In recent days, debate has grown about whether statues of slave traders from Britain’s imperial past should be torn down or not.
As historian James Holland writes, controversial statues have been pulled down repeatedly over the decades. He argues this doesn’t amount to airbrushing history.
Economic crises on a national or international scale always produce political upheaval too.
As a rule of thumb, the worse the recession – or depression – the greater the political earthquake.
COVID-19 is doubly bad because it’s scary, destabilising, changes much of what we take for granted and promises a sustained economic downturn.
It’s a potent cocktail and so it’s no surprise trouble is brewing on the streets.
One of the striking features of the Western Allies’ part in crushing the Axis powers in the Second World War was their unity of purpose and the extraordinary levels of co-operation and co-ordination they brought to the business of war.
Unfortunately, we see a far more binary world at the moment, which, of course, only exacerbates the social discord.
For Trump or against. Brexit or Remain.
This past week, opinion now seems divided as to whether statues of slave traders from Britain’s imperial past should be torn down or not.
Whatever one says, you can expect that view to be poured on with scorn by those who disagree.
Pulling down statues is nothing new, however, nor is the changing of street names and even those of cities and countries.
It has happened time and again through history. Most of us in the West cheered when the swastikas were blown up in 1945, or when the statues of Lenin and Stalin were pulled down, or even that of Saddam Hussein.
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Of course, Britain is not governed by an oppressive despotic regime, but slave traders were most certainly tyrannical and oppressive and the evils of slavery were appreciated long before Edward Colston’s statue was raised in Bristol.
That such statues still stand is quite clearly an offence to many and especially to those whose family origins can be found in that appalling trade.
Removing such edifices from public places is not airbrushing history.
Swastikas are banned in Germany and much of the Third Reich’s physical mark has been razed, yet interest and knowledge of Hitler and the Nazis has never been greater.
History should never be forgotten because it’s only from a study of the past that one can make sense of the present and prepare for the future.
Right now, history brings us an important warning; that wounds need to be healed and in quick order, that we need to pull together not apart.
Otherwise, the danger of further civil strife will grow until one side crushes the other, as the Nazis did with the Communists in Germany in the 1930s. And we all know what followed.
I’m not saying we’re about to descend into civil war or overthrow democracy, but we must be wary of taking our current lives for granted.
We need to tread carefully. Grievances need to be listened to.
Concessions must be made and those with influence and power have to try their damnedest to create a more inclusive not exclusive society.
It’s not us against them but about demonstrating that when we pull together our lives are generally and collectively much better.
:: James Holland wrote the book Normandy 44, and he has a weekly podcast with Al Murray called We Have Ways Of Making You Talk