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Six years later, what can we do to help?

September 16, 2007|by BOB MAGINNIS

Six years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, one question remains unanswered.

No, it's not related to what happened to the weapons of mass destruction or the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. What no one has told the average American is: How can we help?

When the Twin Towers fell, Americans responded with an outpouring of aid. Some spent months near Ground Zero in New York City, attending to the needs of the workers there.

In other parts of the county, people flocked to blood drives, only to find that there were too many donors and not enough ability to store blood for long periods of time.

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The we heard another sickening truth - there weren't many survivors who needed blood because between the fire ignited by jet fuel and the collapse of the buildings, those who survived were mostly those who left the towers early.

We have been told by our leaders to pay attention to terror alerts and to support the troops, but we haven't really been asked to sacrifice, unless it's to sign papers to allow a child to enlist in the armed forces.

That's too bad, for a couple of reasons. Sacrifice is inherently a good thing, which is why it's part of a number or religious traditions, including Christianity and Islam.

Penitent people fast or deny themselves certain pleasures not only to please their particular deity, but to make themselves better people. If we deny ourselves something for a reason, we give a cause or a belief more weight than our own pleasure.

Sacrifice of that kind also prompts us to remember that in times past, food was not as plentiful or cheap. The rabbit shot or the fish caught in the afternoon was often the difference between having something other than beans and bread on the dinner table.

But today our sacrifice, whether it be volunteering to write to soldiers in the war zone or writing a check to the USO, connects us to the people fighting on our behalf.

Certainly we can disagree on how the battles in Iraq and Afghanistan have been conducted. But there can be no disagreement that they have been done in the name of every American. The terrorists did not target only the Pentagon, but also a big-city business center, where innocent civilians, including some Muslims, died because of where they were - and not because of what they believed.

That said, it is clear that the present national administration will not ask us to do anything that would link us to our troops or to our fellow citizens.

That is not a criticism, but an observation based on past performance. Just as I am unlikely to run a marathon anytime soon, President Bush is unlikely to change his method of operation. If so, he would be more likely to try to convince us by talking to ordinary citizens in person, as opposed to limiting most of his audiences to armed forces personnel.

Not only can they be ordered to appear and behave in a certain, respectful way, as opposed to the messy outbursts a bunch of civilians might provide, but the troops want to believe that this conflict is winnable. To hear their elected leader tell them it can be won and it's no wonder that they cheer enthusiastically.

But what about the rest of us? The question recurs: How can we help?

If our national leaders aren't going to exhort us, we will have to do it ourselves. For a clue about what that might entail, I went back and looked at pieces I did six years ago, about how people might cope with the after-effects of the attacks.

A few mental-health professionals offered the following suggestions:

· Don't obsess about what you can't control. As I used to tell reporters, somewhere in the world, there is always a bus falling off a cliff or someone committing a senseless murder. If those things happen locally, you can help with the relief effort, but if you can't help, it's no sin not to pay close attention.

· Remember the people in your neighborhood who live alone and who might be coping with their own personal and physical problems. Offer to help and the surprise will be that when they feel better, you will, too.

· Don't be afraid to seek mental-health treatment if you need it. It's sadly true that even in 2007 many people who wouldn't hesitate to get treatment for a sprained ankle are reluctant to seek help for emotional problems.

My own suggestions include:

· Give blood. There are no longer any crowds lining up to donate and appeals for one type or another are issued on a regular basis. Maybe you can't save a life on the battlefield, but fighting the battle against illness is just as noble an undertaking as combat.

· Remember the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lynn Jones and the South Washington County Military Support Group will soon begin their annual holiday card drive. More information will be forthcoming, but for now, you can send donations to the group in c/o Lynn Jones, Box 223, Keedysville, MD 21756.

Just because no one is asking us to do much doesn't mean we can't think up some things on our own.

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

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