Ray Duckler: The war on terror hits home hard
The flags at Kimball Union Academy fly at half-mast Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014. (GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
The violence in Syria and Iraq hit close to home, in our own backyards.
While the Islamic State says it wants to raise its black flag in the White House, the militant group’s brutality forced us to lower our flags to half-staff, in Rochester and, more recently, in Meriden.
And yesterday in Portsmouth, Vice President Joe Biden said that the terrorists who murdered James Foley and Steven Sotloff, two journalists with New Hampshire ties, will be living in hell.
Biden spoke at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. “We take care of those who are grieving,” he said, “and when that’s finished, they should know we will follow them to the gates of hell until they are brought to justice. Because hell is where they will reside.”
Those grieving are the families and friends of Foley and Sotloff. Both dedicated their lives to reporting while surrounded by danger. Both were murdered in an unspeakable manner. Both, it appears, were killed by the same man, the one with a British accent, from the same organization. Both were shown dying on YouTube.
And both once lived here, in New Hampshire.
Foley, a Rochester native, was a freelance journalist for an online publication based in Boston. He was abducted in Libya in 2011 by troops loyal to Moammar Gadhafi and held for several weeks.
Then, more mindful than most journalists about what happens in war-torn countries, Foley chose to go back to the Middle East, this time to Syria, where he was kidnapped again.
After Foley’s death was posted on YouTube on Aug. 19, his mother, Diane Foley, showed that courage and unselfishness run in the family when she said this:
“We have never been prouder of our son Jim. He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people. We implore the kidnappers to spare the lives of the remaining hostages.”
The Islamic State – also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – chose not to listen. After Foley was killed, the group murdered Sotloff, who spent three years at Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, a town as tranquil as Iraq and Syria can be violent.
Sotloff recharged Kimball Union’s student newspaper, foreshadowing his passion for journalism before graduating in 2002.
He then wrote about war and death in Libya, where he covered the murders of four Americans in Benghazi for Time magazine. He returned to Kimball Union in 2012 and told the students about the Arab Spring, a segment of time that changed the world, then he went to Syria and was never seen in this country again.
That’s why the United States is sickened and saddened these days.
“When people harm Americans, we don’t retreat,” Biden said. “We don’t forget.”
Later he added, “The American people are so much stronger, so much more resolved than any enemy can fully understand.”
That resolve is needed nationwide, and it’s especially needed in a northern New England state, with small towns and simple lives.
Students at Kimball Union return to class Monday. Orientation for newcomers runs through the week.
Julia Brennan, the school’s director of communications, said little yesterday, citing the family’s request for privacy.
She called the two deaths “eerie.” She said a private memorial is being planned with the Sotloff family, and the media probably would not be permitted to attend.
“I hope you come back on a happier occasion,” Brennan said. “I’ll show you around.”
The campus sits on a sharp slope, with ivy-covered brick buildings, big white columns and large, neatly manicured fields of grass.
Two flags, one red, white and blue, the other Kimball’s colors, orange and black, snapped in the wind along Main Street.
Next door, outside the Kimball Union Academy day-care center, a woman carried a little girl and held the hand of a little boy – another snapshot of our world just a week before the 13th anniversary of Sept. 11.
They moved down the sidewalk, past the historic landscape and flowers, in the warmth of late summer.
They walked by the snapping flags, with the children no doubt oblivious to why they were not raised to the top.
They’d hear all about it later.