This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.
From our corner of the United States, the reach of 9/11 can be measured quite literally – in miles.
Washington lies 2,400 miles from New York City. But television and the Internet annihilated that distance on the day of the attack.
Like people in New Jersey or Connecticut – or London or Tokyo – Washingtonians watched in mounting horror as jetliners were deliberately flown into the twin towers. We saw the New Yorkers jumping to their deaths, the skyscrapers collapsing, the desperate survivors fleeing floods of billowing ash down city streets.
Later, the pathos of countless photographs posted on walls, pleading for news of missing loved ones. Funerals with empty caskets. Thousands of children who’d lost parents. Immense ruins burning apocalyptically for months.
After the attacks came 7,000 more miles – the distance between Washington state and Afghanistan.
Al-Qaida, abetted by the Taliban regime in Kabul, had reached around the planet to murder nearly 3,000 Americans, in New York, at the Pentagon and in rural Pennsylvania aboard United Flight 93.
The United States reached back with its armed forces, destroying the Taliban government, decimating al-Qaida and finally – after far too many years – killing the terror organization’s mastermind, Osama bin Laden.
Many of those troops have been our neighbors, fellow Washingtonians deploying from this state’s military installations. Ten years after 9/11, troops from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Pierce County continue to battle the Taliban in a counter-insurgency that has so far prevented them from re-establishing a terrorist sanctuary in Afghanistan.
The crashing towers also set the stage for the war in Iraq, thousands of miles from here. That war probably would not have happened without the 9/11 attacks.
Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the attacks, but he had been an enthusiastic sponsor of terror in the Middle East for many years, and he had a grudge against the United States. The Bush administration raised the specter of another 9/11 as it launched an invasion that ousted Saddam but degenerated into a deadly guerrilla war and sectarian bloodbath.
Most Washingtonians suffered little from 9/11; its main effect here has been the aggravating gantlet of security procedures travelers must pass through before boarding a plane at Sea-Tac Airport.
It’s a different story for the reservists, Guard units and active-duty personnel who’ve put their bodies on the line in Iraq and Afghanistan – many of them doing multiple combat tours, some returning severely injured or in flag-draped caskets. The breadth of their sacrifice cannot be measured in miles.