The War on Statues

I’ve used the Statue of Liberty as the header picture as I don’t have many statue pictures and if you’re going to borrow one you may as well borrow one of the best known and most symbolic statues in the world. This, however, is a post about statues in the UK and their history.

Having struggled to make sense of recent events, and tried in vain to to write about it in a suitable way, I am just going to write whatever comes to mind. These are my thoughts – warts and all. That’s a quote from Oliver Cromwell, by the way. He’s on the list of statues suggested for removal.

If people think that removing statues will improve their lives I will let them get on with it. Attempts to modify history are seldom successful, and I suspect the war on statues, particularly the vandalism element, will merely result in more conflict and less progress.

I see that a statue of Baden-Powell is to be taken down out of fear that it may be attacked. As the Bristol Police are refusing to take action over the Colston statue, we could be seeing an open season on statues.

Back in Bristol, a statue of Alfred Fagon, a notable local playwright, has been attacked with bleach in what is seen as a racist attack.

Captain Cook statue – on the list for removal

As Isaac Newton told us, in his Third Law of Motion, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Life isn’t quite as tidy as science, and the reaction might be unequal. Look at the growing number of counter-demonstrations as an example.

Having mentioned Isaac Newton, I now have to point out that he was an investor in the South Sea Company and thus profited from slavery in the same way that Thomas Guy did. They want to remove Guy’s statue and rename the hospital, but they seem content to keep using the hospitals he helped to build. I suppose that means we have to pull down Newton’s statue and rename his Laws of Motion. However, I hope we will keep gravity.

If you think that I’m treating a serious subject with undue levity, I will stress that I’m not making light of death or racism, just the nonsense that surrounds and obscures the subject. I’ll leave you with a quote from a proper, serious politician.

“Why was that statue removed in the way that it was removed? Because for 20 years, protesters and campaigners had used every democratic lever at their disposal, petitions, meetings, protests, trying to get elected politicians to act, and they couldn’t reach a consensus and they couldn’t get anything done.”



And there was me thinking that the point of democracy was that you didn’t just smash things you disagree with. Democracy is rule by majority, and if the majority couldn’t care less then you need to educate us, not resort to violence.

Democracy, as Churchill said, is the worst form of government, apart from all the others, though the protestors don’t seem keen on Churchill either.

Statue of Thomas Paine at Thetford – was it really four years ago that we visited?


20 thoughts on “The War on Statues

  1. arlingwoman

    I can’t believe there’s a statue of Paine in England. The writer of Common Sense. But then, I stumbled upon a statue of Lincoln in Westminster and was enthralled and puzzled at the time. I saw the graffiti on the Churchill statue and felt bad. I think the problem comes when we idealize people and historical moments, and freeze them in time as Tootlepedal said. People are complex and so is the world and events in it and the good and bad in people needs to be acknowledged. It rounds them out. It lets us know that imperfect people can do great things. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. (supreme court justice) summarized FDR as “A second-class intellect. But a first class temperament.” Eleanor Roosevelt, daughter of an alcoholic, was deeply alarmed by Churchill’s drinking when he stayed at the White House. Still, these two people led their countries through a grave crisis. So the point I’m trying to make is the statues idealize, but to be critical of my point, I’d also add that most people don’t seem to be capable of acknowledging both in public figures. And that may be a failure of our historians.

    1. quercuscommunity

      A statue and several plaques to Paine. One of the plaques was put up in Thetford in WW2 by US servicemen. There is another in Alford, Lincolnshire where he worked as an excise man.

      There are statues of 6 US presidents in London.

      Washington will have to go, because of the slaves and FDR because he is with Churchill. 🙂

      1. quercuscommunity

        Blogging expands the mind, doesn’t it? 🙂

        Until yesterday I could not have told you that there were six statues of American Presidents in London. In fact there seem to be two of FDR when I look.

      2. arlingwoman

        Yeah, I noticed that. I was telling a friend this morning that I’d had some really interesting discussions in the blogosphere lately and that there were differing points of view explaining to each other–kind of refreshing, eh? Wish the larger discourse was like that.

      3. arlingwoman

        Well, we have been in community for a while, and want to stay in community, and know a little about each other’s lives, so it behooves us not to blow it up the way some do on social media. I think we’re also genuinely curious about other viewpoints, which helps.

      4. quercuscommunity

        I removed myself from social media many years ago and have rarely felt deprived as a result. I’m looking for information rather than an argument. 🙂

  2. jodierichelle

    It’s a wild time, and it’s going tot take more than the removal of a few statues. You are right about protests bringing on protests. But those protests ( in combination with the video taped murder of George Floyd ) have made me reexamine my life and my privilege. And a whole heck of a lot of others are doing the same. THAT’s how change happens.

    1. quercuscommunity

      As I said towards the end of the post, it’s about educating people and making them care about a subject many may never have considered. You won’t get far by trying to coerce people.

  3. tootlepedal

    I am an iconoclast and would have the lot of them down, deserving and undeserving. They don’t preserve history, they pickle it, freeze it, deaden it.


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