How the First Amendment Is Defusing the World War II Memorial Battle

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 2 2013 12:55 PM

How the First Amendment Is Defusing the World War II Memorial Battle

The heartbreaking predicament of the Honor Flights emerged yesterday as a flash point for anti-shutdown anger. Quickly, inevitably, the story of elderly World War II veterans taking trips to see their memorial in D.C. became a political cause for Republicans. (I spent the morning at the memorial, with a story coming later today.) On Tuesday, Park Police put up very little resistence when a Mississippi-heavy crew of Honor Flight vets showed up and Mississippi Rep. Steven Palazzo moved a flimsy fence to let them in. Later in the day, conservatives glommed on to reports that the Park Police—i.e., the Obama administration—would handcuff future veteran-tourists.

"Reports suggest that the National Park Service told Toledo Honor Flight Vets they'll be 'arrested' if they visit the WWII Memorial," wrote NRSC spokesman Brad Dayspring. "This is how far Democrats are willing to go. President Obama and Harry Reid are willing to arrest veterans of World War II. Why? The current position of Democrats in Washington is to vote against and veto Republican bills to open monuments and national parks, then to arrest veterans who try to visit them. That is disgraceful."

Well: Here's how the park police got around the problem. Here's one of the typical signs attached to the (again, flimsy) fences meant to prevent entry to parks.

photo 4 (1)

And here's a new version that started appearing today.

photo 2

At the memorial, Park Police put up no resistence to the protesters, allowing congressmen and Honor Flight organizers to move a fence and then telling reporters that the whole affair was a First Amendment exercise. That didn't stop a series of congressmen from hectoring Park Police and demanding answers, as if they were not, themselves, capable of ending the shutdown.

Read the rest of Slates coverage of the government shutdown.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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