Alamo were fighting for liberty and freedom -- the liberty to deny freedom to slaves. In the case of Texas at the time, that was a quarter of the population. Mexico had abolished slavery in1829 and the Texans were not about to let that pillar of their economy be demolished.
There are lots of other parts of the mythology of the Alamo that never happened or are at a minimum very doubtful. Davy Crockett was probably captured and executed rather than dying fighting with a mound of dead Mexicans at his feet. Colonel Travis did not draw a line in the sand and ask those who wanted to stay and fight to the end to cross it. And those that did supposedly crossed the line did not all die bravely fighting to the last man. Some tried to surrender and dozens fled across the plains only to be skewered by Mexican lancers.
Myths endure, despite having so little to do with reality, because they tell people what they want to believe about themselves. In other words, they function just like Fox News does. And it is unnecessary to blow a dog whistle to gather enthusiasts around the false notion of a small group of white men bravely fighting against a horde of dark skinned invaders. Donald Trump's popularity is a perfect example of that.
UNESCOsays it looks for sites with "outstanding universal value" that also meet one of its ten selection criteria. The five 18th century Franciscan missions were recognized because they "illustrate the Spanish Crown's efforts to colonize, evangelize and defend the northern frontier of New Spain and are examples of the interweaving of Spanish and Coahuiltecan cultures".
So UNESCO appears not to be celebrating the contribution of racism to Texas history, but the way the Spanish used Catholicism to provide a religious justification for subjugating the natives, destroying their culture and stealing their land. It is the same reason Americans needed the concept of Manifest Destiny.
Putting pseudo-religious facades on political ploys is a tradition that is alive and well today. For instance, the words "American exceptionalism" had never appeared in the platform of either political party until the Republicans devoted over 7,000 words to the concept in 2012. In it they included the suggestion that "a continued reliance on Divine Providence" will help ensure the twenty-first century will be one of American greatness as much as the twentieth was.
Whatever the motivation for the UNESCO action, some see it is a threat. One Texas state senator introduced a bill that would ban any foreign entity from owning, controlling or managing the Alamo complex. No matter that the only tangible result of a UNESCO designation as a world heritage site is a boost in the number of tourists. In a state where the governor ordered the National Guard mustered to protect against federal troopsconducting military exercises from taking over, it is no surprise there is a fear of black helicopters that don't show up on radar landing on the grounds of the Alamo.