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PIMENTEL Why is Jessica cast as a hero while Shoshana is forgotten?
The Arizona Republic
DECEMBER 4, 2003

OK, much of the hullabaloo over Jessica Lynch has, thankfully, gone away. Time to step back and

Let's talk about racism.

"Unseemly" is a good way to describe this talk of racism by folks comparing our public treatment of
world-famous Lynch and another, much less well-known former POW in Iraq. That would be Shoshana
Johnson, who is African-American.

No, it's not unseemly that anyone would raise charges of racism. It's unseemly, and downright
incredible, that anyone would doubt that it's a high probability in this case.

Let us concede that Lynch is a hero. Most anyone serving in our military who gets injured, shot at and
captured during battle in our name deserves that title, even if accounts of the events do appear to
have been over-hyped.

Let us concede also that much of the interest on Lynch centered on how still relatively rare it is for
servicewomen to become war casualties.

But Johnson also is a woman.

The point is, however, she's a black woman and, by the way, also Latina, as her father, a 20-year
Army veteran, is from Panama.

So, what made Lynch more of a hero in the public eye than Johnson or, for that matter, the four
men captured after the same battle in which Lynch suffered her grievous injuries?

Lynch, blond and described as waiflike and the girl next door, got a book deal and a made-for-TV
movie. For at time there, we couldn't get enough of her. Johnson has remained far in the

Let us explore why this was.

The initial report had Lynch valiantly emptying her weapon at the enemy during the battle in which
many of her comrades were killed and five captured, Johnson among them. It turns out that Lynch
didn't fire a shot. Her gun had jammed.

Initial reports had her shot and stabbed. No, her injuries were sustained during the crash of her

Johnson, however, did fire at the enemy and was shot in both ankles.

Lynch suffered horrendous pain from her injuries, broken bones in her arm, leg, thighs and ankle. It's
likely she also was raped, though this was reported way late and she was apparently unconscious
during the assault.

Johnson also suffered greatly from her wounds while in captivity.

Of course, some of you are thinking of Lori Piestewa of Tuba City, Ariz., killed during the same ambush
in which Lynch, her close friend, was injured and captured. She was reportedly the first Native
American woman to be killed in combat while serving in U.S. forces.

What racism? In Arizona, we renamed Squaw Peak to Piestewa Peak.

But if you were here, you would have noticed just how many folks were upset about this. They were
beside themselves, allegedly because the governor failed to follow proper procedure. Yeah, right.
Most of these opponents were upset because they viewed it all as politically correct theater. I mean,
how dare the governor try to take a shortcut to remove a racist term by honoring a hero?

In any case, while Piestewa was a momentary hot topic here in her home state, she enjoyed
nowhere the adulation that Lynch did nationally.

Back to Johnson.

Lynch was rescued in dramatic fashion. Johnson, along with her four other POW comrades, won
freedom with much less fanfare.

But much doubt has now been cast on how daring the Lynch rescue really was.

To her credit, Lynch shies from the title of hero. She calls others heroes. She is modest. She is one,
but so is Johnson and, if there exists a scale, arguably more deserving of the title than Lynch. I would
settle, however, for equal treatment on this hero thing. We refuse to have honest discussions about
race in this country.

There was this recent study that demonstrated that resumes sent in with "black names," such as
Lakisha and Jamal, were far less likely to get favorable responses from employers than those with
"white names" such as Emily and Jason. This, though the résumés told of roughly equal skills and

Some insist that minorities are addicted to the politics of victimhood. Maybe some are, but no more
than others are addicted to playing, "Racism? What racism?"

It's why we had, in the public's view, a superhero in Lynch and a minor hero in Johnson, when we
bothered thinking of her at all.

This is not about the politics of victimhood. Sadly, it's about America.

O. Ricardo Pimentel is an Arizona Republic columnist and a former Tucson Citizen editor. E-mail: