'R. W. Johnson, an author who is an emeritus fellow of Magdalen College at Oxford, compared the (Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford) campaign to remove the monument to what Al Qaeda and the Islamic State “are doing in places like Mali when destroying statues”. ' - NYT 'Oxford University Will Keep Statue of Cecil Rhodes' Jan 29th 2016.
I was brought up in East Hertfordshire. One of its fine old towns is Bishop's Stortford. Cecil Rhodes came from there. After going up to Oxford University, he went on to shape much of Africa, becoming what we thought of as a 'great imperialist' - the man who was determined to make the map pink from 'the Cape to Cairo'.
Julius Caesar was also a great imperialist. He moved the boundaries of the Roman Empire all the way north to the English Channel. In doing so he butchered many thousands of Gauls. However the influence of Roman civilization on those Celtic tribes later lead on to the Empire of Charlemagne and the languages and literature of much of Western Europe.
A couple of summers ago I had a conversation with an American academic who is a leading expert on what are called the Jacksonian Wars (the wars of Andrew Jackson). He was up in Ontario as to take part in the celebrations honouring the bicentennial of the War of 1812 (a Jacksonian war). He often goes to Britain as part of his research and we discussed what I was taught at school in Hertford about that war and the earlier French-Indian War, both pivotal to the formation of modern Canada. According to him the teaching of imperial history in Britain today is abysmal - the whole Empire thing is to be regarded as an embarrassment.
A prominent feature of dictatorships has always been the rewriting of history to suit the narrative of those in power. However today's social democracies are also becoming captured by a narrative that redefines time in their past as something to be ashamed of, and for which all visible reminders must be removed. According to the NYT article above, 'The petition and protest in Oxford had provoked an intense discussion about whether Britain’s colonial past should be judged by contemporary standards' and 'The dispute was characterized on one side as an exercise in political correctness and a desire to erase history, and on the other as a test of the university’s willingness to acknowledge the sensitivities and values of minority students'.