"But how can you live and have no story to tell?" Fyodor Dostoevsky
“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped.” - 1984 by George Orwell.
This pulling down statues business intrigues me. Setting aside that judging figures from history by today's woke standards is not a sensible idea, scratch the surface on most so-called heroes, and a complex picture emerges. Let's take a look at a few. Warning — nobody comes out of this with a clean rap sheet.
The bloke who wrote "Give peace a chance" didn't give his spouses much 'peace' with his regular beatings. Both Yoko Ono and Cynthia Lennon suffered at the hand of Lennon's violent abuse. This brutal side of Lennon was on show during his time in Hamburg when he'd attack drunks or others who'd offended him. Lennon would back off when faced with a tough opponent but was happy to kick the shit out of the vulnerable. Later, his treatment of his son Julian Lennon didn't earn John much credit. Lennon was absent, distant and often stoned, leaving his son abandoned.
How about the Saintly Mother Teresa? Surely beyond rebuke! The popular image is of a poor, cash-strapped nun trawling the streets of Calcutta, rescuing sick, abandoned children to offer them loving care. Yet, along comes Christopher Hitchens with 'The Missionary Position' to expose something much less palatable.
Mother Teresa is documented as having diverted vast sums donated to her clinics to push missionary work instead of buying medication for her dying patients. In truth, you could argue the sick kids were her bait to generate donations. The medical care she provided was lacking despite the millions of dollars people gave her.
Her patients were sometimes left to die in agony, while she jetted off in first-class to deal with dodgy regimes and take their money stolen from ordinary folk. It turns out her clinics leveraged pain and misery. She then syphoned the cash off. Also, former members of her order describe baptisms of the dying performed without their consent. In short, she ran a death cult.
Gandhi, he must be kosher? You know, the little fellow walking around in a bed-sheet preaching passive resistance. He lamented many things, including that Indians were considered "little better than savages or the Natives of Africa." Thus he sponsored a bill to make Indians superior to blacks under South Africa's apartheid system. A bit racist, you may think. Plus, he appeared to enjoy sleeping naked with underage girls. He claimed this was a 'test' of his will-power. Honest, your Honour. You don't hear that spoken about in polite company.
When Kasturba, Gandhi's wife, came down with pneumonia, he denied her penicillin, even though doctors said it would cure her. He insisted the new medicine was an alien substance her body should not take in. She succumbed to the sickness and died in 1944. Later, when he fell sick, he had no such qualms. Lovely man.
Doctor Martin Luther King - he must be clean; after all, he has a PhD. When people discovered that this politician had a PhD from Boston University, his words carried more weight. Unfortunately in 1991, a Boston University committee found he'd plagiarised much of his dissertation. They advised against revoking the late Dr King's credentials. They did, however, place on record a summary of their findings. Add to that his public affairs with young women in his movement, and a picture emerges of a much more complex man.
Nelson Mandela? Mandela indeed rose to greatness. Freed after 27 years in a South African jail, the anti-apartheid fighter emerged calling for healing. He negotiated a peaceful end to apartheid and practised reconciliation. In this, he was great. A healer. None of that should whitewash from history his use of violence early in his career. Mandela is on record as suggesting cutting off the noses of blacks deemed collaborators with whites.
Thus the verdict is in. John Lennon was a wife-beater and a crap dad. Mother Teresa, a religious fanatic who ran a death cult, Gandhi was a racist with dodgy sleeping habits, while Dr Martin Luther King cheated on his PhD. Do these folks deserve a statue? Just asking.
And that brings me to my main point. Most of our heroes come with flaws; some have deep flaws. In 20 years will the post-modernists and the social justice warriors be pulling down statues of Gandhi, John Lennon and Mother Teresa? Probably because this is a beast that eats its own tail. Let's face it, nothing is ever straightforward, and no one is 100% clean.
Lastly, if we are to remove statues and whitewash history, why stop with statues, let do the books next. It is a terrible shame we don't have any lessons from history to guide us once this process starts.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.