- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 19, 2002

Plans by the New York City Fire Department to erect a 19-foot bronze statue in tribute to the city’s 343 firefighters killed in the September 11 terrorist murders provide an unflattering case study in political correctness.

You have surely seen the moving photograph of three New York firemen raising the American flag over the rubble at Ground Zero that is being used as a model for the statue. Did you notice that the men hoisting the flag were three white guys? I didn’t, but I do now.

Like so many other people, I was taken by the photograph’s similarity to the famous 1945 Associated Press photograph of the men raising the flag at Iwo Jima. But I saw only firefighters in their uniforms; their race was absolutely irrelevant to me.

What was relevant was that these men were Americans and New Yorkers who were triumphantly reaffirming their patriotism on the very spot where their colleagues had died trying to save the lives of others. Now that I’ve given it some thought, I believe the picture is especially meaningful because, intended or not, it can be seen as a convergence of the rescue effort with America’s subsequent war effort. For me, at least, the firefighters represent not only the extraordinary heroism of New York City’s Fire Department, but also America’s armed forces, who would soon take the baton from these firefighters and bring the terrorists to justice.

What you need to understand is that we are talking about a real photograph not some artist’s rendering of three real firefighters with real names (Billy Eisengrein, George Johnson and Dan McWilliams), who really did hoist the flag over the hell that is Ground Zero. The event captured on camera truly happened in history; it was not some staged photo-op. With that gesture, those noble firefighters served notice on terrorists everywhere and on the entire world that even this damaged real estate is the proud property of the United States of America and will be protected by all that the flag represents.

Regrettably, the Fire Department and the property-management company that owns the Brooklyn Fire Department’s building, where the statue will be placed, have succumbed to the seductive overtures of political correctness. Instead of depicting the men who actually raised the flag, the statue will transform the men into three generic guys, one white, one black and one Hispanic. Reality takes a backseat to “diversity” and symbolism swallows substance.

Firefighters are so outraged at this development that they are considering raising private funds for a separate statue that depicts the actual firemen rather than their substitutes. The men have a right to be angry.

But not according to Fire Department spokesman Frank Gribbon, who said, “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.”

With all due respect, this is cockeyed thinking. A statue based on the actual photograph would honor all races and everyone who sacrificed because it would glorify all Americans, regardless of their color. It is ridiculous to say an accurate sculptural portrayal of a photograph of three Caucasians will in any way diminish the sacrifice and contribution of nonwhites.

If improving race relations is among our goals, we should strive toward a colorblind America. The color of the men depicted in the statue should be the last thing on our minds. Yet now we are being encouraged to think of the victims and heroes of September 11 in racial terms. By superimposing divisive racial politics onto the memory of September 11 we dishonor those victims and heroes.

Why do so many things in our society have to be turned into racial issues by the very people who claim to be dedicated to enhancing race relations? Sadly, when it comes to the raging priority of advancing the multiculturalist agenda, nothing is sacred, not even a hallowed memorial to our national heroes and victims. At a time when we ought to be thinking of our unity and common cause as Americans, we are forced to focus on our differences.

Mr. Gribbon glibly remarked that the fire department had not received any official complaints about its plans to politically sanitize the statue. Well, then, Mr. Gribbon, please consider this an unofficial complaint.

David Limbaugh is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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