Kathleen Parker

And they're off! As the race officially began Monday for artists to register and submit designs for the World Trade Center Memorial, a fiery fax campaign was under way to protest guidelines that prohibit designs from distinguishing between heroes and victims.

The controversial guideline, listed among several on the memorial design Web site (www.renewnyc.com), calls for recognition of victims that will "honor the loss of life equally and the contributions of all without establishing any hierarchies."

In other words, no mention of rank or affiliation, just the names. Firefighters who stormed into burning buildings are to be treated the same as the people they were trying to save.

Once again, our American goal of equality seems to have been distorted beyond what is reasonable, fair or even accurate. Egalitarianism by totalitarian writ. Pardon the blunt instrument, but being a victim is not necessarily heroic, whereas placing one's life at risk to help others surely is.

We seem to have a problem with that distinction. We don't like singling out individuals for special treatment or recognition. Thus, either everyone who died at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 is a hero or no one is. Based on the guidelines, apparently we are to believe the latter.

But we know better. We watched. We saw events as they occurred in real time, and no amount of massaging the facts will change what we know. But what about future generations who visit the memorial site? Wouldn't they -as well as we -be curious to know which of the named were sitting at their desks sipping coffee when the planes hit and which were racing into the buildings to save lives?

To leave off the identities of these fallen seems not just a weird stab at "equal treatment," but borders on deception by omission. It seems and feels untrue.

Some firefighters and their families are hurt by the memorial board's refusal to budge. A few weeks ago, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation vetoed a request by New York City firefighters to have a separate recognition of rescue workers. Meanwhile, Janet Roy of Pompano Beach, Fla., whose firefighter brother died on 9-11, has joined her other brother in a fax alert campaign to enlist support for including titles and affiliations.

As between listing her brother as simply William F. Burke Jr. -or as FDNY Capt. William F. Burke Jr., Engine 21 -Roy asks: "Which gives the accurate picture of what Billy was that day?"


Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
 
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