Lashing Back At The Waves Of Stupid

Trafalgar Square in London is one of London’s great memorials.  The tribute to Lord Nelson and his epic naval victory at Trafalgar is one of the signature sites in one of the world’s great cities.

The square has a series of  “plinths” – the technical term for statue-stands.  Three of them are occupied by statues of King George IV, Henry Havelock and Sir Charles Napier. The fourth of the plinths, built in 1841, has never been permanently occupied by a statue.  Over the years, it’s been the scene of stunts, demonstrations, and often occupied by temporary statues, some of them debuting on the plinth before being put in their permanent locations.  Some of them were of genuine British heroes; others, during the reight of London’s longtime socialist wackjob mayor wackjob mayor Ken Livingstone, were more, er, unconventional.

But the latest occupant of the Fourth Plinth is a statue of a hero that is someone obscure to Britons, and even moreso to Americans – even though he played an absolutely crucial role in the survival of western civilization seventy years ago.

It’s Air Vice Marshal Keith Park, a New Zealander who commanded the Royal Air Force’s “11 Group”, the fighters responsible for defending London and southeast England during the Battle of Britain.   Had 11 Group failed in its mission, Hitler would have won air superiority over the English Channel and the southwest of the UK.  It would have cleared the way for an invasion of the UK which, given the British Army’s badly-depleted state after Dunkirk, would likely have led to a Nazi victory in World War II.

The picture shows him in a fairly typical pose, pulling on one of his flight gloves as he got ready to climb into his personal Hawker Hurricane to keep up the relentless schedule of touring his airfields, checking up on his men, the hundreds of 20-25 year old pilots that died by the score, but saved the day for the UK and, incidentally, all of us.

I don’t know if it’s accurate to call Mary Wakefield, columnist for the London Independent, any more or less knowledgeable about history than any other “journalist”, here or there.  I don’t know if her knowledge of history is any more addled than that of any other Briton or American.  I don’t know if her giggly, show-biz-centered “mind” is any more  or less acute than that of any of the other bobbleheads in our “gatekeeping” class.

But reading this column about the Park statue…:

So Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park has made it up on to the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square at long last. Arise, Sir Keith, good job. I salute you as I cycle past, for without you (I’m told) the Battle of Britain would have been lost and the free world a goner. OK, I’m lying. The truth is, I’d never heard of Keith Park GCB, KBE, MC before the campaign to plinth him began, and I still can’t quite figure out what all the fuss is about.

…I got a bad feeling about the answer.

Being one of the western world’s elite gatekeepers, one might think an enquiring mind like Mary Wakefield’s could have figured it out.

The campaign was frighteningly well organised and well funded: field marshals, MPs, Tony Benn, the vice-chancellor of Oxford ? they’ve been at it for years, pushing for Park, but why? Surely there are other, better known and just as heroic or deserving candidates.

Other than millions of other British World War II veterans?  Or the millions of civilians that survived the German blitz, the firebombing of London?  Perhaps – but it’d get crowded on that little plinth.

What about the Queen? There are other questions too. What were the Parkies thinking when they chose to depict their hero pulling on what looks like a pre-op surgical glove?


And why such intensity and lack of humour?

We can forgive Mary Wakefield.  While the Battle of Britain may have lacked the gravitas of, say, the Spice Girls breaking up, it may have slipped her mind.

Clive James, writing for the Beeb, has a long, excellent  response.

14 thoughts on “Lashing Back At The Waves Of Stupid

  1. In his Honor: A History, James Bowman discusses a former denizen of Plinth # 4: Alison Lapper Pregnant by Alison Lapper. I disagree with the Bowman/SITD pining for the old ‘heroic’ ideal. We are genuinely quite removed from Plinth 1-3 take on ‘heroism’. We’re aware of our need to puff ourselves up and have therefore become skeptical when our representative adopts the heroic register, as when Erik Paulsen claims that every military adventure in our past has been honorable–and in the service of freedom. (We increasingly view such statements as being the essence of dishonor). That’s a good thing.

  2. The Paulsen link:

    “Veteran’s Day is truly a day in which we remember the cost of freedom. The freedoms we enjoy today are the result of over two centuries of sacrifice by our men and women of the Armed Forces. Each time our nation has called, our veterans have stood up and shown the world the very best of America. Many have given their lives in the defense and protection of freedom. While this ultimate sacrifice is something we can never truly repay, it is something we must honor each and every day.
    As we celebrate Veteran’s Day tomorrow, please take time to stop and reflect on the great sacrifices made throughout America’s history by our men and women in uniform. Let us also keep the victims of the terrible tragedy at Fort Hood, as well as their families, in our prayers.
    To the veterans of the Third District, Minnesota and the United States: thank you for your service. Please know that I take seriously the commitment the United States has made to you and that meeting that commitment is and will always be one of my top priorities in Congress.”

    Notice the similarities between the text and Gavin’s characterization of it? Yeah, neither can I.

  3. Gavin,

    Well, that’s one way of looking at it.

    Many of us disagree. And I hardly think it’s unreasonable to expect that a plinth on a monument to (if I may wax heroic/dishonorable for a moment) a culture-defining, heroic moment and personality might be reserved for, I dunno, other heroic, culture-defining people and moments. As opposed to the vapid post-ironic noodlings of the “artistic” children of an era that’s long since forgotten why the personalities and heroism were needed in the first place.

    And while I’ll dispute that we’re “quite removed” from the take on heroism – I know about 180,000 examples to the contrary overseas right now – there’s an even better argument to be made that the reason we can even be arguably past the need for such people and moments is precisely because of the heroism of the likes of Nelson and Park, and the thousands of men they led then and represent today, who bought the UK (and, orthoganally, us) the privilege of being able to be so historically dissipate without horrible consequence.

    But since Trafalgar Square is, precisely, a monument to heroism, why not keep the post-ironic, post-“heroic” dross in the uncoutnable museums, university art departments, coffee shops and post-structuralist salons that such “art” already has available to it?

  4. I was thinking about going to Selma, Alabama, and going to the monument to the slain Freedom Riders.

    And since the battle for civil rights has long been won, and today’s African-Americans no longer have to fight government and bigotry simultaneously, and the meaning of the original monument is thus obsolete, I was thinking about appending a monolith in honor of the ’85 Bears to the rest of the memorial.

    And then I’m going to go to NYC, to the site of the old Stonewall bar, where the gay rights movement as we understand it today started, for another battle that is no longer completely literally relevant, and building a monument to the cartoons of Jay Ward.

    It’s art, dammit! Don’t oppress me!

  5. Tony Benn? There is a blast from the past. He led the uberleft Labor opposition (oposition in the Labor party to the Labor leaders who were not opposing Thatcher enough) in the 80s and currenly runs the main British opposition to the Iraq war.

    Mitch you sure Keith Park isn’t some closet Red?

  6. Yes, I’m sure, but I’m sure you can find a Wikipedia article saying he mentored Jerry Rubin.

  7. Yeah, you got me there. Well, you will if you can show me how the fairly factual posts about Trafalgar Square and AVM Park’s biographies are in any way ambiguous sources about questions of, y’know, Trafalgar Square or Keith Park’s bio.

  8. A correction from RickDFL?
    The guy who thinks that Missouri was a confederate state?
    The guy who thinks that non-partisan is the same as unbiased?
    The guy who said he was a not a defeatist because we had already lost in Iraq?

  9. Pingback: Shot in the Dark » Blog Archive » Battle Of Britain: The Duel Of Eagles

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