Life is probably too short for this, but hysteria demands it. In no particular order, I submit an incomplete list of 9-11 heroes, none of whom asked for this:
- Mark Bingham, one of the passengers on Flight 93 who overthrew the (alleged) terrorist hijackers before the plane crashed in a Pennsylvania field, was gay.
- One of the pilots on that same flight, LeRoy Homer, was black.
- Several of the flight attendants who boiled water to throw on the (alleged) hijackers were women.
Let's see, that covers black, female, gay. Sorry, no Arabs, Muslims or ethnic Albanians. Oh, but - this is cheating a little - one of the men in the famous photograph of Marines raising an American flag atop Mt. Suribachi at Iwo Jima during WWII, Ira Hayes, was a Pima Indian, as all you Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan fans already knew.
Did I leave out anyone? No one except that history hog, the White Male, three of whom happened to raise an American flag at Ground Zero on 9-11. And of course the unborn gay baby whales for Jesus, but I only get 700 words.
Yes, we're back to the flag statue again. The volume of mail I received following an earlier column on the contrived diversification of real men engaged in a real event compels a second look.
I was reminded of the diversity and variety of our 9-11 heroes by astute e-mailers, one of whom also pointed out with prefectural punctiliousness that the flag used in the photo (start italics) was (end italics), in fact, stolen from a nearby yacht. Noted. The facts about how the flag photo was taken are available at www.bergen.com, the Web page for The Record of Bergen County, N.J., the newspaper for which flag-photographer Tom Franklin works.
No, the photo wasn't contrived, as some e-rumors have it, unless deciding to order a cheeseburger for lunch is also contrived. The idea usually does precede the act or, theologically speaking, design precedes creation, ergo a Being. Works for me.
So, yes, the three firefighters who raised the flag did, indeed, have a discussion: "Hey, let's raise a flag!" and, spying one in the harbor, they did "borrow" said flag, a forgivable act of theft contrasted to the horror of some 3,000 innocents incinerated at work. Phew. Exhausting the insignificant is exhausting, no?
At issue for the recently thawed is the decision by the New York City Fire Department and others to alter the ethnicity of the three white firefighters captured in the photograph for a commemorative statue based on the image. The proposed statue would depict one black, one Hispanic and one Caucasian, the better to reflect the diversity of those who died in the 9-11 rescue effort, goes the thinking.
Emotions are running high to Vesuvian on this one.
Nevertheless, I'm pleased to report that nearly all who wrote affirmed by their message that diversity is (a) good; (b) worth acknowledging; (c) important. Even so, most also agreed that it is wrong to alter a real moment involving real people with recognizable faces and names for any purpose. The flag-raising was what it was and so it should remain, said they and I.
Some writers suggested other ways of honoring the 9-11 heroes: Render the firefighters as "ghosts" in empty suits; coat them all in soot to reflect reality and to equalize any features suggestive of race; sculpt an exact replica of the photo with a variety of representative folks gathered around the base.
I have another suggestion. Take a deep breath and visit the unofficial Web page of the New York City Fire Department (www.nyfd.com). There you'll find another recent photograph, this one showing a "ghost (subway) train" unearthed on Jan. 12 seven stories beneath the World Trade Center. Imagine what it was like on that train that day.
Then, on the same page, click on "All FDNY Members Murdered on 9/11/01" for a tour of the faces of the firemen who died at Ground Zero. All those eyes. Looking at them now, I find that they seem presciently haunted and haunting, as if to say, "Perspective, amigos, remember what matters. It isn't this."
Our internal bickering may be just what the terrorist ordered, the better to distract us from what really does matter, starting with this: Wonder what Osama's up to today?