Holiday: 25

Having arrived back from Prague, and after a stop for breakfast, we decided to head to see my parents in the land of Wales and appalling internet.

BT have been promising them an upgrade since the end of June. Now mid August, it still hasn’t materialised. A list of never ending excuses falls into father’s email daily. He has been advised, by a younger friend, to take to Twitter in the hope this will rectify the problem quicker. I feel this could be a crusade for @blofelds_cat. It’ll keep him out of trouble. My father and Twitter does not bare thinking about. Dad does not do 140 characters ever.

On the way to Wales, I thought a lot about Robert E Lee. I know he is a controversial figure. I know he fought for what he believed in and lost. I know he went home. I know his supporters want to carry on that fight 142 years or so later. I know they are Nazis. They are not to be tolerated. Ever. I do not know enough about Lee to comment on his views.

I understand Lee is regarded by some as a traitor. They feel his statues should be removed and his status downgraded. I see their point.

When Communism fell in the 90s statutes of the hated oppressors fell too. These were imposed. They had no place. Easy come. Easy go. But Lee is not Stalin or Lenin. His statues are primarily in the South. And this is nearly 150 not 50 years later.

I found myself comparing civil wars for help. It didn’t. The row between Parliament and Crown divided the politically aware. Yes, 21st century village rivalries can still be traced to the Civil War era. But only historians interested in such things know this. In that typical way of indifference the Bits have to history. That’s back in the day, innit. Forgotten. Cromwell and Charles keep their place in history, despite the execution of Charles and the execution of the traitor Cromwell after the Restoration.

Expunging people from history is dangerous. It raises them up to godlike proportions; the subject of hero worship. Except again in Britain where hero status is questioned and tumbled more quickly.

On my many travels this holiday I passed Sidmouth Street. Named after Lord Sidmouth.

Lord Who?

In 1819, August 16 to be precise, a peaceful protest for democracy in Manchester led to one of the worst attrocities in British history. A rally at St Peter’s Field, addressed by Orator Hunt was deemed by the local magistrate to be seditious. He called on the military authorities to arrest Hunt and several others on the hustings with him, and to disperse the crowd of men women and children.

Cavalry charged into the crowd with sabres drawn. In the ensuing confusion, 15 people were killed and 400–700 were injured.

Lord Sidmouth – Home Secretary and hero of the hour – responded quickly and decisively, passing 6 acts designed to stop revolutionary uprisings such as that witnessed in Manchester. Social media of the time (the newspapers) went mental. Singers and poets took up their pens. The government – anti democratic and unreformed – stayed firm. Only giving miniscule way 13 years later with The Great Reform Act.

After that democracy rolled inexorably on. Sidmouth relegated first to A level and now degree level history. His street names and signs provoking no reaction.

Eventually struggling still to comprehend this reaction to Robert E Lee my thoughts came to Churchill. A truly divisive figure if ever there was one. War hero, lone voice against Hitler. Ask the Irish and their reaction to Churchill (and Cromwell) is equally derisory. Like Sidmouth he condoned the use of troops against their protests. He even defended (in the Commons) the army’s decision allow General Dyer to resign and not face prosecution, or censor, following Amritsar

And suddenly I understood why I cannot understand the furore surrounding Lee. In Britain the general populous is not interested in history only now; and we do not let truth get in the way of the heroes we want to keep. We just stop teaching inconvient truths.

Lee will not go while he is fought over and passions are high. If you wamt him gone America; remove him from the school curriculum not the street corner.