John Leo
So the controversial memorial to the fallen New York City firefighters will not be built after all. The famous photo of three firemen raising a flag at Ground Zero was supposed to become a 19-foot bronze statue in Brooklyn, with one little change: The trio, all white in real life, were to be transformed to one white, one black and one Hispanic. The plan for a politically adjusted statue seemed to be yet another satire on multicultural quota-mongering. The only bright side of the original plan: At least nobody was planning to depict the Sept. 11 attackers as a religiously diverse and politically satisfying group of Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu terrorists.

The memorial was being sponsored by the company that manages the New York City Fire Department headquarters in Brooklyn. Though many rank-and-file firefighters were fuming, the fire department initially went along with the plan. Its statement said: "Those who gave their lives that day were of many races and ethnicities, and the decision was made to honor everyone, not any specific individual or individuals."

But if the idea was to honor everyone, a different type of memorial should have been planned, one that did not require the falsifying of historical reality. A generic, free-standing firefighter or an abstract memorial would have done that. The image of the three men raising the flag at the World Trade Center is burned into the brains of Americans, perhaps as deeply as the famous flag-planting at Iwo Jima was during World War II. Would anyone tolerate political revisionism of the Iwo Jima statue to get more diversity?

By now most Americans are sick of the racialization of everything. Here a powerful real-life image wasn't accepted as expressing national sentiments unless it was run through the ideological mill of one-from-each-column multiculturalism. If all three firemen in the photo had been black or Hispanic, would the picture have somehow failed to express the defiant patriotism of planting that flag in the rubble at a moment of such national shock? If not, then what sense would it have made to falsify the act because the men involved happened to be white?

Part of the problem is that the diversity movement comes in two versions: a soft multiculturalism that simply wants recognition for all of America's cultures, and a hard version bristling with hostility to whites and white "hegemony." On campus the soft version (extend the curriculum to include other cultures) faded quickly into the hard version of bitter assaults on any study of "dead white males."

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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