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National Association of Counties * Washington, D.C.      Vol. 33, No. 17 * September 17, 2001

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The Denial of Victory

The incredible tragedy of the events in New York and Washington D.C. are not to be celebrated by the terrorists. The events are a direct challenge to America, which cannot be answered by the federal government alone. We have seen a horrific example of a new definition of “federalism” – one in which national policies and our place on the world stage translates directly into local government impacts.

The firefighters, police officers, paramedics and other local government employees who responded to the 911 calls on Tuesday, 9-11-01, were not agents of American intelligence or the U.S. Armed Forces, at least in the classic sense. They were doing their jobs as local government employees, responding to community needs, locally and with specific human faces attached to each cry for help.

However, in the modern world, the complex world, the world of fear and frustration, these local government employees were also “special agents” of American society. They represented all of us when they arrived at the scene of trouble and tried to make a difference. Ultimately, they succeeded. By their bravery and sacrifice, they saved innocents and reduced the scale of what otherwise would have been an even greater disaster.

Terrorists, as the name implies, seek a prize, which they cannot possess. They seek to paralyze a civil society and reduce it to fears and tears. They seek to destroy national morale and will power so some political agenda can be advanced. Their weapons are designed to be unexpected, to be inhumane and unimaginable.

There is a great irony about terrorism, however. The irony is that it can, and in this case, the HR Doctor believes will, produce unintended consequences for the perpetrators. The victims will be mourned and will be remembered. The memories of what comes of terrorism will bind the nation and its communities together in a stronger web of unity.

For counties the experiences of September 11, 2001 should strengthen a “pentagon” of five key policies. One will be a greater appreciation of local governments’ role as a key agent of civil society. A second will be to do more to honor the employees who make local government work.

The third, and a key role for NACo, will be a stronger advocacy at the state and federal level to invest in prevention and preparedness in support of local government efforts rather than reaction and intervention after the fact.

The fourth will be to improve relations within the family of local governments. This means putting aside the competition for scarce resources and “turf protection,” which is too often present between cities and counties – especially with regard to police and fire protection. It means to strengthen our focus on what is the best and most effective way to deliver services. Finally, the fifth policy is really a challenge — to accomplish the changes suggested above in a way that respects individuals even if their views anger us or differ from our own. If we seize the opportunities brought to us on this September day, the terrorists lose and the nation is strengthened.

The denial of victory to the terrorists comes not only from their ultimate apprehension and punishment, but also from two other sources. The first is the denial to them of the prize of seeing the society they scorn weakened in its resolve and its morale. The second is to help them see that as a direct result of their work, America emerges more resolute and more committed than ever before.

For local government and local government employees, Sept. 11, 2001 should come to be regarded as a day when we fought back against terror and contributed to its ultimate defeat.


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