The Alamo is, to any Texan worth their salt, the “shrine of Texas liberty.” But few Texans realize just how complicated and convoluted everything Alamo-related has been for a very long time. There have been few periods of relative peace and calm related to The Alamo among a sea of conflict. Those conflicts over the years have clustered around issues of ownership, management, the relationship between the State of Texas and the City of San Antonio, not to mention the constant battle over which history should be told about the Alamo.
There is no way to untangle that mess in one article. But to give you some idea of this particular aspect of the current conflict, it’s important to understand two key facts.
First, the Alamo that everyone thinks of as “The Alamo” is not actually The Alamo. Rather, the Alamo battleground as it was in 1836 encompasses the area now known as the Alamo Complex (the church, long barracks, etc), Alamo Plaza (which is owned and managed by the City of San Antonio), and the streets and several buildings around these areas. When you walk on the sidewalk next to Ripley’s, you are likely walking on a spot where one of the Alamo defenders gave their life for independence.
Second, the City of San Antonio has constantly pushed to commercialize the site in the quest for more tourism dollars. In addition, the City of San Antonio has been the main camp pushing a “balanced view” of the history of the Alamo. That is code-talk for, “Santa Anna was right but misunderstood.” The State of Texas has, most recently during Jerry Patterson’s time at the General Land Office, fought to preserve the site and present it as it should be – historical and hallowed.
Enter The United Nations
With dollar signs in their eyes, the City of San Antonio and its allies have been pushing to have the Alamo designated as a World Heritage Site under UNESCO’s World Heritage Site program.
Queue the fist-shaking.
Given the general lack of knowledge about the issues and conflicts related to the Alamo, it’s no surprise that Texans bristled at the thought of anyone other than Texans having a say in what happens with the Alamo.
This was expressed best when the TNM presented over 11,000 letters from Texans saying that we wanted the Alamo to be respected and wanted it to stay under the control of Texans.
It is the World Heritage push, in the context of the other conflicts, which became the stated impetus for Senator Donna Campbell’s SB 191.
What The Bill Says Versus What It Does
The bill itself is short. It merely adds one line to the Natural Resources Code that says:
“The land office may not enter into an agreement that vests any ownership, control, or management of the Alamo complex in an entity formed under the laws of another country.”
Short. Sweet. To the point. And utterly pointless.
Although Campbell’s bill was meant to stop the designation of the Alamo as a World Heritage Site, that’s not what it would have done even if it had gotten any traction. And it is this fundamental lack of understanding which betrays Campbell’s newfound desire to defend the Alamo as nothing more than pandering. It explains why Campbell was unable to put up even a modest defense of her bill in committee.
To reinforce the point, this bill does nothing. It has no impact whatsoever.
Why? Simply put, the push to designate the Alamo as a World Heritage Site does not vest ownership, control or management in the hands of a foreign entity.
Unless you consider the United States Federal Government a foreign entity. And while the TNM does, the State of Texas does not.
The Alamo Run By FedGov Bureaucrats
The real issue that has been missed by everyone over the UNESCO dust up, is that the designation of the Alamo as a World Heritage Site is not a play for United Nations control. It’s a play for Federal control.
To understand how this happens, you have to understand the current relationship between the States, the Federal Government and the United Nations.
In brief, the World Heritage Site program was created under the auspices of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. UNESCO is an agency of the United Nations to which the United States is a treaty signator. Texas, as much as it pains us, is still a part of the United States.
Now that we’ve got the order of things clear, let’s look at the law. UNESCO is part of the United Nations of which the United States is part of by treaty. This means that decisions from the United Nations made in accordance with that treaty are binding upon the Federal Government. At least that’s how they look at it.
That part is very important for Texans because of a little known Supreme Court decision in a case called Missouri v. Holland. Missouri v. Holland essentially said that treaties ratified by the Federal Government are binding on the States as well, including Federal laws enforcing treaties that trump state law.
Uh oh, Alamo!
Let’s apply this to this current situation with the Alamo. If the “let’s-put-a-ferris-wheel-in-Alamo-Plaza” crowd get their wish, and the Alamo is designated as a World Heritage Site, a chain-of-events is set in motion that ends with the Federal Government in control of the Alamo.
First, Article 5 Section 4 of the UNESCO Convention gives a specific mandate that members of the United Nations are required, “to take the appropriate legal, scientific, technical, administrative and financial measures necessary for the identification, protection, conservation, presentation and rehabilitation of this heritage” for sites designated as World Heritage sites.
Notice that it doesn’t force the United Nations to act. It puts it on member states of the United Nations. That would be the United States government. They are, essentially, mandated by treaty as the responsible party for the Alamo.
This means that if the bureaucrats in D.C. don’t like something about the Alamo, they can invoke their responsibilities under the treaty and through Missouri v. Holland can legally take control of any and all aspects of the Alamo.
What This Practically Means For The Alamo
If this were to happen, the Federal Government could step in immediately using the recent cancellation of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas’ management contract as the excuse. George P. Bush, the current occupant of the General Land Office, by citing issues with the DRT’s preservation efforts left the door wide open.
But let’s go even deeper. If the Federal Government didn’t believe that the “approved” story about the Alamo was being presented, the same thing could happen. If the Federal Government wanted to lop off the iconic Alamo façade under the guise of rehabilitation, they could.
Just for a moment, think of all of the wackiness that has emanated from the Federal Government. Now imagine that wackiness aimed at the “Shrine of Texas Liberty”.
Will that happen if the Alamo is designated as a World Heritage Site? Maybe not. Can it happen? Absolutely. And that is why everyone who cares about Texas should be fighting against this designation and should be angry with Senator Campbell.
The Unintended Consequences of Pandering
There are serious issues surrounding the Alamo. This World Heritage Site designation is the latest in a long line of power grabs. But this is about more than just who owns and administers another tourist trap. The Alamo speaks to who Texans are as a people. If you change what the Alamo means for future generations, you change the face of Texas.
The Alamo is too important for posturing and pandering. It is not some prop for political theater. And that is what Campbell used it for. At a minimum, a representative at any level who attempts to advocate for the Alamo, should know this information. She did not.
And the unfortunate, unintended consequence of her failure is this – we are going to have fight much harder for the Alamo than we did before. She could have used SB 191 as an opportunity to do something substantial and real to protect and defend the Alamo. And while the Legislature won’t be available to take on this issue until the next session, the forces working to place the Alamo in the hands of the Federal government will be able to continue unabated. Rather than being stopped cold in their tracks, they are now energized with their victory over Senator Campbell.
What Do We Do
The Texas Nationalist Movement will continue in its “no compromise” defense of the Alamo. Not only will we continue to battle against the World Heritage Site designation, but will fight against Commissioner Bush’s decision which could throw the management of the Alamo into non-Texan hands as well.
We’ll also continue memorializing the Alamo and those who fell there with our monthly march. We’ll continue teaching people about the Alamo, and its significance on the national character of Texas. And just like those who defended the Alamo in 1836, we will carry on their mission and defend their legacy. Because, at the end of the day, the only sure way to keep the Alamo in the hands of Texans is Texas independence.
You can see Sen. Campbell lay out the bill in committee at the following link. The testimony starts at the 22 minute mark. http://tlcsenate.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=30&clip_id=9142