Friday, 15 April 2011

Men of Violence. Enough!

To our shame, we hadn't noticed until the week before last that Aberdeen is to gain yet another statue commemorating men of violence. This new statue, to sit in the  Castlegate at the heart of the historic town, commemorates and lionises the Gordon Highlanders regiment; to remember them "with pride and gratitude".

At the outset, let us acknowledge the regrettable fact that war and war memorials are part of the weave of the fabric from which our society and civilisation is tailored. We have many war memorials, including the most impressive, beautiful and apt statuary and colonnade, reliefs and inscriptions at Cowdray Hall on Schoolhill.

Splendid, sober, restrained, appropriate.
Unfortunately, and contrasting with the sober memorial at Schoolhill, the new Gordons statue will join with and augment the effect of all the other pompous martial statuary which venerates people of violence and slaughter and which peppers our town centre like the cluster munitions which today exemplify the state-of-the-art in these people's stock-in-trade.

Now, let's be clear, some of these individuals made important contributions to our town, to our country, indeed (arguably) to the wider sweep of western civilisation - but the one thing which links them, the crimson thread which runs them all through, is violent slaughter.
What a big sword!
To this list will be added the new Gordons commemorative statue. We must ask: What message about our town does this transmit? Is this a message of open welcome, or is it rather one of vainglorious militaristic bellicosity and triumphalism? Will venerating violence in this way add to our prestige? Or will it just make us look like chauvinistic jingoistic swaggering braggart ruffians with an effusively mawkish streak? Moreover, what is the message which this sends to coming generations of Aberdonians? Dulce et Decorum Est Pro Municipiuum Mori?

We would submit that the Gordons are already quite well-served by memorials (some of which highlight adventures in the mechanised mass-slaughter of 'natives' which today might be regarded as something to refer to The Hague) and a historic regiment could hope for no better commemoration than their splendid and award-winning museum at Rubislaw.

Meanwhile, national bard Robbie Burns stands alone above doomed Union Terrace Gardens and, farther up the Denburn, Lord Byron stands in the grounds of the Grammar School. Our two statuary acknowledgements and commemorations of creative (rather than destructive) genius. Men of peace and justice. Men who literally lauded love and practiced what they preached. Though Burns wasn't from anywhere round here, the sentiments he expressed and the creative genius by which he transmitted his philosophy stands embodied in this statue. Burns clutches not the swords of Wallace or George; not the guns of the Gordons - rather, Burns delicately holds a single mountain daisy in his hand. Byron clutches a book and and a pen.

Mary Garden's little plaque in a verge
off Cragie Loanings.
It's not enough.
We suggest that, rather than have new statuary commemorating men of violence, we would do far better to add to and augment the Burns and Byron statues with statues of men and women of peace, creative genius and scientific and social progress. There are many candidates of international standing, and some of them are even from Aberdeen.

Some of these people are commemorated in little plaques around town. This list isn't exhaustive - we're sure there are many more equally worthy of immortalisation in stone or bronze in the heart of our town. Of these, our personal favourite is James Clerk Maxwell. Without Maxwell's work on electromagnetic theory you wouldn't be reading these words or, indeed living anything like the life you live today. Maxwell truly is a "without whom", critical path, nexus figure. His work at Aberdeen University on the true nature of light, electricity and magnetism, and his special genius in noting that these three manifestations are but three aspects of the one phenomenon, is one of the greatest ever advances in physics. His work is comparable in importance to that of Einstein or Newton. We're not kidding and we don't say this lightly.

We suggest that our town would be much better served by erecting a statue to this colossus of modern science, using as he did his genius to enlighten the world and help generate the future which we live in today. A new statue of a man who can wield his intellect to improve the world would be a much more fitting addition to our town than a new statue of men waving guns and/or swords about.

The plaque on Union Street is the size of a sheet of letter paper.


Alex Mitchell said...

Also the philosopher Thomas Reid, a leading light of the Aberdeen Philosophical Society, a.k.a. the 'Wise Club' of 1758-73, which conributed significantly to the Scottish Enlightenment of the C.18th. Reid does have a plaque at Kings College.

Other Aberdeen said...

Thanks for that, Alex - we'll check it out and add him to the list

Jyll Skinner said...

I would note, as a student with much business within King's Quad, that most visitors to the university never find themselves within the quad and therefore do not see the sign about Reid. Up until ±6 months ago, there was nothing to tell anyone that the chapel is available to the curious during weekdays and the general attitude towards visitors tends to be chilly. (I tend to bear a perhaps inordinate amount of affection for the chapel and try to encourage/guide people where possible.)
It would be nice to see either Maxwell or Reid given more than a few square inches of plaques.

Anonymous said...

There is a small plaque on the wall above the door of a building in Stonehaven, which alerts passers-by that it is the birthplace of said R.W. Thomson. It's quite readable from street level. There is also a classic car rally (named the Thomson Rally) held annually in Stonehaven, also in memorial of him.

Anonymous said...

Why not a statue of Archibald Simpson? In addition to being the architect behind a great deal of Aberdeen's landmarks, he's also seemingly well known by the citizens. The plaque at Bon Accord Square doesn't really do the man justice.

Also, rather than Andrew Carnegie, who is already well recognized in many different places in and out of Scotland, why not someone like G. M. Fraser?

He was not only head librarian at the Central Library for many years, but he also wrote the only book that I know of on Aberdeen street names. Here is someone who was a significant part of his community during his life and whose contributions on city history and hodonyms continue to inform us today.

Anonymous said...

Alfred Adler the famous psychiatrist who came up with the term "inferiority complex" died in Aberdeen in 1937 (he had a heart attack in Union Street).

Oraculumsulmareexcoeurd'Ecosse said...
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Oraculumsulmareexcoeurd'Ecosse said...
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Oraculumsulmareexcoeurd'Ecosse said...

May I also suggest James Leslie Mitchell, 'Lewis Grassic Gibbon', who began his literary career as a reporter for the Press and Journal.