Family Holidays

Guide to planning seasonal celebrations

Voters' Voices

Jobs, the economy and the 2004 presidential election

Holiday Movie Preview 2004

Multimedia slide show with capsule previews of upcoming films

Standardized Testing 101

A primer for parents

Deadly Weapons in Dangerous Hands

Special report about weapons of mass destruction

Losing Ground

Special report: Wetlands' demise ripples across nation

Iraq: After Saddam

Continuing coverage of the conflict in Iraq


Thursday, April 10, 2003
Symbolism is peak in Phoenix and a statue in Baghdad





and Gannett News Service
Learn about Tomahawk
cruise missiles
Beyond smart bombs: High-tech weapons explained
Meet U.S. commanders directing the war
Learn about Iraq's most powerful men
Case against Saddam
Suiting up for chemical war
Saddam's rise to power
Key U.S. diplomatic players

I'm afraid that I made a mistake when I suggested that we change Squaw Peak to Piestewa Peak in honor of Lori Piestewa, the 23-year-old Hopi soldier who died in Iraq. It would be a lovely symbolic gesture for sure, but after all these years in the newspaper business I should know that symbolism doesn't pay the bills. Symbolism doesn't put food on the table. Symbolism doesn't pay for college tuition. And Lori Piestewa, a soldier and proud Native American woman, had two beautiful kids.

Renaming the largest geographic landmark in Phoenix Piestewa Peak would honor the memory of one Hopi woman and erase a slur against all other Native American women, but it would do nothing to satisfy the obligation we have to Piestewa's children. For that you should know that those wishing to assist Lori's grandparents, who are caring for the children in Tuba City, can make donations to the Lori Piestewa Memorial Fund at Wells Fargo Bank.

You also should know that while symbolism doesn't pay bills, it has serious, if occasionally nasty, value. Otherwise, every television network covering the war in Iraq would not have spent the entire day Wednesday replaying the moment when an American armored vehicle pulled down a statue of Saddam Hussein in the middle of Baghdad.

If symbolism were not important, I would not have been choked with e-mails and telephone calls since suggesting Tuesday that Squaw Peak become Piestewa Peak.

If symbolism were not important, I wouldn't have received a call from the former chairman of the Navajo Nation, Peterson Zah, who said, "I agree with what you said about renaming Squaw Peak. It would be a good thing for Lori and for her family. And a good thing overall." Or to have his call followed by a gentleman from Phoenix who didn't remain on the line long enough for me to get his name but who suggested instead that "Squaw Peak should be renamed '(Expletive) Mountain' in your honor."

If symbolism weren't important a man named Brian wouldn't have written from the Verde Valley, "It would be a true honor to Ms. Piestewa that all places named 'squaw something' in Arizona be renamed to honor her ultimate sacrifice given while serving her country." Meanwhile, Del from Phoenix wrote, "You bleeding heart liberals are determined to rewrite history to soothe your guilt feelings. At least there is no law against someone being 'silly.' "

A perfectly polite woman who said she had lived in Arizona for 75 years told me that "no one in the old days had any problem with the word 'squaw' when referring to a Native American women and no one should have a problem with it now." Then again, there were a number of words once used to describe African-Americans years ago that we would no longer allow in the names of public parks or monuments.

"To use Pfc. Piestewa's loss as a reason to rename any local landmark would be irresponsible. What about the other brave Arizonans lost in this and other wars?" wrote David from Phoenix. And he's correct. Marine Lance Cpl. Mike Williams, whose family lives here, died near the town of Nasiriyah. He deserves to be honored. As does each of the other 100 or so soldiers, Marines and airmen who have died so far in the war. As well as those who are yet to be lost. But in each war only a handful wind up with their names on local landmarks, and this time it should be Piestewa.

"Why do you avoid substance and opt instead for empty symbolism?" a Sun City man named Lloyd asked me. "Drastically altering monuments like Squaw Peak is meaningless."

If that were true, the Berlin Wall still would be standing, the Russian city of Volgograd still would be called Stalingrad, and in the middle of downtown Baghdad there still would be 25-foot statue of Saddam Hussein.


Back to top
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© 2003, Gannett News Service