Tuesday will mark the 17th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States that killed 2,977 innocent people in New York City, Arlington, Va., and Shanksville, Pa. One of the victims lived at Aberdeen Proving Ground, another in Abingdon and a third was married to a man who grew up in Bel Air.
The passage of time has not dimmed our bitterness about what occurred on this day, nor diminished the horror at unredeemable acts committed in the name of some misguided religious beliefs. Nor has it made us any more willing to forgive and forget that our own country’s government was clearly not prepared and as a result people died who shouldn’t have.
There are many who believe lessons were learned from 9/11 and our country is safer today. Well, there have been plenty of acts of terrorism home and abroad since, so perhaps this is a matter of degree of thinking that people won’t be able to hijack four jetliners on the same morning again, but the evil-doers are still out there perpetrating death and destruction.
The consequences from 9/11 remain with us today, and for those who believe the healing process needs to run its course, we ask: What healing?
First there’s the matter of the War Against Terror, or whatever name you may wish to call it, that was launched in response to the 9/11 attacks and continues with no end in sight. Estimates are that more than 7,000 U.S. military personnel have been killed in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places from Africa through the Middle East to Pakistan since Sept. 11, 2001. Another 3,000-plus civilians have died.
Combined with terror-related attacks in the United States over the past 17 years, the victims of the post 9/11 era have included some Harford County residents. Our community has suffered along with the rest of our country.
And the unfathomable heartbreak continues. Just Thursday, USA Today reported how nearly 10,000 first responders and others who were in the World Trade Center area in New York have been diagnosed with cancer, with more than 2,000 deaths attributed to 9/11-related illnesses. By the end of 2018, USA Today reported, “many expect that more people will have died from their toxic exposure from 9/11 than were killed on that terrible Tuesday.”
In the days following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, signs could be seen near the sites of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Northern Virginia and western Pennsylvania, as well as in many forms of media, urging Americans to "never forget" acts of terror in which nearly 3,000 people died.
We’ve long held the belief that our schools, including those in Harford County, have not used 9/11 and its aftermath as the teachable moment it should be. Locally, we’ve been told it’s been left up to individual teachers to decide what to do to mark the anniversary or how to talk about terrorism and the impact of religious extremism, not just with regard to what happened 17 years ago Tuesday, but throughout recorded history.
This is unfortunate, but those of us in the media can also be criticized, with strong justification, for not doing enough on our end, either. A few anniversary stories and editorials each year don’t do justice to the significance of the event, or to the impact it has had on every one of our lives and will continue to have long after each of us is gone.
We’ve been fortunate in Harford County that 9/11 does not go unremembered, thanks in large measure to the efforts of Dels. Pat McDonough and Rick Impallaria and the scores of folks from Harford and Baltimore counties and other places who have gathered each year on the anniversary of 9/11 to wave American flags from the Old Mountain Road overpass across Interstate 95 in Joppa.
A Fallston church invited first responders to its Sunday worship services. In between the services, the congregation gathered at its new flagpole, an Eagle Scout project by Alex Louderback, to raise the flag at 9:59 a.m., when the second World Trade Center tower fell. Among those gathered was Amanda Ray, a local teacher whose aunt died in the WTC attack and collapse.
This Tuesday morning, Harford County government employees have been invited to participate in a moment of silence outside the county administrative center in Bel Air, as Harford County Executive Barry Glassman lays a wreath in honor of the 9/11 victims.
We know many folks who stop and reflect at 8:46 a.m. on this day each year, when the first of two planes hit the World Trade Center. A simple gesture, perhaps, but it’s one that carries a meaning for the ages.