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20 years later: What we've lost

by Caleb Baumgardner | September 21, 2021 at 5:00 a.m.

I was seventeen years old and in 12th grade at El Dorado High School on September 11, 2001. I was in second period, Ms. Ralston's Oral Communications class, when I heard the news. I had no inkling on that day of how much the world would change.

There is one thing that I personally witnessed that day that I'd be remiss if I didn't recount here. Later on, in sixth period, I had Mr. Bart Reed's AP European History class. I walked into his class to find a large radio playing the news. Reports were still coming in from New York and Washington. During the previous two periods, we had just sat and watched the news on TV.

But that didn't happen in Mr. Reed's class.

We'd had an exam scheduled in his class that day for which I'd studied the night before. Mr. Reed walked in, turned off the radio, and looked at us. This is what he said:

"By now, I'm sure all of you have heard about what happened. Our country has been attacked. The president has said that we should not be afraid, and we should keep going about our business. So that is what we're going to do today. Some of you may have thought that we weren't going to have the exam, but that isn't how we're going to do things.

"Clear your desks except for your pencils. We are starting the exam now."

After he said that, I remember thinking that it took courage. I have never forgotten that.

There was a great deal of courage demonstrated by people on 9/11, but our country and our world still lost so much on that day.

The victims of the attacks were the first casualties. Their loved ones who survived them will live lives that will never mend entirely. The first responders who charged into the fire and the poisonous smoke and the wreckage to save whomever they could now live with chronic illness and must endure members of Congress who complain about the government paying their medical bills.

That's gratitude for you. "Never Forget," indeed.

The war that began shortly after 9/11 raged for 20 years before ending in a place quite similar to where it started. And that war spawned progeny, the most controversial of which is easily the Iraq War in 2003. Then there were President Obama's wars in Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia to add to the other two.

I remember when I used to see Obama bumper stickers with the "O" as a peace sign, and those made me laugh. I have mused, along with others, that he was given the Nobel Peace Prize simply for not being George W. Bush. I never thought you could order 26,000 bombs to be dropped on two countries in a single year and be given a Noble Peace Prize, but Barack Obama showed me that such things are possible.

Every person who died in any of those wars, as well as those who live but are maimed, be it physically, psychologically or spiritually, is a casualty of 9/11 too.

There are also the liberties we gave up in the wake of those attacks. In our terror, we offered them up so that, paradoxically, we might not lose them. We likely will not get them back absent something even more drastic and sweeping than the attacks themselves. There are many of us who do not even want them back because we are still so afraid. Those who feel this way insist, even adamantly, that we are better off without them.

September 11, 2001 casts a long and dreadful shadow indeed. We are still living in it. Too many have died in that shadow, and many more will likely do so before that shadow is dispelled, if that ever happens.

Caleb Baumgardner is a local attorney. He can be reached at [email protected].

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