It would be nice to have a memorial of some kind, somewhere, to the brave passengers and crew of Flight 93. Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the site where the plane came down after passengers led an uprising against hijackers, would seem like the best place to built it. But we do the dead no honors by allowing the U.S. government to seize that land, by threatening the use of eminent domain.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar traveled to Shanksville last week, attempting to negotiate an end to the impasse by meeting with landowners. But the shameful ultimatum he laid down -- sell within a week or we'll use eminent domain -- betrays the ugly truth, that the federal government is bullying Americans off their land, is trampling their property rights, in order to meet some deadline for getting the project finished.
All the folksy charm Salazar can muster doesn't disguise the fact that he's in this case an intimidator, a henchman and a thief. He likes wearing cowboy hats, a prop meant to convince people he's in touch with his rural roots. But I hope he didn't wear one of his white hats to Shanksville. Black would have been more fitting on this occasion.
Reports the Philadelphia Inquirer:
"The order (to sell) came hours after Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter (D., Pa.) met with people who own 500 acres in and around the Shanksville area, where Flight 93 crashed on Sept. 11, 2001, and with victims' relatives eager to see the memorial built in time for the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
"After meeting with the landowners and the Park Service today, I have high hopes that the parties are close to agreement and will be able to reach consensus over the land in the next week so we can keep the memorial on track without using eminent domain," Salazar said. "Only if the parties are not able to reach agreement will we have to use the last resort of eminent domain to acquire land."
Kendra Barkoff, Salazar's spokeswoman, said the deadline was essential to keep the construction on track. He directed National Park Service officials to meet with landowners early next week and report to him by Friday.
The decision by the National Park Service last month to pursue eminent domain touched off fierce criticism in an area where local residents have been deeply involved in efforts to plan the park and establish and staff the temporary memorial at the crash site. Two local members of the Flight 93 Federal Advisory Commission were so angry about the government's seizure plans that they resigned."
Trampling the rights of some Americans in order to "honor" other Americans is ironic, incongruous, and outrageous. It will forever leave a stain on any memorial built there. However welcoming they are to sightseers, locals will long remember the strong-arm tactics used by the federal government to get the property.
Perhaps a small plaque can be placed somewhere near the Flight 93 memorial, noting that this is also the place where America's belief in the sanctity of private property was laid to rest. We could call it the American Property Rights Memorial.