Don’t erase the past

BBC History Magazine - - Letters -

I have an ob­jec­tion to raise against Michael Wood’s po­si­tion on his­tor­i­cal stat­ues, as ex­pounded in his ar­ti­cle in the Novem­ber is­sue ( Com­ment). The era­sure of un­pleas­ant as­pects of the past in or­der to con­form with the spirit of our own times is the core of, and the first step to­wards, to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism. Those who con­trol the past have the po­ten­tial to con­trol the fu­ture. Com­mem­o­rat­ing those who fought for civil lib­er­ties and so­cial jus­tice is the preser­va­tion of the past. Re­mov­ing those mon­u­ments ded­i­cated to their ad­ver­saries is an at­tempt at a cul­tural revo­lu­tion.

Let Rhodes, Cromwell and the Lion­heart stand in full view of the pub­lic – they stand in the dock of his­tory’s court­room, present for the jury of the cu­ri­ous and the en­gaged to de­liver a ver­dict. Let the re­ac­tionary, white su­prem­a­cist wingnuts keep their stat­ues of Robert E Lee – a ‘ her­itage’ and ‘cul­ture’ of slav­ery, big­otry and racial op­pres­sion only serves to em­pha­sise the weak­ness and stu­pid­ity be­hind their case. Be­sides, if we wished to fully ex­punge the taint of slav­ery, we would have to re­move stat­ues of Wash­ing­ton and Jef­fer­son as well.

An in­tel­li­gent, civilised so­ci­ety does not re­move its demons from pub­lic view; it does not con­sign its past to the obliv­ion of ob­scu­rity; it does not en­gen­der a fu­ture where the im­pulses which led to such mon­u­ments be­ing raised in the first place are re­pressed, driven un­der­ground, and left to mul­ti­ply un­til they strike back. Talia Sear, Northamp­ton­shire

Mem­o­ries of At­tlee

With ref­er­ence to the let­ter sug­gest­ings that “the con­vinced so­cial­ist t” Cle­ment At­tlee has a right to o be re­garded as one of our greate est peace­time prime min­is­ters ( Let­ters, Novem­ber), may I (as a nona­ge­nar­ian) make my own com­ments as one who first wel­comed his gov­ern­ment, but who ex­pe­ri­enced its re­al­i­ties. He sin­cerely be­lieved that gov­ern­ment-owned in­dus­tries were ef­fi­cient and op­er­ated to the ben­e­fit of a coun­try. This was be­fore ev­ery so­cial­ist econ­omy col­lapsed, or be­came mori­bund, to dis­prove the be­lief. He also be­lieved in the benef­i­cent pow­ers of the trade unions which, be­cause of the Marx­ist be­liefs of their lead­ers, would lead to the vir­tual de­struc­tion of their in­dus­tries.

I cer­tainly owe a great deal to the Na­tional Health Ser­vice, per­haps one great achieve­ment of At­tlee’s gov­ern­ment, although I am not in a po­si­tion to judge if it is based on the most ef­fi­cient sys­tem. One thing I do ad­mire At­tlee for is his be­lief, in spite of his so­cial­ist views, in our par­lia­men­tary sys­tem of demo­cratic gov­ern­ment. Don­ald Tomkin­son, Crewe

Mar­ley vs The Bard

Levi Roots’ com­par­i­son of Bob Mar­ley’s life­style with Wil­liam Shake­speare’s is bizarre ( My His­tory Hero, Oc­to­ber). Mar­ley’s “few chil­dren” were 13, from nine dif­fer­ent moth­ers. Although Shake­speare’s wife was with child when they mar­ried, and there were some ru­mours of him hav­ing an af­fair at one point, he was gen­er­ally a fairly con­ven­tional hus­band, fa­ther and grand­fa­ther.

Is Levi Roots try­ing to claim that Mar­ley is as in­flu­en­tial a fig­ure as Shake­speare? Surely not. A great singer­song­writer cer­tainly, but a poor life­style role model – a good ex­am­ple of need­ing to sep­a­rate the art from the artist. Jim Reddy, Northen­den

His­tor­i­cal His­tor­ica abuse in the­atre

The allee­ga­tions against Har­vey We­in­stein should come as no surp­prise to those in­ter­ested in thee his­tory of the the­atre. In Sh­hake­speare’s day, boy ac­torsa were rou­tinely abuseda by their masters anda rich pa­trons. When wom­enw were al­lowed on the EnglishE stage in the 1660s, thhey were at once abused in theeir turn, though the prac­c­tice was ex­cused on the groundds that most ac­tresses were

con­sid­ered to be whores any­way. And Pepys and his wealthy friends would pay ex­tra at per­for­mances to go back­stage to watch the women change their cos­tumes.

The ‘cast­ing couch’ has been present both as a joke and re­al­ity through­out the his­tory of per­for­mance. Come for­ward to the 1960s and 70s when full nu­dity was even­tu­ally al­lowed on stage, and very soon Ac­tors’ Eq­uity had to in­clude a clause in stan­dard con­tracts that, as nu­dity in per­for­mance was classed as ‘cos­tume’, per­form­ers (mostly women, of course) could not be re­quired to strip off un­til the dress re­hearsal. The real sur­prise is that it seems to be only now that rich old men in pow­er­ful po­si­tions are be­ing pub­licly chal­lenged over their op­pres­sive be­hav­iour. Noel Thorpe-Tracey, Winch­ester

Richard brought sta­bil­ity

The ar­ti­cle by Chris Skid­more ( Did Fear Drive Richard to the Throne?, Novem­ber) was very plau­si­ble, but seems to miss one as­pect of what is now called re­alpoli­tik.

With the ac­ces­sion of Ed­ward IV to the throne, as a strong king there must have been con­sid­er­able re­lief that the long, drawn-out and ex­pen­sive Wars of the Roses were fi­nally over. Then, with the sud­den and un­ex­pected early death of Ed­ward IV, leav­ing only two young male heirs who had prob­a­bly been in­doc­tri­nated by the Woodvilles, there was ev­ery like­li­hood of a re­sump­tion of the war, with this round be­ing be­tween Richard and the Woodvilles. Richard seems to have grad­u­ally wo­ken up to this pos­si­bil­ity and even­tu­ally de­cided that the only op­tion left open to him was to take the throne and fore­stall con­certed Woodville ac­tion.

What­ever the tan­gled skein of de­tails and po­lit­i­cal con­niv­ing that Richard had to re­sort to in try­ing to le­galise his claim, his po­ten­tial sub­jects may have tac­itly ac­cepted that a mil­i­tar­ily ex­pe­ri­enced and vig­or­ous king was the best way to avoid fur­ther war­fare. James Wells MRINA, Es­sex

A statue of Con­fed­erat te pres­i­dent Jef­fer­son Dav vis at the Univer­sity of Te exas be­ing moved in n 2015

Wil­liam Hog­a­rth’s The Beg­gar’s Opera (1732). The sex­ual abuse of the­atre per­form­ers dates back cen­turies, points out reader Noel Thorpe-Tracey

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