It seems that, with war, once the real battle is over a second, different skirmish begins — one between historians. Movies joined that latter fray starting in the late ’70s by firing their own broadsides at the official record of events. At first, the target was Vietnam; more recently, it’s been Iraq. But for fans of war movies, one particularly fascinating example of rewriting military history hit theaters in 2004 via a revisionist Western called The Alamo that had a very different take on the famous 19th century conflict than a 1960 John Wayne flick of the same name. And there’s an important reason for this shift in perspective.
Whereas the earlier big screen adaptation only told the Texan side of the story, the more recent version includes details from a Mexican survivor’s account (which first surfaced in 1955 then was translated into English twenty years later). An officer in Santa Anna’s army, José Enrique de la Peña was an eyewitness and a diarist to boot. According to his recollections, Davy Crockett didn’t die amid general gunfire, but was, in fact, executed by Santa Anna. Alamo historians question de la Pena’s details, wondering if his testimony is the work of faulty eyesight and wishful thinking, but their doubts could be simply a sign of their reluctance to acknowledge a new truth that’s so much less exciting than the old one.
The 2004 movie strives (some say, to a fault) to present both sides of the story. Whether it succeeds is another matter. Given that the siege lasted thirteen days in all, even the participants would probably have trouble narrating what really happened with any accuracy.