Ruth Bass: Too many places have dealt with terrorists


RICHMOND >> We traveled to Belfast in Northern Ireland where we had to make our way through a barricaded maze every time we wanted to enter our hotel. It had been bombed by terrorists so many times that many people could no longer keep count. For two days, we looked over our shoulders as we went through security gates in departments, walked past half-destroyed buildings, noticed soldiers with rifles on street corners, saw armored vehicles with guns rolling along the main street

In Coventry, England, the tears rolled as we viewed the skeleton of the city's cathedral, all but demolished in the fire-bombing of World War II and later incorporated — a way to ensure that no one would forget — in the new cathedral

In Israel, we passed through checkpoints, saw barbed wire barriers and, a few days after we left, realized that we had just been in the extraordinary marketplace where a terrorist's bomb had gone off ...

In Cairo, flying back to Tel Aviv, we watched airline passengers fret as their neatly packed suitcases were opened and almost emptied during the Israeli inspections. We didn't mind — we wanted to be safe ...

In Chiapas, Mexico, we walked the streets of San Cristobal de Casas on a warm evening and talked about the sullen faces of the black-shirted men who stood on the sidewalks talking. Within a few months, Chiapas had exploded in revolt against the central government

In St. George's, Grenada, we tasted new kinds of fruits in the open market where women set up umbrellas to protect themselves against the burning sun. We strolled and swam at Grand Anse Beach, speculated that the medical students whose dorms were on the beach had a pretty nice place to study. We visited nutmeg plantations and photographed the incredible faces of women who spent their days sorting wheat from chaff in a hands-on kind of quality control for the nutmeg harvest. Three years later, we were back in Grenada after Maurice Bishop's government had been toppled by hard-line Marxists and President Reagan had sent in U. S. troops. Buildings had been bombed by our planes. We looked at ruins, we saw the blood-stained wall where Bishop and his friends had been lined up and executed by the Grenadians who revolted against them

We were in Bermuda, shocked to the core by terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, feeling so separated — literally on an island in the midst of tidal waves of trouble at home. Stranded for days but quite safe, we realized nothing in our beloved United States could ever be quite the same again. So many others in so many other places had already been through this, in revolt or in the violence of terrorism.

Like them, we would have to learn to live with it, long lines at airports being the least of the problems in a changed time. More deeply, the terror from the skies would change our inner sense of well-being, and we wondered if Americans would be able to walk on past such events, stop looking over their shoulders, continue their lives.

New York City's mayor, Rudy Giuliani, spoke eloquently of his city's ability to cope with crisis. Two buildings, he said, were not the symbol of New York. The spirit of the people was the most important part of New York, and he was certain that could not be destroyed.

Over and over, Americans have reached out to help the world with its problems, terrorism included. As we struggle with the cold knot in our stomachs, perhaps their example will help us pick up the pieces and rebuild.


The above is a series of excerpts from a column published September 17, 2001. Since then, terrorist attacks have been carried out in many places, including Boston and San Bernardino on our own soil. But like the people of Northern Ireland, England, Grenada , Israel, Boston and New York, we try to counter the fear with resilience, with the idea that the Brits had it right when they counseled, "Keep calm and carry on." We had Ground Zero, and buildings rose again. We had Boston Strong, and the marathon lives. It's the only way.

Ruth Bass is a former Sunday editor of The Eagle. Her web site is


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