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Pay to prevent, not honor, tragedies

| Thursday, Aug. 2, 2007

I am convinced that America can dismantle its Department of Homeland Security. We can discharge all of the Army Reservists and National Guard troops stationed in Western Pennsylvania, as well.

Why• Because if any foreign country ever invaded Western Pennsylvania, their armored fighting vehicles would get hung up on all of the statues and memorials we've built.

Over the weekend, it was announced that $57 million is in place to build a memorial in Shanksville, in memory of the passengers who died on United Flight 93 during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Residents of Somerset County donated a walloping $600,000 to the cause. Tens of thousands of people have been visiting a temporary memorial at the site of the plane crash.

Plans are under way to build a World War II veterans memorial on the North Shore. Initial drawings by Washington, D.C., artist Larry Kirkland depict 36-foot-tall steel and glass spires that would be built for $3 million or $4 million.

Honoring those who died in service to their country is a time-honored tradition, and one not to be taken lightly. But by now, the North Shore surely must be straining from all the marble and granite bestowed upon the Allegheny River bank.

This is the location of memorials for Vietnam War and Korean War veterans. Near Heinz Field, visitors can walk by a memorial to fallen Pittsburgh law enforcement officers or the oversized, bronze likeness of the late Art Rooney, beloved owner of the Steelers.

Stroll past the two-story statues erected to celebrate Pirates greats Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente on your way to East Commons, over by the old Allegheny Center Mall, and you'll pass a large, granite memorial to World War I veterans.

Downtown, at the former Allegheny County Jail, a black granite memorial honors the 412 local servicemen and women who died in the Vietnam War.

I'm not suggesting we forget about those who've died valiantly. But aren't there more practical uses for $3 million or $4 million on the city's North Side, or the $57 million in economically struggling Somerset County• I can think of better ways to spend $4 million in the poor, crime-ridden North Side, and none of them involve sculpture.

Want to make sure another terrorist attack doesn't take place on an airliner flying over Western Pennsylvania• How about directing that $57 million into improved training for Transportation Security Administration employees or investing in airport security systems?

Sure, places where we can honor history by staging vigils make us all feel better in the short term. But spending money to solve the problems behind the tragedies• That's a memorial I can get behind.

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