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Here's why Nelson's Column should not be taken down


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Recently an article appeared in the Guardian, written by Afua Hirsch, calling for Nelson’s Column to be toppled due to its ‘links’ to slavery.

In a piece which laments Britain for failing to denounce “the shameful era”, Hirsch uses the fact that Admiral Nelson, alongside his immense naval success, used his position to resist the increasing call for abolition to argue that leaving his statue intact is essentially facilitating the glorification of slavery and white supremacy.

The argument follows a number of Confederate statues being pulled down or at least being called to be pulled down, across America due to their links slavery, and it is easy to understand why people want them removed. 

Indeed, the American statues which have been toppled, such as those dedicated to Robert E Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia and Jackson-Lee in Baltimore, Maryland, were specifically built to celebrate the fact that the individuals represented were heroes South of the Mason-Dixon line. They led an army of a country that claimed independence because they wanted to keep slaves. As such, due to the racism, they represent it is clear that they have no place in modern America, or indeed the modern world.

However, the same cannot be said for the tribute to Admiral Nelson. Indeed, it is absolutely impossible to claim that Nelson’s Column was built specifically to celebrate the Admiral's stance on slavery, or any of his other modern misdemeanours.

Instead, it is clear that the glorious column was built to commemorate Nelson’s vital role in safe guarding our country through the British victory over the French navy, an achievement which unquestionably should still be celebrated today, unlike past racism.

Taking this argument further, if we were to pull down every statue of every individual in the UK who had racist, pro-slavery or immoral tendencies our cities would suddenly become very bare and our heroes would disappear. For example, Churchill, who has been hailed as a war hero who helped end Nazi atrocities, was “strongly in favour of using poisonous gas about uncivilised [black] tribes”.

Yet, this is the same Churchill who in 1904 wrote an article calling for open door immigration into Britain. 

However, no one has called for his multiple statues to be removed due to his comments as they recognise it is his achievements being celebrated by the statues, rather than his personal beliefs. Ultimately, no figure of the past is going to be perfect, especially when judged on today's morals rather than those contemporary to them.

It seems what Hirsch is actually calling for is the implementation of more statues commemorating the contribution of black people throughout history, and rightly so. Indeed, there already is an increasing call to readdress the supremacy of white male statues in London and across the UK, and slowly more black, female and other minority statues are being introduced.

However, there is no reason this needs to be done by pulling down existing statues of notable figures. Like it or not Nelson was one of the best Admirals the British navy has ever seen, and regardless of colour, gender, personal opinion or even underwear preference he should be allowed to be remembered as such.

Ultimately, none of the people looking up at his statue 52 meters above Trafalgar square are doing so to celebrate his opinion on slaves, but rather a military great who had a vital role in the protection of this island and they should continue being given a chance to do so.

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