Conversation about the photo of fallen Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard fell along two tracks: One, it was a harsh portrait of the reality of war; or, two, it was a needless, callous exploiting of a soldier's final moments, insulting to his family and country.
We didn't print it. The Sun Journal has a policy against publishing images of the severely injured or dead. National debate raged, though, after many national newspapers did, followed by outrage and denouncement from Bernard's family in New Portland and the Department of Defense.
Lost amid talk of "why the photograph" were larger questions of why Bernard was treading through an Afghani pomegranate grove, and why, in general, so many troops remain engaged in a country known as the "Graveyard of Empires."
Today is the eighth anniversary of the answer.
Eight years ago today, the United States experienced the most hellish, tragic experience in its modern history. We were attacked from within, by enemies without regard for our life or society. Our collective American knees buckled when the twin towers fell, live, on national television.
Time has a way of healing, though, and the United States has repaired itself since 9/11, just enough so the memory of the day is starting to fade. Sure, we remember what happened, but the raw emotion and naked feeling of vulnerability and fear is hard to recapture after all these years.
The greatest evidence of this is current debate about Afghanistan, galvanized on Sept. 1 by the columnist George Will's unexpected call for pulling American troops from the country. This was heralded as a turning point in the lengthy conflict, and has allowed others to speak more freely of their concerns about the operation.
Will's logic was sound, but his analyses failed to mention 9/11, even once. This is a remarkable oversight. It indicates either 9/11 is now passé as rationale for the Afghan conflict, or the attacks have indeed faded from national consciousness.
Evaluating the merits of Afghanistan is impossible without considering why we are there. It was the staging ground for America's greatest domestic tragedy, executed with savage precision into the very heart of our culture. Pretending this didn't happen, or failing to acknowledge that it did, is myopic.
Afghanistan is a quagmire, without question. Countless attempts at nation-building across its craggy mountains and windswept plains have been foiled. There are good reasons to be concerned about whether our forces, after so many years of fighting there and elsewhere, can succeed where others have failed.
Yet it must be remembered: There is good reason to fight. Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard was killed defending a country attacked without provocation, with extreme malice. He didn't fall because of a flawed policy, strategic error, or some hopeless cause.
He died for those who died eight years ago today.