Australia’s preeminent university, Australian National University is the latest institution to take part in the importation of cancel culture, with the university student association’s Ethnocultural Department promoting a change.org petition to “remove imperialist statues from the ANU campus”, most notably, the statue and bust of Winston Churchill located on campus.
The statue in question is a replica of the Churchill statue in London Square that has been boarded up after continued vandalism. The same day that this famous statue was being boarded up in London Square the petition to remove ANU’s replica statue emerged. The petition piously claims that the great British prime minister “upheld principles of white supremacy” and that his “win” for the British Empire renders him thoroughly undeserving of memorialising on campus.
In response to this petition, the Institute of Public Affairs’ national youth education program, Generation Liberty contacted organisers and offered a debate between Generation Liberty students and the Ethnocultural Department to debate the matter publicly.
The student group declined Generation Liberty’s request for a debate, excusing itself on the grounds that “It is in the best interest of our collective that we not engage in a debate about this particular topic” describing the trauma that even discussing the issue would cause. This is despite being more than happy to discuss the issue with the ANU campus newspaper.
The group also went on to say that “It also becomes extremely emotionally draining to hear counter-arguments to things like ‘My ancestors were murdered and enslaved, and the celebration of this history through its perpetrators is painful to me.’”
These students have every right to express their views, but if you’re going to propose something as drastic as cancelling the West’s preeminent political opponent of Nazi Germany, at least attempt to articulate those views in a public forum instead of cowering at the idea of debate.
Having taken the stance that the statue and bust of Churchill should be removed, the ethnocultural department has made itself the moral arbiter of right and wrong, and has taken ownership of historical facts.
Many of the same activists and academics who consistently spread an anti-western narrative are the first to adopt the latest cultural wave sweeping those countries.
Churchill was a famously flawed figure, as many of the great men and women of history are. His stubbornness and other divisive traits were only transformed into positives due to the extreme circumstances in which he had to lead both the country and the world.
History should be remembered in all its complexity and context. Yet ANUSA’s ethnocultural department claims that the removal of the statue would enable a more accurate reading of history.
It is difficult to imagine how a more accurate picture would be reached without debate. More importantly, a university’s most significant role is to allow open and free intellectual debate in the search for truth.
This is another example of how cancel culture manifests and weakens open debate. It started in our universities and is now infecting our media, business and public institutions.
Winston Churchill should be held up in the historical and political context of his time, rather than judging him using the woke, politically correct standards of 2020.
A recent poll conducted by market research firm Dynata and commissioned by the Institute of Public Affairs, found that 57 per cent of Australians did not want statues of Captain Cook removed, while only 15 per cent supported that proposition. Captain Cook is no Winston Churchill, but it captures the attitude that mainstream Australians have towards historical figures.
Another poll found that 71 per cent of Australians believe “Australia has a history to be proud of” while 85 per cent were proud to be Australians. Mainstream Australians are egalitarian, they acknowledge the shared tragedies of our past, but also celebrate what makes Australia great.
Statues represent a moment in time and should be seen through the context of the time in which they were erected. Their cause has done a great disservice by attempting to erase them due to the wrongs of the past.
We should have more statues not less, so we can both recognise the great institutions of Western Civilisation that we inherited from the British, and also acknowledge the shared history and tragedies of our past.
The ANUSA ethnocultural department should front up to a debate so that these points meet the threshold of what a university should be about, the free and open exchange of ideas in the search of truth, rather than the predetermined position of a selective few.