Reflections on the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks

September 11, 2005

Shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, my wife and I began walking at dawn at the track at Smithsburg High School.

The track has a beautiful view of the mountains, but at the time the view did not comfort me so much as it stimulated my imagination.

In my mind's eye, I imagined an airliner flying low over top of those mountains, heading toward the presidential retreat at Camp David just a few miles to the north to drop who knows what. An airliner crash was unlikely to destroy Smithsburg, but what about an atomic weapon?

I don't have those thoughts much anymore, mostly because I can only think about such things so long. After agonizing for a while, I begin to rationalize that while bad things may happen, the odds that they'll happen to me or my family members are remote.


But even though the attack hasn't been repeated, that doesn't mean that the nation hasn't paid a price.

We've launched two wars, which haven't gone as we'd planned. Now another generation of young people is at risk, their families watching the news and hoping that if they see their child, it isn't on a stretcher.

The cost of the war may be high in terms of dollars, but probably not as high as caring for the wounded who've lost limbs but not their lives thanks to modern body armor.

It is not a project we can argue about, as if we were debating whether to build a new baseball stadium. They went in our name, counting on us to take care of them if they got hurt. And if we have any honor at all, we won't try to do it on the cheap.

The attacks also brought us the Patriot Act, which, among other things, allows the government to look at your e-mail or your business records, based on an assertion that these are relevant to an investigation of terrorism.

The premise, of course, is that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about, which is not a premise on which American civil liberties should be based.

But it's too easy to say that all of these measures are unnecessary or evil. It was precisely because airline rules and immigration controls were so lax that the attacks occurred. Our dilemma is, to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, how much of our liberty can we trade for security without losing too much?

The other risk, as in any war, is that in pursuit of the enemy's defeat, we will demonize people in the same neighborhood, or who share their ethnic background.

Some U.S. servicepeople obviously demonized detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison. It has been said that the abuses which took place were not in any way comparable to the tortures Saddam Hussein visited the people in his custody.

True, but beside the point. We said we would hold ourselves to a higher standard, would obey the Geneva Convention rules and all that.

The only partial redemption for what happened at Abu Ghraib is that those who were direct participants were tried publicly and sentenced to jail. The higher-ups who knew, or should have known, have largely escaped. Who knows what revenge schemes will be launched because of what happened there?

That said, there are stories that we never read, in part because the national media is preoccupied with the stories of battles and roadside bombs.

In March, Sgt. Glen Bolland, whose parents live in Boonsboro, helped save the life of an Afghan man who had been stabbed six times, suffering a collapsed lung in the process.

A story on an Armed Forces Web site noted that such treatment by the Task Force Fury medics plays a valuable part in winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.

But Sgt. Bolland said that it meant a great deal to him as well.

"It's our job to save lives, whether they are American or Afghan," he said, adding that "it's an empowering experience to save someone's life."

If you have a relative serving in Afghanistan or Iraq, please encourage them to share such stories with The Herald-Mail and its readers. Just because a lot of us aren't on the front lines doesn't mean we don't need to hear good news from the troops.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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