Note: Here is a quick essay I wrote for my ethics class today…not polished and not sure I completely agree with all these points, but wanted to throw it out there. The point was to model a short essay…particularly one that touches on a subject in a way that Aristotle might (for you nerds, think ‘telos’ for ‘purpose’ below).
The confederate soldier monument on the Denton courthouse square should be removed and placed in a museum. Now, that may prove to be a political impossibility or perhaps a practical impossibility (i.e., it may crumble into pieces with an attempted move). If that is the case, then a compensatory monument should be erected on the north side of the square. It should celebrate the progress of civil rights and racial justice in this country, even though that is a halting and incomplete journey.
Either way, we can no longer steer the path of the status quo. The reasons have to do with both purpose and place.
First, the purpose of a monument is not just for remembering and educating but also for honoring. In this case, the remembering is all well and good. The civil war is indeed part of our history, and such a vital part that we should never forget it or the people who died in it and lived through it. Doubtlessly, many of those people displayed virtues that are worthy of honor as well as remembrance.
But I don’t think this is so in the case of “our confederate soldiers.” Their courage and sacrifice were in defense of a way of life centered on dehumanizing, oppressing, and plundering an entire race of people. The cause, in this case, infects the virtues and renders them into vices. There is no honor in fighting bravely for the supposed right to rob others of their freedom. To honor them with a monument is to honor the brutality that was slavery. We should remember our shameful past – in textbooks and museums – but we should not glorify it.
The second reason to remove the monument has to do with the character of the downtown square. This is the heart of Denton, the focal point that gathers us as a people. It is where we come together in celebration with music and ritual. It is the symbol of who we are as a community.
The confederate statue is the only monument on the square other than a veterans memorial (and John B. Denton’s grave, though that is not as visually prominent). It gives the false impression that somehow the confederacy is of such defining importance to our identity that it should be the one of only two monuments thrusting above the heads in the crowds at twilight tunes, at the 4th of July Parade, or at the holiday tree lighting festival. But it does not represent us – certainly not the best that is in us or that has come from this place. It is not so singularly defining as to merit its unique prominence at the very hearth of our community.