Archie Bland: It feels like we are missing some British heroes

FreeView from the editors at i

Share

With such monumental figures as Aung Sun Suu Kyi and the Dalai Lama in town – along with Nelson Mandela, the boilerplate inspirations of a thousand insipid celebrity Q&As over the years – it'd be easy to leaf through recent British history and wonder, with regret, where our own legends are. The heroes we do have are, with the possible exception of Winston Churchill, hated by as many people as love them. Not even Margaret Thatcher's greatest admirers could call her a unifying force.

With our serious public life so divided, the only available repositories for uncomplicated adulation come in the lesser category of national treasures (who are, correspondingly, a notch above mere celebrities). David Attenborough and Victoria Wood aren't quite epoch-making titans like Suu Kyi and his Holiness, and 'hero' would be the wrong word for either in any but the most vapid analysis.

Still, I would have thought most of the British public would see them as closer in spirit to our two venerated visitors than any political leader you'd care to name.

It feels like we're missing something. And it seems a little sad that that hallowed triumvirate – Mandela, Suu Kyi, the Dalai Lama – is probably the same group you would have named a decade ago as the world's leading unchallenged good guys. But actually, I'm not so sure that it really is so bad.

The thing is, true heroism is inevitably formed in the crucible of oppression: those three are only so obviously saintly because their nemeses have been so unstintingly and indisputably wicked.

Thatcher doesn't make it because the argument is too complicated, too subtle, too marginal. But it doesn't take a political sophisticate to see that a woman locked up by a junta because of her fight for democracy is on the right side of history, or that a pacifist who preaches tolerance and inspires such devotion amongst his Tibetan followers merits our admiration. Now the picture is changing in Burma and Suu Kyi's purity might be challenged by the mucky reality of political compromise. Maybe one day we'll forget to think of her as a hero, because we'll see she's getting some little things wrong.

But that'll be good news. Because the more she's getting wrong, the more her erstwhile enemies will be getting things right. And if we ever yearn for more idols of our own, we should bear this in mind. We might have to settle for Attenborough et al, but at least they didn't have to spend years in prison to win our admiration.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Tony Abbott: A man most Australian women would like to pat on the back...iron in hand

Caroline Garnar
Australian rapper Iggy Azalea performs in California  

Hip hop is both racial and political, and for Iggy Azalea to suggest otherwise is insulting

Yomi Adegoke
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there