Thursday, January 18, 2007

British Heroes: William Wilberforce

It's been a while since I featured a British Hero. There is a good reason for that.

For my first three heroes I decided to choose one from each of the armed forces. Partly because I wanted to pay tribute our armed forces, but also because they are what I consider traditionally heroic. Always next on my list, however, was William Wilberforce and I thought it would be appropriate to wait until 2007 as this year marks the 200th anniversary of the Slave Trade Act that was to lead to the abolition of slavery (though it would still take the best part of another century to finally bring it to an end of sorts).

I was hoping to wait until the actual date of the Act, but my hand has been forced somewhat by The Telegraph's "Your View" section asking how John Prescott will be remembered by history. Prescott is keen, apparently, to boast of his achievements and legacy. There are no achievements and there is no legacy. Just more mess to clear up.

If you want to be remembered by history then do something that is worthy of historic recognition. Wilberforce, though far from alone, was the driving force behind the abolition of slavery. That is something to be remembered for - punching people in public isn't. The proposal for what should go on the fourth plinth at Trafalgar Square is dominated by "bird hotels", pregnant, nude women and a South African who has nothing to do with our nation (and actually achieved very little) while Wilberforce gets ignored.

What Wilberforce did achieve, however, would have meant nothing without the backing of the British armed forces. It was the RN that policed the trade on the seas and our armies and generals who ended it on land.

Just like terrorists today, slave traders operated independently of nation states, had access to weapons, private armies and money.

Just like terrorists today, slave traders where funded and covertly backed by nation states who had a vested interest in retaining the trade while claiming to be actively trying to stop it.

Unlike today, back then we were able to back the "soft power" of diplomacy with real hard power of armed force - and we were not castrated by a UN or "international law" preventing us from using that armed force. Which meant that our sabre rattling wasn't ignored but treated very seriously indeed. Those who did ignore it soon felt the full wrath and might of the world's most powerful nation and succumbed.

Today, just like we can not end terrorism while we impose impossible restrictions on our actions we would not be able to end the slave trade. In fact it is clear that a new "slave" trade is developing in people trafficking. It is growing, it is successful and it is profitable for those who do it.

The work of Wilberforce, Clarkson and others is slowly becoming unravelled by our moral relativism and over-reliance on the UN and EU. Until people realise that the UN and EU, far from being the solution, are actually a very significant part of the problem then I can only see continued growth for the new trade in slaves. So much for progress.

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