A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 95

Alice and companions in Central Park.

Tuesday,  June 16

Thousands are marching in the streets for racial justice and against police violence. Millions are staying at home in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19.

And there’s an escalating conflict over…statues!?

The latest such kerfuffle so far as I know involves an Albuquerque statue of a 16th century conquistador and governor of New Mexico when it was under Spanish imperial rule. He was apparently a brutal guy known for cutting off the feet of Indian prisoners. “He killed 800 Indigenous people in Acoma Pueblo and ordered his men to cut off the foot of at least 24 male captives,” says a Times article. Ultimately, “Spanish authorities convicted him on charges of excessive violence and cruelty, permanently exiling him from New Mexico.”

And yet there are clashes involving armed right-wing militia members who oppose attempts to take down this guy’s statue. What the hey? One man was shot in a clash of opposing groups, and riot-gear-wearing police intervened.

I guess the militia types see Juan de Oñate—that’s the conquistador’s name—as a white guy in need of defense from Antifa—uh, Native American activists.

Elsewhere, statues of Confederate generals including Robert E. Lee and Nathan Bedford Forrest are endangered. There are positive things to be said about Lee, but Forrest is particularly objectionable since before the Civil War he was a slave dealer and during the conflict he was responsible for a massacre of black Union troops at a siege of Fort Pillow. After the war he became the head of the Ku Klux Klan. (Later he quit, renounced the organization, and called for racial harmony.) Efforts to remove a prominent statue of Forrest in my home city of Memphis were successful only in 2017.

A controversial bust of the general remains in the Tennessee state Capitol building.

As celebrations of past heroes, these memorials aren’t particularly effective. There are statues all across Manhattan, but I bet only a fraction of the people who frequently walk past these likenesses can say just who they are. In Union Square park, I can recall representations of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Mohandas Karamchand Ghandi, but I bet there are other statues, too. In nearby Madison Square, I can recall monuments to the gallant World War I dead and one elaborate monument to Civil War Admiral David Farragut. Who else?

Here’s a simple proposal: Let’s not only take down the statues of Confederate generals but also the statues of all generals and military men. Are these really the figures we want future generations to celebrate? We could replace them with statues of writers, poets, and scientists. There are precedents in Central Park, where there are statues of Hans Christian Andersen, William Shakespeare, and Samuel F.B. Morse. Or what about more figures from fiction, such as the Central Park representation of Alice in Wonderland accompanied by the white rabbit and the Mad Hatter?

I’m not ready for a statue of Luke Skywalker or Harry Potter—but maybe we could agree on a statue of Scout from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. There’s a hero for sure.

Dinner: barbecued pork chops, asparagus, and couscous.

Entertainment: The Netflix movie Sarajevo.