Rory Broomfield believes the Left are trying to rewrite history for their own expediency. He fears their tactics could destroy our understanding of nationhood and self. They need to change – for their own good, he says.
It is happening across the world – from America to Australia – and has previously been seen with the Rhodes Must Fall campaign in the UK. However, with The Guardian publishing an article calling on the statue of Nelson in Trafalgar Square to be toppled, the Left are looking to rewrite history and, by doing so, destroy the notion of togetherness within the UK.
The strategy is a clear one: to promote the notion that they are marginalised, oppressed and belittled in some way by wider society. To achieve this, many have turned their attentions towards statues and institutions throughout the world that, they say, glorify individuals who have owned slaves, colonised the world or promoted unequal rights between their ancestors and others. This, in their minds, is a way of suggesting that both they and their particular groups deserve special treatment.
What is missing is a realisation that the statutes are of men (statutes, I admit, are predominantly of men) who are remembered for acts beyond the protesters’ anger.
Take Princeton University and the school of public policy that is named after the 28th President of the United States of America, Woodrow Wilson. At the university, there has been a campaign to rename the school not because the protesters didn’t like Wilson’s foreign policy, but because they didn’t like his ‘racist legacy’. What the protesters didn’t seem to understand though is that the school was not named after Wilson to glorify the reasons behind their hatred. On the contrary, according to the school’s website, it was named “in the spirit of Woodrow Wilson’s interest in preparing students for leadership in public and international affairs”.
And so, to the statue of Nelson. For, whatever Nelson’s views were on the treatment of others (and I understand he treated his ship’s crew very well by the standards of the day), he has a statue on top of a column in Whitehall because he helped save this nation, its values and its traditions for future generations in the United Kingdom to cherish and to build on. He is not celebrated and commemorated for whatever The Guardian journalists are now saying, but for his heroism and leadership in the face of adversity.
There are plenty of legitimate ways to point out real problems faced by certain groups in the UK – and elsewhere. Whether they are campaigns concerning income, academic attainment or access to public spaces, there are multiple ways of raising the issue without resorting to the rewriting of history or the destruction of property.
An alternative approach, for example, may be what many have tried and achieved in the past: the building of more statutes, not the destruction and / or replacement of those that already exist. What this would achieve is a positive recognition of those within a particular community that they believe in the values of that individual. It would not mean that we discount our past and look to rewrite it.
What might happen though is, through the targeting of statues of men like Nelson, the positive qualities that we remember – and teach our children about – could be lost. By pursuing this tactic and looking to topple Nelson, some basic values which we understand to be shared throughout society could be undermined.
However, these protesters should be very careful in this regard. First, they come for Woodrow Wilson. Why should, therefore, the statutes of former US President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) still stand? Then, they come for Cecil Rhodes. Why should, therefore, statues of Gandhi still stand?
Both FDR and Gandhi were human, like we all are, and made comments and decisions that can be criticised in hindsight and that some people today would not agree with. For instance, I learn through my friend and historian, Dr. Stephen Thompson, that FDR signed Executive Order 9066 leading to between 110,000 and 120,000 Japanese-Americans (62% of which were as American as the people guarding them) being incarcerated after Pearl Harbor was attacked. I also learn through others that a statute of Gandhi was to be removed in Ghana through protests at “alleged past racist comments”. If Wilson and Rhodes, why not FDR and Gandhi?
To be clear, I do not wish for any of these statutes to be brought down. I find the whole exercise ridiculous – and dangerous. The activity allows governments to rewrite history in a way to suit them. It is the way of statism – and the former Soviet Republic. It is not the way of an open, democratic society with different ideas that can be discussed, debated and celebrated. I’d rather live in the latter if you don’t mind.