Why no statue ? (3)

Last time I wrote about statues erected years ago to what we could well call “dubious heroes”. A monarch who was the Number One Slaver in the world. A president who kept slaves even in a country where everybody knew “that all men are created equal”.

I certainly feel that, if there are largish numbers of people who do not want statues of a particular person,  then so be it. Such men will then be gradually forgotten rather than commemorated by a statue and in this way be kept alive artificially.

Recently we have seen various groups of people smashing statues down, and even in one case throwing them into the harbour. But there does not necessarily have to be violence or hooliganism involved. Sometimes the local people can decide for themselves about a statue.

After James II was thrown out in the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688, various groups of people tried to put the Stuarts back on the throne of England. It all came to a head in 1745 when a Scottish army marched on London.  By 1746, though, their dream was shattered. The Duke of Cumberland had fought and won the decisive Battle of Culloden. The Highland Scots,  the vast majority of them Jacobites, and their army, were completely destroyed.

No mercy was shown. British soldiers killed all of the wounded Highlanders left on the battlefield. When Cumberland realised that a wounded man near him was a Jacobite, he told Major James Wolfe to kill him. The latter refused and a soldier completed the job.

In the Highlands, every single person thought  to be a rebel was killed and over a hundred in total were hanged. Villages were burned. Farm animals were stolen. In other words, it was not very different from the arrival of the Wehrmacht or the SS in a Russian village in 1941. Here is the great man:

Not everybody in Georgian England thought the same way, though. In 1770 an equestrian statue of the Duke of Cumberland was erected in Cavendish Square in London to honour his exploits. Little regard had been paid, though, to the direction in which His Lordship should face. And sure enough, after a century of looking up a horse’s backside, the locals got fed up and in 1868 the statue had to be taken down.

One hundred and forty years later, a woman came up with a wonderful idea. She was a Korean artist called Mekyoung Shin. She constructed a life size statue of the Duke and put it back on the empty plinth. But her statue was made of soap and it gradually melted away, limb by limb:

To my mind, this idea of making statues of “dubious” people out of soap and then just letting them dissolve in the rain is an excellent one and should be encouraged widely.

We’ve already looked at Lord Nelson, and he would be an ideal candidate for a soap statue. And he was a sailor, so he must have liked water. Here he is:

But what about people who have reformed? Is it OK to erect statues to them?

Nowadays, Benjamin Zephaniah is a famous poet:

When he was a teenage boy, Benjamin Zephaniah, by his own admittance, was a member of a gang in Birmingham. He was a thief, he was a pickpocket, he was a burglar, he was a liar, he stole cars, he was violent and he took part in an attack on a gay man. He went to Borstal and to prison. But then, through poetry, he turned his life round. He now has 16 honorary degrees, he is Professor of Poetry at Brunel University and he narrowly lost the ballot for Professor of Poetry at Oxford.

Should we have statues to those who have reformed like Benjamin? Of course we should, and in his case, it should be placed outside whichever prison where he served half of his sentence, in such a way that it looks outwards to his future.

And finally one or two other rules. Every single statue should be retired after 200 years and auctioned off. Every city’s statues should be subject to a regular review to make sure their ethnic origin is not 100% white or male, and that there are a fair number of other categories represented.

And no famous sportsmen or women to feature. If statues of such people are needed, the fans themselves should pay. Or in the case of footballers, the football clubs they play for.

The only sportsperson to get a statue will have overcome great handicaps to become successful:

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Next time, we will look at the people who have never had a statue erected to them.

picture of soap statue borrowed from urben 75

 

 

 

 

 

 

22 Comments

Filed under Criminology, History, Humour, Literature, military, Politics

22 responses to “Why no statue ? (3)

  1. In Australia there was a number of brave English officers who supervised the wholesale murder of many aborigines. Some of them are honoured for other less evil exploits. I think that if they have already had a statue erected in their honour then the statue should stay BUT the complete story should be exposed.

    • Well, we’re not too far away from each other. I think that the statue should come down and be taken away to a special museum where it would be re-erected with an explanation of all the bad things in the person’s past and an account of the reason why the statue was originally positioned, in, say, Trafalgar Square.
      Where we differ is that it seems to me a basic tenet that if you genuinely want a united nation, made up of different groups, all of whom have equal rights and are equally valued, then a public statue celebrating a person from Group A who spent some of his or her life murdering people from Group B, is out of the question.

  2. Would you take down the statue of the great Bobby Moore?

    All great people have some flaws, if that excluded them from having a statue then we wouldn’t have any at all, except perhaps for my favourite – Giuseppe Garibaldi, described by AJP Taylor as “… the only wholly admirable figure in modern history.”

    • By my rules, I wouldn’t be able to take down a statue of Bobby Moore. I wrote, somewhere towards the end, that “the football clubs they play for” should pay for statues of footballers. I presumed that such statues would be on land owned by the relevant club, in which case, they can have Bobby Moore, George Best, whoever they like.
      What you said did make me wonder, though, whether our Nottingham statue of Brian Clough, which stands on public land, will ever be challenged, say a century from now, by people willing to emphasise his many, many foibles.

      • And challenge the designation of the A52 as ‘Brian Clough Way’.

        What about Ghandi? He has been accused of racism against black South Africans.

        REPLY: I had no idea about this, but a quick look at “https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-34265882” proves that you have a very valid point. In that case, Plan A sweeps into operation and the people of the city where the statue stands would be asked to vote on whether this particular statue should be taken down or not. Hopefully, the voting would be electronic with everybody able to vote just once from their own computer or phone. Surely the software to allow this would be easy to develop, if indeed it does not exist already.

    • Thank you very much for the link which I had a look at. It was very interesting.
      I agree fully with you that birds and animals would be best. Nobody can quarrel with birds and animals and they are always so much better behaved than humans!

  3. It’s certainly a difficult one. What ever you do someone will complain, or be upset, what of the future, will their standards be acceptable or will we take a ‘U’ turn and being back all these historical people. A statue with a plaque detailing their great achievements ie ‘the whole story’ is a good idea and puts it into perspective. There are statures about that I have no idea why they are or what they have done!

    • That is a really good point. It is certainly a pity when there are statues that people cannot identify with. We have one of Samuel Morley, a great 19th century philanthropist, but not really particularly relevant to this day and age.
      Personally I think that decisions about removing or leaving statues should be democratic. Perhaps the software could be developed so that we could all vote on our computers (but only once!).

  4. GP

    We must remember not to judge the past with 2021 eyes.

    • I suppose that that is the problem. In England 14% of the population are non-white, a total of around 8,000,000 people. Naturally they want to have a voice and they won’t accept the tiny number of people who say that having the statue of a large scale slave dealer in the middle of the city where they pay their taxes is completely acceptable. Years ago there were no non-white people at all, and nobody even knew how this rich slave dealer had made his money.
      I still say that the key to all this is democracy. People should be allowed to vote from their computers at home. I’m sure the software must be there to prevent multiple voting from a single person.

  5. I like the idea of “making statues of “dubious” people out of soap and then just letting them dissolve in the rain.” Who determines what is a dubious legacy is another matter.

    • Well, if you announced that next Friday the statue of Arthur Raymond Chung is going to be replaced by an equivalent made of soap, and there was no outcry, then go ahead. If you are deluged by the admirers of Arthur Chung protesting in the streets, on TV etc, then start recarving his soap statue into one of Sam Hinds.
      Let’s put the fun back into politics!

  6. Why don’t we all begin as one people, to put up statues of everyday heroes who have overcome great obstacles? This idolizing those who have killed and raped and murdered is disturbing. I think it is high time people change who deems to be considered a hero or not. I don’t agree with those in “power” to make that decision, erecting statues that commemorate their narrative. The soap statues sound like a really good idea, John.

    • Thank you, Amy. I agree fully with what you say. We need to revise “hero” and stop applying it to people who are clearly flawed. And you are right. The real heroes are the people who “have overcome great obstacles”. There are currently very few of those represented in the statues of our two nations.

  7. Chris Waller

    Someone, I know not whom, said, “No man is a hero to his valet”, suggesting that heroes are best seen at a distance. On the subject of the ‘English’ monarchy, that very term raises questions. We had the Normans (Norman French), the Plantagenets (French), the Tudors (Franco-Welsh), the Stuarts (Scottish but with some French blood), the Hanoverians (German) and the Saxe-Coburg-Gothas, rebadged as the Windsors (German). In Bristol, for some reason, we have a statue to William III (Dutch) who invaded England at Parliament’s behest. Who was the last genuinely English monarch? Edward the Confessor? Even Harold II (Godwin) was half Danish. English history presented as a stately procession of glorious kings and queens falls apart on close scrutiny.

    • You are absolutely right and that, together with their involvement in slavery since James II at least, means that I have very little time for them, with the exception of our present queen who is extremely dutiful as far as I can see.
      And what I’ve seen on TV about Edward VIII during the early months of the war, urging his Nazi chums to restore him to the throne should have got him hanged rather than exiled to a life of unimaginable luxury.

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