Cromwell Statue In London Caught Up In History Whitewashing Battle
Controversy has erupted in London, England as historians call for the removal of a statue of Oliver Cromwell situated in front of the Houses of Parliament.
The winds of change are blowing east. The New York Times recently reported that after a white nationalist rally turned violent in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12 2017, attention was drawn to “dozens of Confederate monuments around America.” Subsequently, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, has motioned to have hundreds of statues and monuments celebrating controversial Civil War era figures removed from public places.
Political Correction of the Parliamentarian
Now, across the Atlantic Ocean, Oliver Cromwell, who was undoubtedly one of the most controversial figures in the history of the British Isles, has come under the ‘pc’ spotlight. According to The Sunday Telegraph, Jeremy Crick, a social historian from Staffordshire, has compared Crowell to “the Taliban in Afghanistan” for his “anti-religious zeal” and the “wholesale destruction” by Parliamentarian troops of many religious and church buildings during the civil war of 1642 to 1651. “There should be no place for him outside the Palace of Westminster” says Mr Crick who thinks such “unloved statues” should all be removed and displayed in one place, rather than simply being destroyed.
A Century of Contention
The statue of Cromwell has been the source of controversy from even before it was erected outside Westminster in 1899, as Irish Nationalists voted against its installation because of the ghastly activities of Cromwell’s troops on innocent folk during the invasion of Ireland in AD 1649.
Of course, Mr Crick has his critics, for example, John Goldsmith, chairman of the Cromwell Society described his suggestion as “folly” and “attempting to rewrite history”. “It was inevitable in the present debate about the removal of statues that the figure of Oliver Cromwell outside the Palace of Westminster would become a target,” added Mr Goldsmith. But he argues, “The iconoclasm of the English civil wars was neither ordered nor carried out by Cromwell” and that some consider him as “a defender of parliament against external pressure, in his case of course the monarchy.”
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Oliver Cromwell imprisoning Charles I. (Public Domain)
And not everyone in history thought so lowly of Cromwell; he was “a hero of liberty” in the eyes of John Milton and Thomas Carlyle and Leon Trotsky thought of him as “revolutionary bourgeois.” However, it must be hastily added that his treatment of Catholics in Ireland has been characterized as “genocidal,” yet confusingly, he was selected as one of “the ten greatest Britons of all time” in a 2002 BBC poll.
Statue of Oliver Cromwell outside the Palace of Westminster, London. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
What to do?
As a journalist, I most often report on as many sides of an argument as possible while maintaining a non-judgmental central stance. But not this time. I am going to put my neck on the line. Having studied the meaning of monuments and sacred spaces in other cultures, and considering the recent controversy and violence surrounding Confederate monuments in the US and now the statue of Cromwell in London, and as much as I detest the legacy of division, bigotry and slavery these monuments represent, I think they should remain.
The removal and destruction of statues and monuments is the easy way out of our obligation to ‘understand’ our past with the goal of ‘improving’ our future. The choice on how to see and interpret these statues and the obligation to build on their messages, is ours. Removing statues and monuments is akin to whitewashing history, willingly burying our heads in the sand and denying the inconvenient truths of our past. Read positively, they are iconic of what we were, and no longer are, a reminder of what our forebears sacrificed for our relative freedoms.
The statue of Oliver Cromwell in question is in front of Westminster Hall. (CC BY 2.0)
In conclusion, Civil War monuments and Cromwell in London keep alive some of the darkest aspects of western history, none of which should be forgotten. The monuments should remain, and we should constantly remind ourselves of what they represent, so that such occurrences never ever happen again.
Top image: Oliver Cromwell statue, Palace of Westminster, London Source: CC BY-SA 2.0
By Ashley Cowie