Photo by Alex Wong

History in the taking

History is being rewritten, and statues can stop it

Artillery Row

Removing statues may not change the facts of history, but it can change whether or not we see them. Statues are way-markers, not there to teach us history, but simply to mark its path. They are like breadcrumbs placed by each generation to tell future ones how they arrived. If we turn around and the breadcrumbs are gone, the landscape may be the same, but what stops people saying the path taken through it was slightly different to the one actually trod?

To illustrate this, as so often with the culture wars, we have only to look across the Atlantic. The case of the American Civil War is undoubtedly the most successful rewriting of history in recent times, culminating this month with the removal of Robert E. Lee’s statue in Richmond, Virginia. In place of valid historical debate around a range of complex issues, officials and media alike simply recited the dogmatic creed that it was wholly and entirely about slavery.

In doing so, they ignore not only Lincoln’s protestations to the contrary, but also the words of those he fought, the vast majority of whom didn’t own slaves and were fighting to repel what they saw as invaders. After all, it had only been 80 years since the Articles of Confederation bound together a loose coalition of States which still embodied the primary allegiance of their citizens. Secession had a lot in common with Brexit (and angers modern globalists just as much), with individual States accustomed to a high level of autonomy electing to withdraw from an ever-growing federal superstructure from which they were culturally, politically and economically divergent.

Now you might read all this and still conclude that slavery was the imperative factor, but you should also conclude that there is, at least, a discussion to be had. Debate is vital to our appreciation of history. A history where there is only one allowable reading is not history; it is propaganda.

Removing our statues leaves a blank canvas

As any child knows, the best way to avoid being accused of something is to accuse someone else of doing it first. Thus, if you listen to the would-be wreckers, you will hear a lot about the “Lost Cause” and the “Jim Crow era” one vast conspiracy theory about coordinated groups going around erecting statues, controlling history and infiltrating the education system. If it came from the right, it would be ridiculed. Yet it’s not only taken hold, it’s become inviolable. Of course there is plenty of first-hand contemporary evidence to contradict it, but few will read that. What’s harder to ignore is the statues. But now, with no visible markers to contradict them, the re-writers of history are free to establish their narrative.

We face exactly the same situation here in the UK. Removing our statues leaves a blank canvas and clears the way for the endless revisionist histories that are now pouring off the printing presses. Our home-grown revisionists have the same aim as their trans-Atlantic counterparts: to make slavery the central issue of history and reduce the past and by extension the present to a simplistic victim/oppressor narrative. It ultimately boils down to power because, in today’s society, being a victim is the only way to have a legitimate voice.

This aim is furthered by the next part of the narrative, which is when the victim turns saviour and rescues the oppressor. Statues are not just being taken down. On Windrush Day (June 22nd if you didn’t know), you will be able to take a journey from Windrush Square in Brixton to the proposed million-pound Windrush monument at Waterloo Station. Last week a statue was unveiled of a Windrush midwife in Islington. This ties in with that other modern-day cult, the NHS, further elevating the whole story to quasi-religious realms. When the “Windrush bridge” in Tilbury was vandalised this month, it was histrionically denounced as a “hate crime and cultural terrorism against the Windrush generation”.

It should be possible to remember both this recent history and the longer history of Britain. But instead what we see is something like a “1948 Project”, a British equivalent of the 1619 Project in America, which “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of the United States‘ national narrative”. We are now experiencing a similar attempt to re-baseline our history by over-promoting some stories and delegitimising others. Statues, it turns out, are the perfect means by which to do both these things.

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