Our country was changed forever on Sept. 11, 2001, and in the fallout from the terrible events of that day there has been nothing glorious except the inspiring deeds of individuals in service to others.
What good we’ve seen has to do with the courage, selflessness and nobility of the victims of the attack and their families; the emergency responders; and the soldiers who fought and died for their comrades and their country.
Despite their example, we’ve not fared well as a nation. We’ve had two destabilizing, open-ended wars, one of them based on fallacies and delusions, the other given short shrift for years. They have caused more death and destruction and added billions to the national debt.
We’ve seen the creation of a Homeland Security bureaucracy that, among other things, has made airline travel a misery and required myriad make-work security steps of dubious merit but great cost.
We’ve seen government spy on its citizens, in violation of the law and the Constitution, all in the name of national defense. We’ve seen the Geneva Convention ignored and the definition of “torture” tortuously tweaked to serve a misguided intelligence-gathering policy based on coercion. We’ve seen the degradation not only of our enemies but ourselves in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal.
We’ve seen a nearly frantic self-righteous intensity among those who consider government evil and unrestrained markets the holy grail and the answer to everything — despite all the evidence to the contrary. They reject science, they reject fact, they reject reality.
Our public schools are failing; our students aren’t learning what they need to know to understand the world and find a place in it.
The middle class is in decline, even as those with all the money yank the reins of power. It elected a president who promised change but won’t deliver because of the intractable forces lined up against him. The economy is broken; government doesn’t work. We’re in a hole. He’s the president so he’s to blame.
The goal of the 9/11 attackers was not only to kill people and destroy buildings. It was to throw us off.
As we remember Sept. 11, 2001, on this 11th anniversary, we must rethink who we are and where we’re headed as a country. We must remember the husbands and wives who said farewell in final phone calls; the firemen and police who died trying to save them; the passengers on Flight 93 who died to save the Capitol or White House; and the good soldiers who gave their all as the inspiration for a new sense of who we can be.
Only in our common humanity, and commitment to one another, is there hope for a brighter future.
Editor’s Note: A version of this editorial was published on Sept. 11, 2011, the 10th anniversary of the attacks.