It has become axiomatic that the horrendous events of 9/11 that consumed some 3,000 lives and shredded the nation's complacency 10 years ago today ultimately changed our world in ways both subtle and profound.
The terrorist attacks triggered national grief that at first pulled the nation together and kindled brotherly mourning in much of the world.
Yet the haunting national anxiety and hidden political agendas that ensued ultimately gave way to an endless "war on terror" that canvassed the great majority of peaceful Muslims and spurred a reflexive national-security complex. In the end, that mindset tacitly condoned a host of political lies and distortions, extralegal police and military powers, unconstitutional torture and assassination tactics, and two misguided wars waged on borrowed money and the dauntless sacrifice and endless deployments of the tiny minority of Americans who actually serve so honorably in this nation's military.
A decade on, the facts, deceits and mysteries stemming from the 9/11 attacks are still being excavated. Just last week, for example, the Rutgers Law Review published findings of records gleaned from civil and military aviation archives which confirmed that the terrorists who crashed the hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center buildings and the Pentagon had managed to evade civil and military monitoring up to the moment they hit their targets.
That flatly contradicted the statements given for more than a year after the attacks by then Vice President Dick Cheney and other civil and military officials.
They had solemnly maintained that the hijacked airliners were being tracked before the attacks by military pilots who awaited an excruciating order from President George W. Bush to shoot down the civilian-laden airliners.
There also remains a range of persistent critics of the findings of both the 9/11 Commission -- including the commission's own chairman and vice-chairman -- and the scientific reports about the causes, sources and consequences of the terrorist attacks. Indeed, the 9/11 Commission's leaders said in their subsequent book that the commission was "set up to fail" because it disallowed experts and findings that were not compatible with the Bush administration's version of the attacks, which were distorted to target Iraq.
As if to punctuate that point, the Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth, one of several national 9/11 groups of professional experts that question the crash of the WTC buildings, arranged a public meeting yesterday at the Chattanooga Public Library to air its views on the discrepancies in the 9/11 Commission's still-controversial report.
What should be clear by now is that the responses to 9/11 by both the George W. Bush and the Obama administrations wrongly exploited the 9/11 tragedies for political purposes that have proved immensely wrong and costly.
Though 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, and none were Iraqi or connected to Iraq or its anti- Al-Qaida dictator, Bush quickly gave up on the hunt for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and plunged America into a long, costly, full-bore war in Iraq for the oil reserves deemed needed to supplant reliance on Saudi Arabia.
Though Obama proceeded with the Bush withdrawal schedule in Iraq, he sought to prove his own toughness by refocusing the war in Afghanistan on a futile campaign against the Taliban, which is widely supported by many of the 36 million Pashtuns across both Afghanistan and Pakistan who resent foreign intrusion.
The result of these costly, needless wars and the accompanying political distractions -- i.e., the contradictory Bush tax cuts in a time of war, and the terrorist torture policies he deployed to shift the focus away from the Iraq debacle -- have produced what economists call America's "lost decade." Wages stagnated, unemployment and poverty levels rose dramatically, and investments and improvements in infrastructure, innovation, education, energy efficiency and public health have declined sharply.
Obama's tepid defense of sounder policies, and his assumption of a substitute war policy and drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, have inflamed these problems rather than relieving them.
Remembrance of the victims of 9/11 is in order today. So is mindfulness of the need for continued vigilance against extremists of any stripe. But remembrance of 9/11 ultimately calls Americans not just to honor the victims, but also to envision a future where our national character is always respected more for our values than our might.