Thanks to the recent U.S. government shutdown, one of my friends who left for vacation on Tuesday to go to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan told me, “We were going to go camping at Isle Royal National Park, but it’s not open because of the shutdown.”
“Well,” quipped her husband in response, “we can always head up to Canada.”
For other tourists, however, this current U.S. government shutdown is a huge inconvenience that cannot be remedied by a side trip to Canada.
Take, for example, the aging World War II veterans who “stormed” the barricades Tuesday to see the World War II Memorial closed by executive order. Many of the veterans are flown into Washington, D.C. on Honor Flights that enable veterans, many of whom are in their 80s and 90s, and many of whom have never been to Washington, D.C., to see their memorials.
These Honor Flight Network tours require extensive planning and require thousands of dollars that come mostly in the form of individual donations. Denying these veterans one last chance to view a monument honoring their service proved to be an outrageous public relations failure on the part of the Democrats and an opportunistic one for the Republicans, who have now agreed to supply non-government funding to the memorial for the next month.
The World War II Memorial is no stranger to controversy. It has been plagued with criticism about everything from its architecture to its location on the Washington, D.C. Mall. Now, the memorial has become a political football during this shutdown, and instead of these veterans having a dignified visit, it was instead a home to a media and political circus.
Thanks to the First Amendment rights that these veterans fought for in World War II, the veterans can continue to visit their Memorial.
The closure of the national parks during the U.S. government shutdown makes me wonder if this situation would have been a non-issue if the parks were privatized.
What if the parks were sold to conservation groups, like the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, would they be held captive to political interests like they are now? Could something like what happened to these aging veterans who, according to a recent statistic are dying at the rate of 600 persons a day, members of the “Greatest Generation,” could have been prevented?
As Kenneth Brower observes in a recent blog post for National Geographic:
The National Park System is, in so many ways, the measure of our place and of ourselves. If anything good comes of the shutdown, it may be that it gives us the opportunity to see how we like it without our parks, and to see what they mean to us.
Perhaps the “good” that can come from this government’s shutdown is a national dialogue as to whether any national park be used to push a political agenda.