Imperfect isn't bad

In the centre of London today there is a place called Trafalgar Square and in it is a huge column with a statue of Nelson on the top. This was erected by a grateful nation to celebrate the fact that Nelson did a great service to Britain, and the world, by stuffing the French.

Many people may now have you believe that Britain was a bully of a nation, and that there was nothing to celebrate, and that instead the battle of Trafalgar was just a ruthless slaughter of hopelessly outnumbered innocent French. In fact, the fleet that Nelson faced was significantly larger than his own. In fact, France was then the bully nation, and this was some time before the industrial revolution and Britain's sudden rise to power. The threat to Britain and the world was very real. With Britain out of the way, France would be free to do what she wanted in Spain, and to make greater conquests to the east. Napoleon had plans to invade Britain, and an army capable of defeating the British at home. The British had every right to be afraid before that battle, and every right to celebrate after it.

Britannia did not rule the waves with unchallengeable confidence, but she did have the world's best navy. Though the French and Spanish combined fleet out-numbered and out-gunned the British, it still feared the British fleet. Nelson chased his enemy all the way to the Gulf of Mexico and back before finally bringing it to battle at Trafalgar. When his ships entered battle, his men were confident and competent. This was because under Nelson the crews were trained in a thorough and unique way. They practised gunnery more than and unlike any other nation until they could fire much faster than anyone else, and the men were fitter thanks to physical training that the British used and others scorned. The crews were confident in their ability and confident in their leader. Nelson was both loved and admired. On the day, Nelson did his job. He planned the battle meticulously and gave detailed orders to all his captains. Some say he won the battle before it was started. An inspiration to his men, he took his ship into the thick of the fighting, and stood on deck in all his finery - a conspicuous target. He died, but the battle was decisively won. Never again could Napoleon harbour such ambitions as once he had. Nelson had a vast funeral, and the sailors who carried his coffin tore up the flag that lay on it and shared it amongst themselves, each taking a piece of the great man's memory.

And so the British celebrated, and Trafalgar Square was built - a huge square that served no practical purpose in the centre of the world's largest city - a tremendous honour for the dead hero.

But would he be given anything of the kind had he done the like today? It was well known that he had had a scandalous affair in Naples with Lady Hamilton. Today there would be people objecting to the column on the grounds that Nelson would be a bad role model for people since he was connected with violence, and since he was a philanderer. Today, regardless what good a man does, he is judged unworthy of celebration because he is or was imperfect. If he seems perfect, he is accused of being sinister and inhuman, and media folk will do their utmost to uncover some scandal about him. Will there ever be another celebration of an individual like Nelson's column? I fear not.

The fact that Nelson had an affair was irrelevant. The nation had just been saved by a hero. He stuffed the French, and there is no greater service that anyone can do the world than this. No person is perfect, nor ever will be, but we should reward people who do good for others, even if by the same deed they win fame for themselves. This is an important principle. Imagine that a man has done wrong. Perhaps he has done something serious like murder, or perhaps something less, like publicly holding a politically incorrect viewpoint. It is important that this man believe that he might redeem himself through action. It is important that we create a world in which such men might think it worth taking a risk to do some great deed, and end up with some celebration of his act. We should give medals for brave deeds regardless what the doers of these did formerly. We should name streets after people who were once clearly imperfect but later did some great service to us. Heroes are good, useful things to have, and Nelson was a hero. We must long keep his statue clean of pigeon shit.

I am sick of hearing people say that Winston Churchill used to piss himself. Yes, when he was in his mid-eighties he suffered from incontinence. I hope I live to be so old. This is no way to criticise a man who did so much, took so many hard decisions throughout the war and arguably saved this nation and therefore the world. If Britain had fallen, as she so very nearly did, Europe could not have been liberated by a forced landing launched from America. It is reasonable to imagine that Hitler or Stalin, or a coalition of the two, would have taken over most of the developed world, and perhaps from there, most of the rest. Some of the decisions Churchill took turned out to be bad, but most were good, and someone had to take them. Despite this, many people today have begrudged him even a life-sized statue on a simple plinth. Even saving the world isn't enough when one smoked, or drank, or joined the wrong political party, or became incontinent in extreme old age.

Modern Britons seem to be terribly embarrassed about this great nation's past success, and squirm and distort history to apologise for everything our ancestors ever did. They try to convince themselves and anyone they can get to listen that everything this nation did and stood for in the past was evil. Why do they do this? To claim the moral high ground, of course. By denigrating their own country, they compliment themselves. They are in effect trying to say "Look, everyone, I am morally a good person, and one way you can tell this is by noting that I denigrate my own in-group. By this method, I show that I am better than the people around me." Recently, I heard of a politically correct Brit saying that the British are the most aggressive warlike people in the world. What is the evidence for this? More warlike than the Zulus? Would this woman have said the same were there no Brits around to hear her? Were she to find herself amongst strangers in a strange land, would she be so keen, so strident, to point out that her group was evil and aggressive? No. The object of the exercise is to score points over one's rivals, and one's rivals are the people one lives amongst.

Heroes are useful. We don't have to meet them, and they say that one never should, but if we as a society celebrate them, then we get a cause for celebration, and an inspiration to do good things. Public heroes aren't real people, they are ideas. A hero can only encompass a few simple ideas that people take in, like having one eye and stuffing the French. We build statues to celebrate good ideas, not to express approval of every last facet of a person's life.


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