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Miller Park Art: Rourke’s Drift remembered or Colonial Wars glorified?

Posted on - 14th August, 2009 - 4:33pm | Author - | Posted in - Observations

Art installation in Miller ParkMany Prestonians and visitors will have noticed the art installation in a flower bed on the terrace of Miller Park which depicts British redcoats in white pith helmets firing into the Zulu attackers at the battle of Rourkes Drift in 1879. The explanation given is a local connection with the army chaplain who served with the regiment during the campaign.

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Personally I find the installation rather disturbing and inappropriate and my immediate desire is to paint a slogan saying “troops out” across the soldiers helmets. While I would not belittle the courage of the troops who were found worthy to receive 11 VCs or of military chaplains such as the one in question we do need to look at the context and the current relevance of the Zulu war.

While the artwork shows a Christian Bible decorated with a cross resting on an ammunition box I am reminded of the comment by Desmond Tutu that when white missionaries arrived in Africa “we had the land and they had the Bible, before long we had the Bible and they had the land.” In the present decade where the UK has been and remains involved as a junior partner of the USA in two neo-colonial wars of doubtful legitimacy or necessity, evoking the spirit of Rourkes Drift is hardly wise, and could even be interpreted as buying into the fascist nationalist ideology of the British National Party.

One can argue perhaps that the Bible is a greater treasure in the light of eternity, but only if it is opened and read. There one will find the message of Jesus Christ, the prince of peace, which commands us among other things to love our enemies and warns that those who take up the sword will perish by the sword. Therfore as a Christian pacifist, I for one want to disassociate myself from the implication of the art work that the Zulu war, and any other war undertaken by the British state was in any sense a Christian enterprise. If we ask the question “what would Jesus do (or have done)?”, surely the answer must be that he would never advocate or take part in oppressing other people by military force.

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