It's an image that gave hope to a battered nation. It became an icon for
American resilience. It's been called a modern-day parallel of the flag-raising
at Iwo Jima. And now, thanks to political correctness, it's being used to divide
us. It's now emblematic of everything that's wrong with how we as a nation deal
with issues of race.
On the day of the attacks, Thomas E. Franklin, a staff photographer for
The Record (Bergen County, N.J.) snapped a picture
of Dan McWilliams, George Johnson, and William Eisengrein, a picture that's now
known worldwide, a picture likely to grace the pages of history books a century
from now. It depicts the three firefighters hoisting an American flag above the
rubble-covered mass grave at the tip of Manhattan that used to be known as the
World Trade Center.
To commemorate the Ground Zero flag-raising, the Fire Department of New York
planned a statue to be displayed in front of their Brooklyn headquarters. In
December, the Fire Department held a press conference to unveil the model of the
statue, and announced that it will be forged this coming April. The model was an
accurate depiction of the actual event, except for one difference: whereas in
reality the three firemen happened to be white, in the statue to be built, two
of those firefighters will be replaced, one by a black, another by a
I don't know what exactly what would have happened if two people belonging to
any other demographic were to be removed from a statue depicting an actual
event, but I would imagine that the word "racist" would be flying around like
gnats on a humid day, and rightfully so.
Is This Correct?
For years, there's been a creeping tide of political correctness in this
country, one that expands under the various guises like diversity, sensitivity,
and acceptance. The stated goals of this movement are ones that I would not
argue against. After all, we should be exposed to people of many
backgrounds, so that we can learn from them and appreciate their art and other
contributions to our common culture. In polite society, we should be
sensitive to those with differences, if only to save ourselves the embarrassment
of accidentally offending someone and being thought of as rude. And we
should be accepting of others, because we all inhabit the same earth, and
given that we must all live together, we might as well try to make the best of
it while we're here.
But the stated goals of political correctness seem to get lost in the
implementation. Often, we find that political correctness defines diversity
quite narrowly, that diversity allows for a wide range of appearance but not a
wide range of thought. We find that sensitivity need only flow in one direction,
that we ask some people to take into account the feelings of others and then
tell them not to expect the favor to be returned. We are asked to accept the
differences of others, but then find that we can't even expect some to accept a
depiction of reality without modification.
Where have we come as a nation that this quest for political correctness has
led us to believe that it is unacceptable for three white firemen to be shown as
white? Where have we come that we will put reality under the knife lest the
simple conveyance of that innocuous reality offend some? And those who would be
offended by reality, how can they not see that a large segment of society is
greatly insulted and offended by the removal of the two white firefighters? Is
it not permissible to ask them to practice little sensitivity and acceptance of
You may know the name Mike Moran. He's a New York City firefighter whose
brother, also a firefighter, was killed in the September 11th attacks. In a
classic display of New York swagger, Moran brought the crowd to its feet at the
Concert for New York by announcing, "Osama bin Laden, you can kiss my royal
Irish ass!" Of the decision to remove the white firefighters from the FNDY
statue, Moran said, "It makes me feel like maybe some of us aren't good enough.
Maybe next time they show the faces of firemen who died at Ground Zero they
ought to leave out those who don't fit the profile they want."
If there are people deserving of a little sensitivity right now, it's people
like Mike Moran. But apparently he doesn't fit the profile.
Back in the days of Dr. Martin Luther King, the goal of the civil rights
movement was to achieve a color-blind society, and he and his followers worked
hard--and gave their lives--to fight for the worthy goal they believed in. Dr.
King lived in a society where many believed that blacks should be segregated,
that it was acceptable for them to be denied the dignity of a job, an equal
education, or to be addressed as subordinates. Today, we live in a society where
these views are held only by a few on the fringe of societal thinking, a fringe
that the average man-on-the-street would acknowledge as hurtful, hateful, and
Great progress has been made in achieving Dr. King's vision. But we have
failed Dr. King's dream of a society that would judge people on the content of
their character rather than the color of their skin. Decades after the famous
speech, we find ourselves living in a society that obsesses with race and all
too frequently dismisses his request that we assess the individual instead of
his or her group affiliations.
This Statue Honors No One
In attempting to explain away the FDNY's decision on the statue, spokesman
Frank Gribbon 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."
He's right about one thing. Those who died were of all races and all
ethnicities. They should be honored, and undoubtedly will, in whatever form the
WTC memorial ultimately takes.
But to disfigure a moment in history in order to satisfy ephemeral political
concerns is not only an insult to the firefighters who raised the flag, it
cheapens our nation's historical record by turning it into a mere