Does anyone imagine you can understand the past simply by looking at statues?
That’s not exactly what’s meant by saying statues are “part of our history”, but it implies that if statues are removed people will know less about history. The history they record, however, is not the deeds of those commemorated but the beliefs of the age that made the monuments.
Most people don’t know much about history. I had an educated colleague who thought the followers of Bonnie Prince Charlie were Jacobins and that Oliver Cromwell came in with the Glorious Revolution. The statue of Cromwell in Wythenshawe Park, Manchester, which has just been vandalised by anti-racists, wouldn’t have helped him.
The protesters daubed FASCIST, RACIST and COCKROACH on the plinth. The pretext was Cromwell’s conquest of Ireland, which was pretty savage. Cromwell, as it happens also readmitted the Jews to England after an exile ordered by Edward I. If you want get het up about that too, there’s a statue of Edward at 114 High Holborn.
In Ulysses James Joyce wrote about about Ireland’s attitude to the Jews:
Mr Deasy halted, breathing hard and swallowing his breath.
—I just wanted to say, he said. Ireland, they say, has the honour of being
the only country which never persecuted the jews. Do you know that? No.
And do you know why?
He frowned sternly on the bright air.—Why, sir? Stephen asked, beginning to smile.
—Because she never let them in, Mr Deasy said solemnly.