Who's next? Andrew Jackson?
That was the question posed, snarkily, by the traditionalists and, in earnest, by the iconoclasts when New Orleans set about removing Robert E. Lee et al from its streets. But if logic requires the statuary purge to be extended beyond the Confederacy, why stop at Old Hickory? If we can go back to the slavers of an earlier era, we can go forward to the racists of a later one. Luckily, our English cousins have helped us identify a prime candidate for the next round of retrospective obloquy right here in New Orleans.
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In London stands a cafe called Blighty UK, Blighty being an old-established British expatriate term for home. Not only does the cafe therefore bear a title that is jingoistic twice over, but its décor carries a heavy Winston Churchill theme. Customers can drink tea from mugs bearing the famous jowly countenance while models of the Spitfire, the World War II plane that repelled the Hun, dangle overhead and Union Jacks adorn the walls.
Well, I think you can see why this establishment offends today's moral arbiters, and why a band of agitators has vandalized it and urged a boycott. Right. Churchill made a bunch of racist remarks in the course of his 90 years, so Blighty UK is a blight on the nation. By the same token, his statue that stands in front of the Riverside Hilton must go.
That should be the end of the story, but there are those in Louisiana who will not be ready to do the right thing. The task of re-education is all the more difficult because there exists in New Orleans a society with a mission to “spread appreciation of the thoughts, words, and deeds of Winston Spencer Churchill, to foster an outlook on world events that builds on his wisdom, his courage, his love of Anglo-American traditions, and his renowned prescience, and to enjoy the brilliance of his writings, his speeches, and his wit.”
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Imagine how upset members of that society will be when we come for the statue. I can hear them right now, whining that a man who single-handedly saved western civilization and won the Nobel Prize for Literature must have had his good points. But for racial prejudice there can no longer be any extenuation, as a mob made clear last weekend when storming the Blighty cafe to protest its “unashamed colonial and gentrifying presence,” and chant, “We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
Sure, that was just the slightly melodramatic slogan of a smallish group, but this was hardly an isolated incident. Blighty UK's owner was recently forced to paint over a mural of Churchill rather than keep removing graffiti that branded him “scum,” “warmonger” or “imperialist.” A separate left-wing group has launched an online campaign against Blighty UK.
Oxford University students, moreover, launched a furious campaign to force the removal of a statue of that other great imperialist Cecil Rhodes, but administrators last year took the highly eccentric position that the issue should be settled “in a spirit of free speech and open debate.”
As for Churchill, he was born into the English aristocracy when Queen Victoria had more than a quarter of a century left to reign and Anglo Saxon superiority was an article of faith. He died in 1964, and clearly cannot be held to the mores of 2018. Still, his virulence could shock even his contemporaries as he roundly disparaged Indians, black people, Aborigines and Palestinians, for example. It is hard to deny that the great man had faults.
But they all do, of course, and Churchill's contributions to civilization are no less prodigious because of opinions that would draw gasps in a public setting today.
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Now that Lee, Jefferson Davis and P.G.T. Beauregard are gone from the streets, Old Hickory is targeted on account of the Trail of Tears.
That gives him something in common with Churchill, whose statue has stood in New Orleans since the honorary British consul James Coleman donated it to the city in 1977, and who famously promised nothing but “blood, sweat, toil and tears.”
The streets are going to look pretty bare by the time all flawed heroes have been removed.
Email James Gill at Gill1407@bellsouth.net.