When Alan Turing was pardoned a few years ago there was a sense that justice had been done. But there was also a sense that legal and intellectual logic had been broken. Turing had been convicted according to the laws and mores of his times. He was pardoned by those of ours.
What is done is done. We can look back on history and regret it, but we cannot disown it. Turing’s pardon gave us a warm feeling, perhaps. It also brought his case and those of hundreds like him to our attention – a good thing. Those who are ignorant of history are more likely to repeat its mistakes. The more we know the better we can have a chance to be.
Slavery and its principal facilitator – Empire – were grotesque and shameful. But the scale of what happened and the impact of it was permanent. The countries of the Caribbean are how they are today because of the slave trade and the colonial exploitation of natural and human resources . The southern United States were built on slavery and the racial demographics of modern day America were formed by it.
We need to balance the need to record and understand the past with a genuine need to condemn it if it offends modern day standards. But removing a statue or a memorial does not change the past. Indeed it may mean that we less understand what happened. Out of sight out of mind.
The memorials and statues should stay where they are. Alongside them should be placed clear statements which tell the stories warts and all. The inextricably linked subjects of Imperialism and Slavery need to be better understood – the creation of a “Museum of the British Empire” telling the complete story of imperialism and colonialism is long overdue. Hiding away events from the past so that we do not offend today’s sensitivities is adding delusion and denial to past offences. Let’s seek out and tell the truth.