If a nation starts to rewrite its history it ceases to be itself and becomes something else. Recognising past mistakes is right and proper and part of a maturing process but outright rejection of the national story to fit in with a single issue extremist political ideology is an attack on a nation's soul, in no way to be reconciled with the existence of a free people.
I was recently present at a conversation about the current drive to take down statues of people associated with what are now regarded as unsavoury episodes in our country's history even though, in most cases, the statues are not there to celebrate those episodes but to commemorate other aspects of the lives of the individuals concerned. The argument raged back and forth but I did not contribute partly because in normal life no one takes much notice of statues anyway! But I do understand the symbolic significance. Then one of the participants suggested that, rather than take statues down, we should put up new statues of non-British people who, he thought, represented humanity at its best. Somewhat inevitably he put forward Gandhi and Nelson Mandela for their peaceful non-violent protests. I couldn't resist pointing out that Mandela had a past record of violent terrorism which, if you are going to ignore, why not also ignore the problems with those who are currently under attack? I added that in any Empire other than the British it is probable that Gandhi would have 'disappeared'. It is only because of the innately civilised qualities of the people he was peacefully protesting against that he could get away with peacefully protesting, though this is not to deny the justice of his cause. Besides, even Gandhi is criticised for racism now though, ironically, his words, as reported in this article, have recently been attributed to Churchill and given as a reason for defacing his statue.
But this was not my main objection to the idea. If you erect statues of people who were not central to your country's identification of itself as a nation and give them the same footing as those who contributed to the idea of the country as a special place with its own identity and role in the world, you risk losing integrity as a nation, losing the authentic sense of self. This is even more the case if these people were actual opponents of your country. It is fine to respect such people for their virtues but to celebrate them means you diminish yourself. Is that the point of statues? What is more, the two individuals proposed did not transcend representing their own group so what is their purpose here? They did not fight for humanity. They were Indian and South African respectively, and they were fundamentally political figures, thereby increasing potential divisiveness. The only possible justification for a statue of a non-national (other than a person who contributed to the national story) would be for someone who really did exalt humanity as a whole and I'm not sure I can think of anyone like that except Jesus Christ. I suppose you could add people like Plato and Mozart but really what would be the point except perhaps in an academic or artistic institution? And now I think of it, didn't Plato live in a society in which slavery existed? And Mozart is often today deemed a racist (see Monostatos in The Magic Flute) so he's out. I only thought of the potential problems with these two after I had chosen them at random which shows how complicated the selective reframing of history is.
There is something very symbolic about pulling down beyond the obvious act of destruction. Pulling down is levelling to the ground, returning something created back to the state of non-creation, raw matter. It is significant that this is the only state in which complete equality can exist. The drive to establish equality is supposed to be the rationale behind all political action on the left now. But complete equality must mean the levelling of everything down to nothing. Things are only equal when they are all nothing, all completely flattened, any individual quality crushed. As Nicolai Berdyaev says in his 1923 book, The Philosophy of Inequality, "Inequality is the basis of cosmic order. Absolute equality would have left being in an unrevealed condition. The demand for a forced levelling, which comes out of the lower levels of chaotic darkness, is an attempt to destroy the hierarchic cosmic order which was formed by the creative birth of light in darkness, an attempt to destroy human personality itself."
The destruction of the past is what all tyrants seek so there is no other framework of understanding than the one they wish to impose. Once our history is rewritten we will no longer be the same people. Maybe this is the future and part of the dissolution to be expected at the end of an age, but if we wish to remain spiritually free and not become the conditioned slaves of an ideology we must at least understand the process for what it is and not succumb to it inwardly.
None of this alters the fact that there has been past injustice and unfair discrimination and the consequences of these still exist today. This cannot be denied. On the other hand, I don't think there have been many occasions when a completely different group of people has been introduced into a society in large numbers and the result has not been bloodshed. There have been wounds and there needs to be healing but the only possible way forward requires forgiveness and respect on both sides and part of that respect is that the historical integrity of the nation must be honoured, warts and all.
Note: This essay might appear to be written from the point of view that a particular situation can be improved and we can move forward into a better future. I don't actually believe that as anyone who has read my earlier writings will know. We are living at a time of spiritual rejection in which forces inimical to goodness and truth are manipulating reality for their own ends. This current unrest is part of that. The most important thing, it seems to me, is not to allow oneself to be sucked into a pattern of hatred and recrimination. At the same time, never compromise with truth.