Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Let’s Not Roll: A Postmortem

I have written about just how morally androgynous the Shanksville “memorial” for the passengers and crew of United Flight 93 is intended to be in “Let’s Not Roll: The Islamic Memorial in Pennsylvania.”

Since posting that commentary, I have confirmed what I had earlier suspected: that Flight 93 crashed onto private land. Apparently, the families of the passengers on Flight 93 were unable to persuade the landowners to sell that land on which to create their “memorial.” They turned to the government. The government, in its infinite turpitude, gave the landowners an offer they couldn’t refuse: sell it the land, or, under the aegis of eminent domain, see it seized by the government. Compensation to the owners would be whatever a judge deemed was “fair market value.”

As with past instances of eminent domain (most notably the Kelo case), if a private organization has its heart set on someone else’s private property, all it need do to acquire it is apply to Uncle Sam (or to the state or other government entity) for assistance. Eminent domain was originally intended to give the government power to take land (with “just compensation”) to build roads, improve waterways, or erect public or government structures. It was not intended to be a weapon of a private organization to use against a private property owner.

It is a disgrace that the advocates and enablers of the “memorial” to the heroes of Flight 93 turned to the government to pressure landowners to relinquish their property so that this botched “tribute” can be realized. The tactics employed by the Department of the Interior, the National Park Service, and the Families of Flight 93, a nonprofit group created to fund construction and maintenance of the memorial, demonstrate that they have not an ounce of understanding about what this country was intended to be – a free country – and what it has become – a country whose government is basically a “steward” of wealth it never created but which it can “redistribute,” provided enough pressure and tears are brought to bear.

As the Islamic hijackers seized control of Flight 93 in the name of Allah, the Families of Flight 93 sanctioned the seizure of private property in the name of “grief.”

This makes the whole Flight 93 “memorial” project a sham. One can empathize with the families of the passengers and crew who died in that act of war. I do not think they sprang into action in the name of slavery or servitude or the expropriation of property. But one should not sanction what the Families of Flight 93 resorted to, which was to appeal to the government to clear the way for their memorial by relying on the government’s power of eminent domain to fulfill their wishes.

Squabbling between many family members of people who died during the attack on the World Trade Center in New York over what ought to be built in the “footprints” or “sacred ground” also contributed to interminable design and construction delays, and was exacerbated by politicking between government entities and other pressure groups and factions.

The Families of Flight 93 had no legal power to sue the landowners for refusing to sell their property, nor any power to seize the land themselves. Failing persuasion, they enlisted the offices of the ultimate persuader: the state. Their wishes, they thought, gave them a right to the crash site.

Under duress, the landowners eventually negotiated what they considered a “fair market value” of their property. But whether or not they agreed to sell it, it was still legalized extortion. It wasn’t the Fuller Brush salesman who came knocking at their doors with a fistful of discount coupons. It was a bureaucratic behemoth with a gun behind its back.

This drama occurred at about the same time, May of 2009, when Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson told the summoned heads of nine banks that they were not leaving the room until they agreed to accept TARP cash.

Only one individual is known to have protested the government’s bullying tactics, Somerset County Commissioner Pamela Tokar-Ickes, who resigned from the Flight 93 Federal Advisory Commission over the option of eminent domain, which she opposed.

“I do not support the Department of Interior’s imminent action to condemn the property,” she said in a written statement. The National Park Service is part of the Department of Interior. “I feel it would be impossible for me to continue to serve in this official capacity to construct a permanent memorial to the crew and passengers of Flight 93.”

Lest anyone think that the government initiated the extortion, Advisory Commission chairman John Reynolds revealed during a telephone interview after Tokar-Ickes’s resignation that,

“The commission never recommended this (land condemnation),” said Reynolds, a retired National Park Service executive. “It was the totality of the partners led by the families that communicated directly with the governmental powers that unless they did this no piece of the memorial could be built by the 10th anniversary and the Park Service could not protect the remains of the heroes.” [Italics mine]

In April 2008, members of Families of Flight 93 went to Washington to remove an obstacle to federal funding of the memorial, which was being blocked by the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Charles Taylor of North Carolina. His objection to federal funding of the project was merely one of bean-counting, and certainly not based on any concern about property rights.

“It would be unacceptable to the memory of the sacrifice of those aboard Flight 93 to fail to adequately provide for future operations and maintenance of this memorial,” he said. “The subcommittee is simply trying to refrain from making commitments of unrealistic support that will either discourage private fundraising efforts or fail to meet our commitment to the country and the families of the heroes aboard Flight 93.”


How much will the memorial cost?

Last week the National Park Service confirmed it has begun the process of taking about 500 acres from seven property owners so construction can begin on a permanent memorial. The Park Service is requesting that the U.S. Department of Justice file land condemnation proceedings in U.S. District Court.

Facing the likelihood of that seizure, the seven holdouts apparently surrendered.

In August 2009, The New York Times reported the story with an almost audible sigh of relief.

Work will begin this fall on a memorial to those killed aboard United Airlines Flight 93 Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001, now that agreements have been reached to buy the last key pieces of land in Pennsylvania, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said Monday.

The New York Times is no stranger to having property condemned for specious reasons. Its new headquarters in New York City sits on a site once occupied by thriving commercial structures, but which it wanted removed and was not shy about using political influence to have the buildings arbitrarily condemned. There is no fundamental difference between the extortion practiced by Secretary Paulson, the New York Times, and Families of Flight 93.

The federal government will pay about $9.5 million to the owners of nine parcels near Shanksville, in rural southwestern Pennsylvania, totaling 1,395 acres, including the site where the plane crashed and one right-of-way, Mr. Salazar said. The announcement ends years of bargaining with landowners.

Negotiations intensified at the end of last year when, with some parcels still in limbo, the Families of Flight 93, a nonprofit group that has been helping with the purchases, asked the Bush administration to get something done before it left office.

This summer, with time running short to get the first $58 million phase of the memorial completed in time for the 10th anniversary of the crash, the Interior Department set a deadline for the remaining landowners and threatened to take the land through condemnation.


In the end, the Families of Flight 93 will get what they deserve: not a simple, minimal-maintenance cenotaph bearing the names of the passengers and crew of Flight 93, with a tablet below describing their actions on 9/11. Instead, they will get some very expensive maple trees, voiceless wind chimes, and some 1,400 acres of land that will guarantee NPS employees continued employment. All in all, a meaningless space that could very well be turned into an outdoor mosque. The “memorial” will commemorate nothing but the triumph of force: that used by Flight 93’s Islamic hijackers, and by the government at the behest and urging of the heroes’ survivors.

I, for one, will refuse to visit the Shanksville site. That is the best tribute I can pay the heroes of Flight 93.

2 comments:

Jeff Perren said...

Super reportage and commentary, Ed.

You should contact Peter Schweizer at Big Peace and write this up as an article for that site.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Interesting. I had not followed this story at all, as I do not read the NYT and I live quite a ways west of Pennsylvania. I am sorry that in the name of the Heroes of Flight 93 theft was done. It sullies the sacredness of that place.

Surely, the crash site is not sacred ground in the sense of being a cemetery. And the sites where people generally die either from illness or accident are not set aside as sacred, or we'd have no place to live and work and pursue our happiness. But the Flight 93 crash site and Ground Zero are both sacred ground in another way, more akin to the ground of a battlefield, such as the Green at Lexington, the North Bridge at Concord, or the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. To stand in these places and be reminded that the cause of liberty often requires not only treasure but blood that those men in those days freely gave, is to be reminded our the sacred trust to protect our liberty that has been passed on to us. However, the Ground Zero site is sacred in another way, as I wrote in a post about the cursed Ground Zero Mosque:

In a very real sense, Ground Zero represents to Americans the burning of sacred text. The sacred text that is written large upon the lives of ordinary Americans, who in going about their daily work were in that moment pursuing happiness. They were the living text of the American dream.

I think the best monument to their immolation by religious tyrants in an act of war would be to build the Freedom Tower. Soon. And in our day.