Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011 | 2 a.m.
There is no forgetting the horror that visited the country a decade ago — a coordinated group of terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners and turned them into weapons. The images of the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center crumbling, the smoldering Pentagon and the burned wreckage in a Pennsylvania field are seared into the American conscience.
For this generation of Americans, 9/11 is a defining moment. It brought the reality that foreign terrorists could successfully attack U.S. soil.
In the days after 9/11, we remember the resolve and unity shown by Americans. Across the country, people were gathering, displaying flags and even wearing Yankees caps as signs of support. When President George W. Bush climbed atop the remains of a battered fire engine at ground zero in New York and addressed the workers with a bullhorn, partisan differences didn’t matter — we were all Americans and the country had come under attack.
It is difficult even now a decade removed to look at the images from 9/11 and not feel the rush of emotion from the time — the shock and horror at the magnitude of the attacks; the awe at the selfless efforts of the emergency workers; the pride in the nation’s response and resolve.
Still, the passions and intensity have cooled over the years as the nation’s war on terrorism has persisted.
Terrorism is an elusive enemy, and the country has spent billions of dollars on homeland security efforts, not to mention more than $1 trillion fighting the two wars launched in the wake of the attacks.
Some people say the U.S. has won: The al-Qaida terrorist network that launched the attacks has largely been dismantled, its leader, Osama bin Laden, is dead, and the attacks’ mastermind is in a U.S. military prison.
The country shouldn’t fall into a sense of complacency — the United States is still a target, and we still have significant work to do to shore up our defenses. But for many Americans, there is little urgency regarding terrorism because there is little personal connection to either the terrorist attacks or the wars.
Pentagon officials have worried about a disconnect between the military and the public, noting that just a tiny fraction of the population has served in uniform. That has placed an inordinate burden on a small group of Americans. There was never a call for a shared sacrifice, as in past wars, and the cost of the two wars was simply added to the nation’s debt.
That sense of national unity, which was palpable in the aftermath of 9/11, is now a distant memory, shattered by bitter partisan rhetoric and a dour economy.
The anniversary of 9/11 should be a reminder that Americans need to reunite around what’s important. It’s a sobering day. It brings the memory of those who were killed in cold blood a decade ago, as well as those who have died in the service of our country since. It also should serve as a reminder of how we’ve changed.