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A POLITICALLY CORRECT FDR?

Creating a monument or exhibit of a famous person or event ought to be a relatively straightforward process. But in these days of "politically correct" pressures, new exhibits are becoming the center of fights over historical sensitivities.

The firestorm caused earlier this year by the Smithsonian Institution's proposed exhibit of the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, was a classic example of the collision between traditional and revisionist versions of history.Fortunately, the warped view of the original exhibit showing the Japanese as victims and the United States as a needless nuclear aggressor was drowned in a tidal wave of protests by outraged American veterans.

Unfortunately, some of the same dispute over what is politically correct is swirling around the long-delayed construction of a memorial to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the nation's capital. This time, the battle is over FDR's handicap as a victim of polio.

Stricken in 1921, he was mostly confined to a wheelchair the rest of his life and was never able to walk unaided. Yet the handicap was so carefully hidden, especially after he became president in 1932, that most people were only marginally aware of the seriousness of the problem.

Although the FDR memorial refers to his polio and inability to walk unaided, none of the three sculptures or any of the bas-reliefs show FDR with the wheelchair, crutches, braces or canes he was forced to use. All the representations show him as he appeared to most of the admiring public of his day.

But advocates for the disabled are complaining about this omission. They want FDR clearly shown in his wheelchair, saying it would be a source of strength and inspiration to 50 million disabled Americans.

Clearly, the public view of being handicapped is less of a stigma today than in FDR's day. But that doesn't justify making FDR appear in a way that he carefully downplayed while he was alive. As a grandson put it: "The memorial should not be a vehicle for making a social statement."

Let's leave the "politically correct" statements out of the long-overdue monument and portray FDR as people remembered him.