Medal News

Volume 55, Number 9, October 2017

Cartoonist at war

Volume 55, Number 9, October 2017

Every man shall do his duty… NEVER one to shy away from causing a little bit of a stir, the BBC reported recently on a “Dublin auction of Nazi items branded ‘tasteless’ “. The story, if you can call it that, revolved around one Oliver Sears, a gallery owner in Dublin, and apparently the son of a Holocaust survivor, who objected to Whyte’s Auction House selling Nazi memorabilia in their recent eclectic sale in the Irish Capital. Mr Sears (who may or may not be in competition with Whyte’s in the art market in Dublin, both being based in Molesworth Street, who can say?) is quoted as saying that the items, which included a Nazi sash, a child’s helmet and various daggers amongst other things, were “quite appalling”. Now, of course, as the child of a holocaust survivor Mr Sears may well consider the sale of such items as tasteless and many of you might share his views. Indeed I find it a little odd myself when I visit militaria shows and see these “re-enactors” parading round in Nazi uniforms, it really isn’t my kind of thing at all, but, and here’s the thing, I don’t care enough to complain about it to anyone. I might think it odd, might even think it a little distasteful and disrespectful but I wouldn’t ever dream of complaining about it or trying to get it banned. The simple fact is that in this country at least (and in Ireland obviously) the buying and selling of Nazi memorabilia is perfectly legal and as such it is not for me, you, or anyone to pass public judgement on those who choose to partake of that side of our hobby. In private you may well think it odd that people want anything to do with the Nazi regime, but that being the case I ask you this: how many of you have got medals in your collection awarded to men who took part in any colonial wars? Modern thinking would have us view those soldiers as only one step up from the Nazis and, just recently, the Guardian published an article on-line by one Afua Hirsch in praise of the Americans toppling their Confederate statues and stating that Nelson’s column should be next as Nelson himself apparently “used his seat in the House of Lords and his position of huge influence to perpetuate the tyranny, serial rape and exploitation organised by West Indian planters, some of whom he counted among his closest friends”. If Nelson did thus then undoubtedly the men who followed him into battle must have been pretty awful too, so one assumes that it won’t be long before their NGS medals are seen in the same light as those of the Nazi era. Certainly the evil white men who fought the proud Zulu warriors or the dastardly Brits who put down the poor Mutineers who were only defending their religious rights and beliefs, were all dreadful people and, undoubtedly, committed heinous war crimes against the poor natives—so to collect any memorabilia related to them must be “appalling”—mustn’t it? There is, at the moment, an insidious attempt by certain factions in society, politics and the media to eradicate history—the intention seems to be to stamp out any reference to anything from the past that isn’t acceptable by the standards of today. The movement, spurred on by the Social Justice Warriors of the twittersphere and t’interweb, seeks to rid the modern world of anything that offends their sensibilities and whilst I am not suggesting Mr Sears is amongst their number, his sentiments are certainly akin to theirs. As mentioned we have already seen the toppling of statues in the United States and, as reported in this column before, there is the “Rhodes must go” lobby over here. How long, I wonder, before statues are not the only things these activists concentrate on? How long will it be before we start seeing more and more stories on the BBC website like the one from Mr Sears only this time talking about medals and memorabilia from the time of the British in India or Africa? You may think this farfetched but remember the Guardian article was serious—the author genuinely believes we should tear down Nelson’s column and any similar statues of “white supremacists” (presumably any male from Victorian times) and even states that whilst the Column “does include the figure of a black sailor, cast in bronze in the bas-relief. He was probably one of the thousands of slaves promised freedom if they fought for the British military, only to be later left destitute, begging and homeless, on London’s streets when the war was over” —without a shred of evidence at all regarding this outlandish statement! This kind of thinking is out there, it’s very real and it is being given the oxygen of publicity by the likes of BBC and the Guardian. Now you may think that the Nazis and the British in the Colonies have nothing in common, but that won’t stop the PC brigade in their quest to rid the world of anything they don’t approve of. Today it’s objections to Nazis and an article in a left leaning newspaper, but tomorrow? Who knows? It is our job, no, our duty, as historians and custodians of the past, to ensure such ludicrous behavior doesn’t take root over here and that the men and women whose medals we now hold aren’t airbrushed from history just because their actions don’t suit the agenda of the right-on brigade—and I urge you all to take that duty very seriously indeed.

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