Tuesday, October 10, 2006

British Heroes: Douglas Bader

When it was announced that the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square was to be adorned with the statue of "Alison Lapper Pregnant", I recall a lot of people saying how it was about time that we had a statue of a disabled person. Of course, Trafalgar Square already has a statue of a disabled person, but I guess it's easy to overlook Nelson's disabilities. What really annoyed me, though, is that Alison Lapper is somehow considered heroic enough to be worthy of a statue in such a prominent place just for being disabled! Or maybe she was considered worthy for being disabled AND pregnant (personally, I reckon whoever got her pregnant deserved a medal).

But what really annoyed me is that a truly heroic disabled British person was, as usual, completely overlooked. Douglas Bader wasn't born disabled of course. He was very able being a natural sportsman who excelled in rugby and cricket. I don't know if it's harder to be born disabled or be born able-bodied and become disabled - I would hazard a guess it's the latter - but Bader, after his dreadful flying accident and near death, overcame his disability to such an extent that not only was he able to walk and play golf on his "tin legs", but he went back to flying. Not just flying, but piloting fighter aircraft in wartime!

The man was an inspirational leader with a lust and enthusiasm for life that few could ever match - even without such a disability. Unfortunately for Bader, his politics and opinions were such that he is now someone who is viewed with distaste by post-modernists so, disabled or not, there is no way that Bader would be considered a suitable candidate for a statue in Livingstone's London. Instead, we get a "Hotel For Birds".

That's a shame. Bader fits all the criteria for Trafalgar Square (which is, after all, a square dedicated to British military achievement) and should be a true inspiration to disabled people all over the world. One day, I hope, the pendulum will swing back far enough for us to view such people with the respect they deserve.

1 comment:

JohnM said...

I'm not sure I fully agree.

The hero of the Battle of Britain was Keith Park. There was a shameful aftermath to the battle when Keith Park was replaced by Mallory. Bader was involved in this incident. Bader was an advocate of the Big Wing - gathering together a large force before attacking. There is considerable controversy over this tactic and post war analysis suggests that 12 Group consistently over estimated their kills, including those claimed by Bader. 11 Group could not have employed the tactic because there wasn't time to group before attacking. Post war research also indicates that the accuracy of fighter pilot claims was out by a factor of more than 2-1 with the overestimates increasing in relation to the number of aircraft in the sky.

The man was an inspirational leader

That is certainly the view of the contemporary biography. More recent books quote a mixed reaction. There's some evidence that he could be quite unpleasant and a show off.

None of that undermines the fact that he (a) overcome his disability and (b) voluntarily did his duty.