Some Thoughts on the Motto “Victory or Death!” On the Anniversary of the Travis Letter
This post is a re-share of an excellent article originally posted on BallantyneTheBrave.com.
Some Thoughts on the Motto “Victory or Death!”
By Joshua Phillips — February 24, 2009
On this day, one hundred seventy three years, one of the great figures in Texas history penned the words “Victory or Death.”
For William Barrett Travis, the defense of the Alamo may have been a desperate cause, but he believed it was his duty to the people of Texas, for whom he was fighting.
Travis lost. Everyone died.
One hundred seventy three years later, some might ask, ” Was Travis right?” Was he right to make “Victory or Death!” his motto and lead 189 men to their deaths? Was this declaration the mark of heroic bravery or fool-hearty recklessness? Is it ever time to give up?
Some of you who have emailed me may have noticed that, in addition to the motto Alba Gu Bra, I sometimes use “Victory or Death!” (“Buaidh No Bas” in Gaelic.) This battle cry was not only used by Travis, but has also been sounded for generations in war and peace, going back hundreds of years in almost every country.
The essence of the motto “Victory or Death!” is a simple proposition: It is important for men to be willing to lay down their lives for a godly cause. Or, very simply, “I will fight to the death for what is right and nothing this side of death will stop me!”
When properly applied in the right context, “Victory or Death!” is a message of manhood, self-sacrifice, and courage that should inspire all Christian men because it is a biblical message. There really are battles worth fighting for.
After noting a comment I posted that “G.A. Henty boys are not wimps or saps,” a reader of Ballantynethebrave.com emailed me, questioning whether it is really so bad to be wimpy.
He asked how anyone could biblically justify the “intense physical violence and bloodshed” which some Henty boys experience on the battlefield. Stating that courage is not shown in “conquest or dominion,”, he closed by saying,
I am left to wonder: what is God’s biblical idea of manhood and courage? Is it defending your name, your family, your religion, or your country? Or is it something deeper than that, a man who knows the Truth, believes the Truth, proclaims the Truth, and is willing to give all that he holds dear in the defense and maintaining of it?
Reflecting on these questions, I thought, what sort of man would question defending your name, family, religion, and country? Is it not clear in the Bible that we are to to live with a sword in one hand and a trowel in another as Nehemiah did, and say with him, “Be not ye afraid of them: remember the LORD, which is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses!” [Neh. 4:14]
To be a man who “knows the Truth, believes the Truth, proclaims the Truth, and is willing to give all that he holds dear in the defense” of the ‘Truth’, I must defend my family, religion, and country in obedience to the Scripture, which is the only “Truth!” I might even go so far as to say that in certain situations, I must defend my name and honor to uphold that very same “Truth.”
Another verse this gentleman included in his email was the famous, “Put up again thy sword into [its] place: for they that take the sword shall perish with the sword” (Matt. 26:52) quote. What he didn’t include was an equally important verse, also spoken by Jesus while on the earth, “… he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.” (Luke 22:36) I think it should be clear here that Jesus is not condemning owning weapons or even being ready to fight. Rather, in the Mathew 26:52 verse, he is pointing out that it was time for the fulfillment of his duty (on the Cross), not time to start chopping folks’ ears off.
Going back to the idea of “Victory or Death,” if you are going to fight for something (I mean literal battle), it better be worth dying over. Biblically, it seems that, if you are not fighting for victory, you are fighting for defeat, and that means the loss of whatever it is that you are fighting for. If you are fighting for your family, home, religion, or even honor, you can’t afford to lose. That’s part of the reason why it is so important to only have biblical warfare. Don’t start a war if you aren’t going to really try and win it. (And don’t chop off anyone ears unless it is time for battle.) Choose your battles carefully.
So, what about Travis?
Here in Texas, when you hear someone refer to the motto “Victory or Death!” it’s a pretty safe thing to guess that they are referring to the words of W.B.Travis at the famous Battle of the Alamo.
Let’s review the facts:
Travis was the second highest ranking officer at the Alamo after Col. Neill who left before the final battle, transferring his command to Travis. On the day after the siege began, Travis wrote a letter to “The People of Texas and All Americans in the World.” In the letter he announced his need for volunteers to defend the Alamo. He also declared that he would “never surrender or retreat!” He ended his famous appeal with the words, “Victory or Death!” On February 24, 1836, one hundred seventy three years ago today, Col. Travis penned these important words.
Travis could have tried to surrender the Alamo. He could have tried to flee with his men. But he didn’t. Instead Travis stood and held his ground, knowing that short of a near-impossible victory, he and everyone of his men would lose their lives.
Travis drew a line in the sand and offered every man in the Alamo an “honorable” way out of this death trap. Out of 190 men, only one crossed that line.
Each of those men died. But they sent a message to the world that Texans would not surrender their homes, their families, or their freedom. They also held the Alamo long enough to set things in motion for the men who would ultimately defeat the Santa Anna. If it weren’t for the Alamo defenders who refused to flee or surrender, there might not be a Texas today.
I am grateful for Travis’ cry of “Victory or Death!” As a Texan, I am especially thankful for those men who gave their lives for what they believed was worth dying for: freedom. They believed their cause was just, and they were right.
Of course, modern man is uncomfortable with statements like “Victory or Death.” It is too dogmatic, too uncompromising, too unrealistic. But the problem is not with the statement. The problem is with modern man.
There is a time when Christian men must be willing to say, “I will fight, to the death, for what is right and nothing this side of death will stop me!” Whether it was Patrick Henry’s “Give me Liberty or give me Death” speech, Colonel Travis’ letter from the Alamo, or even the echo of William Wallace’s battle cries, you can feel the sentiment coming through that they will fight to the death for victory and never give up.
I believe that it is our duty to take this message, and particularly Travis’s closing line, and “never surrender or retreat” when we are on the Lord’s side. Even in times of great angst and trouble, when our country is in distress, it is our duty not to give up, but to fight to defend our families, religion, and country. And ultimately the honor of the “Truth.” To live well, we must realize that some things are worth dying for.
The film Braveheart popularized another important motto: “Every man dies. Not every man truly lives.” Behind this sentiment is the belief that only those who are willing to lay down their lives in a meaningful cause have something worth living for.
Travis would have agreed.
So, was Travis right to declare “Victory or Death” in the face of almost certain immediate disaster?
I believe he was. The simple fact is this: His death purchased Texas’ independence. My state, my community, my family, and I continue to benefit from his sacrifice.
Travis was right. So was Patrick Henry. And Nehemiah. And the Scots. And George Washington fighting for our national freedom. And so are all the martyrs and defenders of Godly causes through all time who lose their life in service for the Lord, living out “Victory or Death!”