When America sneezes the world catches a cold, is the old saying. And traditionally, or at least since the end of the First World War, America has tended to be a blazer of trails, some worth following and others leading in quite the wrong direction. America has tended to be a lead indicator, from the cinematic talkies, to the jazz era (insert footage of tipsy women from a Fitzgerald novel dancing manically watched by black-tie wearing heirs to steel fortunes downing martinis while getting share tips from the barman), through the invention of nuclear weapons, big bands, blues, country, modern jazz, rock’n’roll, surfing music, loon pants, LSD, free jazz, the Osmonds, the personal computer, the smart phone, the internut, Prince’s Purple Rain, televised wrestling, MTV, Friends and Donald Trump.
Now, the latest American fad is a distressing to watch intensification of the culture war, at the behest of neo-Nazi nut jobs who promote white supremacy, and in the process confirm their dimwitted and demented case to be bogus, and the “alt-left” that wants to break statues it deems politically incorrect and even to break skulls too.
There is so much right-on confusion about this term the alt-left. Contrary to pleading on parts of the soft left, the alt-left very much exists, in ghastly organisations such as Antifa that favour street violence. Nazis are ghastly. But so are communists and violent anarchists. They are as bad as each other. They are two sides of the same anti-democratic coin.
At the centre of the latest row, as I indicated, are statues. There are certainly circumstances in which statutes might be taken down, when there is an overwhelming public demand for it, or when it is Hitler or Stalin/Lenin (three sides of the same autocratic coin.) But where does it stop? What are the criteria for a statue staying up? Who decides? A People’s Soviet on Approved Statues?
It is to be greatly hoped that this latest trend for cultural revolution and airbrushing history does not drift across the Atlantic. If it comes to Britain, any policy of removing the statues of people who are thought objectionable or questionable by the politically correct would render just about everything installed before 1968 unacceptable. There’s an idea. It or some other date – such as Jeremy moving into Downing Street? – could be made “Year Zero.” What could possibly go wrong with a Year Zero that hasn’t before?
But who in Britain would survive a British version of the far left, social justice warrior cull on the statue front?
Churchill has had it, obviously. Look at his record before he saved civilisation. In the 1930s, Churchill ran a campaign against Indian self-government. Calling him an imperialist is putting it politely.
Kitchener was a national hero when he died during the First World War. But he used concentration camps in the Boer War. Second in the queue for removal, surely.
Fans of Queen Victoria, on display in central London, must be feeling nervous too. Despite her long service to the nation as monarch, we must face the awkward reality that she was an opponent of women’s rights and, as the Empress of India, a leading imperialist.
Earl Haig in Whitehall. First World War. Need I say more?
Oliver Cromwell. Actions in Ireland. Actions in Scotland. Views on Catholicism. Dodgy.
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Charles I, a leading believer in the divine right of kings. Starter of wars through serial incompetence. Committed hate crimes against Protestants.
Sir Thomas Gresham, noted capitalist innovator who created the Royal Exchange. Made a lot of money quickly. Suspicious.
Eric and Ernie, Blackpool. Legendary entertainers with worryingly bourgeois tendencies. No Corbynite protesters will bother travelling to Blackpool to tear it down. Statue stays.
Field Marshall Alanbrooke, as Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS) 1941-46, did more to win the Second World War than just about anyone other than Winston Churchill. In his favour, in the eyes of Corbynistas, Alanbrooke did drink a lot of vodka with Corbynite hero Stalin at banquets, but only to be polite. Sadly, as a man who spent his spare time as an ornithologist rather than campaigning for social justice, he has a chequered record. Jury out.
John Lennon in Matthew Street in Liverpool. Some shockingly poor 1970s solo albums surely merit his removal, but he may, just possibly, be rescued in the eyes of the far left by his support of Chairman Mao. After suffering some initial doubts in 1968, false consciousness brought on by heroin and having too much money, he came round to Mao in the end. Lennon can stay for now, on a warning.
Quite often we look across at the US and laugh in our silly British way. What are they up to now? Music made with electric guitars? Running shoes as a footwear fashion accessory worn to work? Making the presenter of The Apprentice (Lord Sugar?) their President? Those crazy colonial cousins. It could never happen here.
And then the trend lands on this side of the Atlantic.