United in loss, 9/11 families are divided on Afghan war

By Brian MacQuarrie
Globe Staff / October 29, 2009

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Terry Greene of Cambridge had just dropped her son at school when she heard on the radio that a second tower at the World Trade Center had been hit by an airliner. At that moment, on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Greene knew that the tragedy in New York was no accident.

A short time later, Greene heard that United Flight 93 had crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pa. “My first reaction was, ‘Good, it didn’t hit another target,’ ’’ Greene recalled.

But Greene’s world soon began to dissolve when a brother called with the news that another sibling, Donald Freeman Greene, was on that plane. “I can’t really describe how dark and horrible that was,’’ Greene said.

Eight years later, as a roiling debate unfolds about US strategy in Afghanistan, Greene said she feels no need to sacrifice more American troops in a country where the 9/11 attacks were hatched.

“There has to be a way to build more bridges rather than destroy them,’’ Greene said. “I think the media assume that the families want revenge, like that’s respecting the family and the family member’s memory.’’

But just as the proposal to send more troops to Afghanistan has divided Washington and the country, the loved ones of the victims of Sept. 11 react in different ways despite their common bond of sudden, terrible tragedy.

Some believe that Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies must be defeated to ensure American security. Others believe that the American military effort in Afghanistan is a counterproductive drain of US blood and treasure. And another faction thinks that withdrawal would imperil a vulnerable nation that now needs US protection.

“I feel it would be a betrayal at this point to leave or not provide the troops necessary to provide security,’’ said Lauren Rosenzweig of Acton, whose husband, Phil, was killed in New York on American Airlines Flight 11. She, like Greene, was among about a dozen relatives of 9/11 victims the Globe contacted. “I think in the long run it will save lives to have a presence there, but with specific objectives.’’

To Doug Connors of Quincy, whose brother Kevin died while working in the World Trade Center, the struggle must continue until Al Qaeda, which masterminded the attacks, is dismantled. “This is about more than increasing troops in Afghanistan,’’ said Connors, 55. “It’s protecting our homeland against an evil enemy who will stop at nothing.’’

The White House has said President Obama is within weeks of making a decision on how to proceed in Afghanistan. As he deliberates, he is receiving widely divergent advice. In the face of deteriorating conditions in the Afghan battlefield, General Stanley McChrystal, the US and NATO commander there, is seeking 40,000 troops on top of the 68,000 American forces already in the country. But Vice President Joe Biden and others favor a fundamental shift in strategy that focuses on hunting Al Qaeda in its Pakistani border sanctuary with special forces and drone missiles.

Amid the swirl of voices competing for his attention, Obama is not believed to be considering a reduction in troops.

For Wright Salisbury of Lexington, however, such an option is exactly what the president should be considering.

“People are pretty fed up with these wars and not really willing to see Americans die or spend billions of dollars in countries where we really shouldn’t be in at all,’’ said Salisbury, whose son-in-law, Edward Hennessy Jr. of Belmont, was a passenger on American Airlines Flight 11.

Salisbury, 75, a registered Republican who voted for George W. Bush for president in 2000, said that during the invasion of Afghanistan following the Sept. 11 attacks, he was busy helping organize an alliance for Jewish-Christian-Muslim understanding.

However, he said, the subsequent war in Iraq led him to believe that US military strategy in the Middle East is misguided.

“If our goal is to get rid of Al Qaeda, I think we’re a little confused about what we are doing. They are a stateless organization,’’ said Salisbury, who belongs to a group called September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. “If they think it’s too hot for them, they’ll simply go to Yemen or Somalia.’’

In Salisbury’s view, US troops should be withdrawn from Afghanistan.

“I don’t think attacking the Taliban is going to do anything except to radicalize them,’’ Salisbury said.

To Connors, however, the troops who are fighting in Afghanistan “are sticking up for my brother,’’ who graduated from the Naval Academy in 1969. Connors said he will leave the decision about whether to increase the military presence to the generals and the president. But he is adamant that this is a war worth waging.

While many families seem emotionally exhausted by the lingering pain of 9/11, some said that some sort of US military presence must continue and that the United States cannot suddenly leave a country where hundreds of thousands of people have risked death simply by voting.

“Since we did go in, and we have had a presence in trying to create an environment in Afghanistan that does not support terrorism, we owe it to them to make sure that the people are protected from any kind of backlash,’’ Rosenzweig said.

She dismissed the suggestion, advanced by some proponents of a troop increase, that justice for the Sept. 11 victims requires this extension of US military might.

“As far as justice for my husband’s death, they found the mastermind and he is behind bars. Did they need a war to find him? Now it becomes more of an issue of how to prevent it from happening again. I ponder this question every day,’’ Rosenzweig said.

American families, she added, were not the only victims of 9/11.

“I feel deeply for the innocent people in Afghanistan,’’ she said. “Because of what happened on 9/11, they’ve really borne the brunt of something that they really had nothing to do with. They lost loved ones, as well, for nothing they ever did.’’

Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at

(Suzanne Kreiter for the Boston Globe)

TERRY GREENE, whose brother died in the Pennsylvania crash of United Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001