- The Washington Times - Friday, January 18, 2002

Based on the dramatic news photograph of three firemen (sorry, fire fighters) hoisting the flag over Ground Zero, a 19-foot-tall bronze statue commissioned by the Fire Department of New York will soon recreate that splendid, throat-catching moment as faithfully as possible with one exception.
Instead of depicting the trio who came together in a spontaneous act of honor to raise Old Glory, the commemorative sculpture will feature three generic men, identifiable as being members of the fire department by their uniforms, and identifiable as being members of different races (white, black and brown) by their facial features. Because the men of the historic moment happen to actually be white, the change has packed an unexpected political punch, leaving more than a few of the bravest feeling pretty sore.
Some call it an "insult." The three in question have let their "disappointment" be known. Carlo Casoria, who lost a fireman son on September 11, told the press, "They're rewriting history in order to achieve political correctness." But to what end? Department spokesman Frank Gibbon explained it this way: "Given that those who died were of all races and all ethnicities and that the statue was to be symbolic of those sacrifices, ultimately, a decision was made to honor no one in particular but everyone who made the supreme sacrifice."
Somewhere between "no one in particular" and "everyone" lies a more symbolic concept. What this dust-up makes clear is that in the effort to represent "no one" and "everyone," the universal symbolism of Everyman is lost. For starters, just making the racial composition of the firemen an issue … well, makes the racial composition of the firemen an issue. Did I know before this story broke that of the 11,495 members of the FDNY, 2.7 percent are black, or 3.2 percent are Hispanic? Did I ever even consider skin color while looking at the photograph? No. Now, however, having layered a racial consciousness onto a historic image, the statue's designers are pushing us to take inspiration from their vision of what should have happened a multicultural moment rather than from what did happen an expression of love of country which, until now, seemed plenty good enough.
But there's more to think about than the ease with which history has been made to serve politics. Implicit in the decision to "diversify" the memorial is a divisive notion: that a sculptured representation of white men hoisting the flag can offer no shared experience to Americans; that it can convey neither meaning nor emotion beyond the boundaries of race, or, knowing this crowd, religion, creed, sex or sexual orientation.
Personally, I'm not a man. Nor am I a fireman. No one in my family or my husband's family is one, or ever was. The roots of my family tree, I'm quite certain, cross none of these particular men's. Nonetheless, long before the narrowly racial aspect of this story made me squint into the pixels to verify the Caucasoid features of the three men, the photograph of their stolid stance, the flag, and the shambles of the World Trade Center behind them filled me with awe, moistened my eyes and, without doubt, renewed, or, at least, strengthened my spirits.
By the rules of statuary correctness, that shouldn't be possible. According to this fractured worldview, I really should have to see someone much more like myself in the image (or the reading list, history book, or commercial) to find meaning or simply not to take offense. Such fragmented particularity is fast becoming the consensus, one in which heroism, sacrifice and achievement no longer have a transcendent role.
It is probably not so remarkable that just as the controversy over the fireman memorial ignited, Marty Markowitz, the new borough president of Brooklyn, N.Y. which is where the memorial will stand announced that he is taking down the office portrait of that "old white man" George Washington. "Borough Hall should reflect the richness of our diversity," he told the New York Post. All the other portraits of what the paper called "white-haired white men in colonial-style clothes" are coming down, too. "The majority of the people in Brooklyn are people of color," Mr. Markowitz explains. "This building will reflect white folks, black folks, Latin folks and Asian folks, kids and women."
What about Maori matrons and handicapped Herzogovenians? Maybe we should just forget about hanging portraits of "everyone." And scrap the metal monuments to "no one in particular." In an era in which braving the carnage of attack or merely founding the country are not sufficient to merit a place in our collective memory, the best tribute for all is probably a mirror.

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