Though the shock and the sadness of September 11th still prevails, the sense of community and kinship that flourished in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks is regrettably and slowly vanishing.
In the ensuing days of the incident there were sad, but true, stories of people falsely reporting nonexistent missing relatives and loved ones, and scattered rumors of looting. Reports soon emerged that some of the companies involved in Ground Zero debris removal were allegedly tied to organized crime. A racketeering probe into those accusations is expected to begin shortly.
Last week, New York City finally began aggressively cracking down on illegal Manhattan street vendors, who for weeks have been hawking counterfeit NYPD and NYFD merchandise, supposedly claiming profits will be donated to St. Paul’s Chapel near Ground Zero and victims’ charities when their only purposes are likely nothing more than pocketing the ill-gotten gains or turning them over to illicit suppliers. Incidentally, those buying the unlawful goods are likewise at fault for supporting the illegitimate peddlers!
Equally appalling was the city erecting a platform for sightseers to gawk at the hole in the ground where the Twin Towers once stood. Isn’t it bad enough when rubberneckers slow down on a highway to hopefully catch a glimpse of mangled bodies in a car accident? Did the city have to encourage that sense of macabre by installing a raised area to attract a new wave of tourism?
Besides, what are these day-trippers viewing except a massive gaping hole? For crissakes, if that’s all they want, they should visit Arizona and see the magnificence of the biggest hole in the world — the Grand Canyon!
If all that isn’t aggravating enough, now comes a fresh controversy, with a hint of racial motivation that is likely to be the first of many disputes about how to precisely memorialize those who died in the World Trade Center tragedy and those who participated in the heroic rescue efforts.
Some of New York’s Bravest, who no doubt are still grieving over the loss of hundreds of brethren, are upset about the statue celebrating the famous September 11th flag-raising photograph taken at Ground Zero. In fact, a retired NYFD firefighter who edits an E-mail newsletter says he has received hundreds of e-mails protesting the statue.
The Bergen Record snapshot depicted three white firefighters, but the 19-foot, $180,000 bronze sculpture, commissioned by the New York City Fire Department, from which it was inspired, will show a trio of firefighters — one white, one black and one Hispanic. (New York City’s firefighting contingent of 11,500 is less than six percent black and Hispanic.)
The three firemen, who were spontaneously snapped in a stance similar to the familiar 1945 Associated Press photograph of six U.S. Marines raising a flag on Iwo Jima after that Pacific island was captured from the Japanese in World War II, have refused to comment thus far. Nevertheless, their attorney said they are "disappointed because it’s become something that is political as opposed to historical." (If the heroic trio has hired a legal representative, could a lawsuit be in the offing? I hope not!) The lawyer has written to the Fire Department asking it to stop production of the statue before it is erected at its downtown Brooklyn headquarters in the spring.
This week a New Jersey newspaper group that owns the copyright to the original photo threatened legal action claiming the FDNY and the designer of the statue failed to obtain appropriate permission to duplicate the photograph.
Opponents of the statue say their protest has nothing to do with race, but rather with "rewriting history." (Years after it became a symbol of America’s WWII victory, it was revealed that the Iwo Jima photo was actually posed and not as spontaneous as previously believed. That startling revelation did nothing to diminish the posed photograph’s connotation of freedom.)
And for those purists who are seeing red over a black and white issue, they should be reminded that history is often rewritten and revised without repercussions.
According to media accounts, relatives of rescuers and surviving firefighters believe the statue should represent what actually happened. Concurring with that view are sticklers for perfection and those who deem the revised depiction as another case of politically correct overkill.
No one would have objected if the statue had been created as a precise replica of the famous photograph. Nonetheless, it appears that someone with a touch of humanity — and a sense of history — in the upper echelon of the Fire Department thought it would better serve the memory of the fallen heroes if a sense of diversity was evident.
Those who support the statue’s design include the leader of the Vulcan Society, a group of black firefighters, who said, "The symbolism is far more important than representing the actual people."
I hope the current imbroglio disappears as quickly as the extraordinary kinship that arose after September 11th. If not, it will be an embarrassment to the undaunted courage and valor displayed by the heroic firefighters and rescue personnel who lost their lives in our nation’s worst tragedy.