Sunday, January 4, 2009

Honoring American Heroes...Forgetting American Ideals

"Government is instituted to protect property of every sort .... This being the end of government, that is NOT a just government,... nor is property secure under it, where the property which a man has ... is violated by arbitrary seizures of one class of citizens for the service of the rest." -James Madison

"Property must be secured or liberty cannot exist" -John Adams

One of the key principles upon which America was founded is the institution of private property, a fundamental unalienable right. Just like the very concept of individual rights, the protection of private property rights has been eroding for decades under the onslaught of government economic regulation and eminent domain.

But it is with particular sadness that one must view the actions of the families of the heroes of Flight 93. According to this Washington Post article by Dan Eggen:

It has been more than seven years since 20-year-old Deora Bodley and 39 other passengers and crew died in the fiery crash of United Airlines Flight 93, their hijacked plane disintegrating in a grove of hemlock trees outside Shanksville, Pa.

Most of the remains from the tragedy on Sept. 11, 2001, were never recovered, making the bowl-shaped crash site in the western Pennsylvania countryside an unofficial cemetery and, for surviving relatives, sacred ground.

But efforts to buy property for a national Flight 93 memorial have bogged down in federal red tape and a protracted land dispute, angering family members and risking plans to hold a dedication ceremony on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. The delays have prompted an advocacy group, Families of Flight 93, to ask President Bush to personally intervene during his final weeks in office to allow the federal government to seize the land needed for the memorial and to allocate part of the money for the project. (Emphasis added.)

Negotiations with the landowner, Mike Svonavec of Svonavec Inc. of Somerset, Pa., have not yet yielded an agreement on the land purchase, although negotiations are on-going. According to a statement by Families of Flight 93:

All that we have worked for is endangered. It would be an insult to the memory of the brave souls on Flight 93, as well as to the nation that demanded that their sacrifice be remembered, that inertia prevented us from completing our task.

With all due respect to the families, it would be an insult to the memory of the Flight 93 passengers and crew, to American ideals, and to our Founding Fathers to violate the property rights of a single American in the name of remembrance. The people on that jetliner acted courageously, not selflessly, in attempting to save themselves from certain death by taking on the hijackers. Their actions almost certainly saved countless other lives on the ground. I can offer no greater tribute to these heroes than to honor them for selfishly fighting for their own lives, their own liberty, and the ideals that their own nation stands for. In so doing, they fought for every American.

Mr. Svonavec is also acting courageously, albeit on a different level, in not succumbing to what must be enormous pressure to part with his lawfully, rightfully owned land. To fight for one’s property is to fight for one’s life, since one’s property is indispensable to one's life and liberty. Property rights are the means to exercising the right to life. Mr. Svonavec is operating on the same moral premise as the heroes of Flight 93.

The crash site may well be “sacred ground” to the victims’ families, but individual rights are “sacred”, and indispensable, to a civil, benevolent society. Families of Flight 93 claim to speak for “the nation”. But here is at least one American…one member of “the nation”…that they do not speak for. For the sake of the rights of us all, and the memory of the people on that jetliner, I hope that Mr. Svonavec fights to keep his land unless and until a voluntary sale agreement to mutual benefit has been reached.

I know that eminent domain seizures are running rampant in this country, but this particular case is enormously symbolic. I hope that a sale agreement can be reached but, if Mr. Svonavec ultimately decides not to sell his land, for whatever reason, it would be his unalienable…and moral…right. The needed land can then be either leased from Mr. Svonavec or the memorial can be built somewhere else.

That the Flight 93 Memorial to honor the memory of those whom President Bush declared had given America “‘the first victory’ in the war on terrorism” can be built upon land seized by force from an American citizen is to emasculate its very significance.

My sadness is to once again think how far America has strayed from its founding ideals.

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