The story of the removal of the words of Rudyard Kipling’s If from the University of Manchester is a tale of student naivete. Were every piece of writing or work of art judged on the perceived political views of the writer or artist, how much would be left on public display, or be judged fit for broadcast?
Would the books of Henry Williamson, writer of Tarka the Otter, be allowed to be sold? Williamson was an admirer of Adolf Hitler and Oswald Mosley. Do the racial opinions of Richard Wagner affect listening to his music? Should students be campaigning against performances of works from The Ring cycle? An apparently even more unlikely candidate for opprobrium is P.G. Wodehouse who was captured by the invading Germans in 1940 and made six broadcasts to the United States from the Nazi radio station in Berlin, enraging people in England and ensuring Wodehouse never returned to England. Would Wodehouse’s attitude toward the regime that destroyed Europe be sufficient reason for there to be calls for Jeeves and Wooster to be removed from television schedules?
Sympathies toward the extreme Left were more common than those toward the extreme Right. George Bernard Shaw was an enthusiastic admirer of Josef Stalin to the point of saying that Stalin’s Russia was what would happen if Christ lived now. Stalin was responsible for tens of millions of deaths; even in Shaw’s time there were labour camps, yet he would not see the evil of Soviet Communism. Should the performances of Shaw’s works now be picketed? Shaw was not alone in his support of Soviet Russia, there were plenty in the ranks of the prominent who thought that the Revolution had given birth to some new civilisation, even if they were somewhat reluctant to experience that civilisation for themselves. Does the fact that Picasso said he was a Communist change the way we see his paintings? Does Sartre’s fellow travelling with Communism mean that his opinions should be discarded?
Examples of mistaken, naive, or just plain silly, political loyalties among the great were commonplace. The views of Kipling were probably no better and no worse than those of many contemporaries. Were it not for the protest in Manchester, most people would associate him with The Jungle Book, and not the written version. Perhaps Mowgli and Baloo will have to disappear from the Disney catalogue.
It cannot be long before even the works of Siegfried Sassoon are challenged, for, in times of animal rights campaigns, who can allow Memoirs of a Fox-hunting Man on their shelves?