“Partial firing continued until 4:30, when a victory having been reported to the Right Hon. Lord Viscount Nelson, KB and commander in chief, he then died of his wound.”
So reads the simple entry in the log of HMS Victory for Oct. 21, 1805, the day of Trafalgar, one of the greatest sea battles of history, in which Admiral Horatio Nelson, architect of the Royal Navy victory over the French and Spanish fleets, lost his life.
On this month’s 200th anniversary of that battle that ended Napoleon’s threat of invasion, a battle is being fought over London’s Trafalgar Square, where a 185-foot victory column stands, atop which is a statue of the great Sea Lord who had led British fleets to triumph at Copenhagen and the Battle of the Nile.
London Mayor Ken Livingstone, dubbed “Red Ken” by the press for his hard-left views, wants to plant, in the heart of Trafalgar Square, a 9-foot statue of another Nelson—Nelson Mandela.
The Westminster Council vehemently objects. They say the Mandela statue, which shows him in a loose-fitting shirt, hands uplifted as though in animated conversation, should be placed in front of the South African embassy.
Paul Drury, a consultant for the conservation group English Heritage, argues that putting an “informal, small-scale statue” of Mandela alongside the warrior heroes whose statues now stand there “would be a major and awkward change in the narrative of the square.”
To which Livingstone snaps, “I have not a clue who two of the generals there are or what they did.”
Those two generals are Sir Charles James Napier and Sir Henry Havelock. Napier besieged and captured Sindh, sending back the famous one-word Latin message: Peccavi. “I have sinned.” Havelock led the suppression of the Indian Mutiny of 1857. Both military heroes helped secure the crown jewel of the British Empire for the future empress of India, Victoria.
One imagines Red Ken knows exactly who they are and what they did, and this is why he wants them out of Trafalgar Square—and his hero Mandela, the former ANC train-bomber who spent 27 years in prison and emerged to become president of South Africa, in.
Red Ken is not an empire man. But Trafalgar Square is the grand plaza that honors British military heroes. And as Mandela is neither British nor a military hero, what would he be doing in Trafalgar Square? His statue no more belongs there than on the Washington Mall.
But Livingstone and Rev. Jesse Jackson, who has entered the fray in support of the Mandela statue, “to bring this internationally important public space into the 21st century,” are after other game.
That is to rub the noses of the British in the reality that their empire is dead and gone and the heroes they were raised to revere are to be displaced by the gods of globalism. Hereafter, instead of statues of European conquerors gracing the capitals of the Asian and African colonies they subdued, the statues of Third World rulers will rise in the capitals of the old mother countries.
“Burn what you worshipped, worship what you burned!” Clovis was told by the bishop as he led his armies to be baptized, when pagan Europe converted to Christianity. That is what this is all about—the transition to a new dispensation.
“[I]t is what he represents they don’t want to see depicted,” says Livingstone, “because in that square, one Nelson signifies the birth of the British Empire and 100 years of global dominance. … Nelson Mandela would signify the peaceful transition to a multiracial and multicultural world, and I would be proud to have that in London.”
But whose square is it, anyway? Red Ken’s or the people’s square? Whom do the British people wish to honor?
Who we honor tells us who we are. The Battle of Trafalgar Square is a battle Red Ken instinctively understands, but many of his countrymen do not. For it is about what Thomas Sowell calls “visions in conflict.”
Red Ken wants Mandela’s statue to celebrate the end of an era and coming of a new world where London is no longer the capital of a mighty empire upon which the sun never sets but rather has become a polyglot cosmopolitan city where everyone’s heroes can be equally honored and any idea that the British are or were a superior people, culture, or civilization has become repellent.
In this new age, the West’s assigned role is to repent endlessly of its shameful centuries of racism, imperialism, and colonialism.
“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever,” O’Brien told Winston in 1984. In the hard Left’s picture of the future, Western man endlessly does penance and pays tribute for the sins of his fathers. That is what Nelson v. Nelson in Trafalgar Square is all about.