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Red Ken: declaring war on history?

It was a "deliberate act of provocation", said the Evening Standard. Last week Ken Livingstone declared war on the statues of military men in Trafalgar Square. The Mayor of London wants two Victorian generals, Sir Charles Napier and Sir Henry Havelock, banished from their plinths, and replaced with figures "more relevant" to our times. We should commemorate individuals that "ordinary Londoners" would recognise, he said. "I haven't a clue who these generals are."

Maybe not, said Peter Hitchens in the Daily Express, but when did we start pandering to ignorance? British children are no longer taught their country's military history, and at this rate it won't be long before all our heroes - even Nelson on his column - are forgotten and cast aside. That would suit Red Ken, said the Evening Standard. In his view, British history is politically incorrect, and in need of "retrospective readjustment". But he mustn't get his way. London's statues are there to remind us of our history. "If each generation were to do away with figures it found uncongenial, or whose importance had faded from the public mind, we would become a society without a past." Let's not get carried away, said Simon Jenkins in the same paper. Livingstone is not planning to smash the statues, he is simply suggesting moving them to a "dignified" location by the Thames. And why not? Neither is among our greatest historical figures. Napier, a veteran of the Indian wars, is mostly remembered for a pun. On capturing the town of Sindh he wrote just one word, "peccavi", the Latin for "I have sinned". Havelock is chiefly famous for raising the siege of Lucknow in 1857. Why should these men, who "have outlived their claim to public prominence", be commemorated in the capital's main square?

Nor would it be the first time London's statues have been re-shuffled to suit the popular mood. In fact, Havelock himself stands on a plinth once occupied by Edward Jenner, the discoverer of vaccination. This brave man, who inoculated his own family to prove the safety of his vaccine, was evicted in the public hysteria following the siege of Lucknow, and rehoused in Kensington Gardens. If Jenner can go, so can Havelock and Napier.

SOURCE: "The Week"


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