Opinion: Terrorism and hurricanes


Commentary by Ward Degler

I was so busy saying prayers and using my best body English to protect everyone in Florida under siege by Hurricane Irma last week that I forgot about 9/11. For 15 years, the 11th of September has turned my blood cold as I relived the horror of that attack.

This year, it was a different threat. Mother Nature first took aim at Houston and then at Florida. The devastation to both defied comprehension. Tens of thousands of homes destroyed in Texas. Not a square inch of Florida escaped wind and flood.

There was a difference, of course, between the ravages of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and the attacks of 9/11. Nature can be understood and forgiven. Acts of terrorism warrant neither understanding nor compassion.

Sixteen years ago, the phone rang and my daughter was on the line, crying. Planes had flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in the middle of New York City. The live images on TV were horrifying.

For me, it was bad enough to witness the devastation. Worse was the echo of another attack years earlier when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

We didn’t have television back then, of course, but the words coming across the radio were just as chilling. Later, we listened as President Roosevelt addressed the American people and announced that our nation was at war with Japan.

I slept poorly that night, keeping vigil at my bedroom window, expecting enemy soldiers to come marching down the road before dawn. In my 6-year-old mind it didn’t matter that we lived in Wisconsin, thousands of miles from the enemy. We were suddenly at war, and that meant the danger was real, and life would never be the same.

And then it happened again on 9/11. We were attacked. We were at war, and life would never be the same.

Nearly 3,000 lives evaporated when the twin towers came down. A memorial marks the place it happened at Ground Zero in New York. Visitors quietly file by the place every day. The city has rebuilt, but the date will never be forgotten.

Texas and Florida will rebuild, too. And generations will talk about the hurricanes of 2017. Mostly, folks will remember the heroic kindness of those who dropped their daily routines to lend a helping hand.

And in time, Mother Nature will be forgiven.