For another, they didn’t casually keep sending our own young men and women to be killed and maimed in such places. One Korea, one Vietnam and one Kuwait in half a century were enough to discourage such behavior.
What America lost on September 11, 2001 was more than 3000 innocent women, men and children. It lost social trust--the sense of not having to be constantly on guard against the malice of unknown people who want to hurt or kill us for no personal reason whatsoever.
Before then, we took much for granted: We could walk safely in front of cars that would stop for red lights, eat food that had passed through the hands of countless unseen people, turn over our children every day to strangers who would keep them safe and nurture them.
We still do all that and more, but we can’t board a plane, sit in a stadium, attend a midnight movie, go to church or walk a crowded street with the same security we felt before 9/11/01. We live in a nation where, as Bill Clinton put it, it’s easier to get a gun than vote.
Our public life has become meaner, coarser and, in politics, we are not the people we were before--fiercely opinionated, intensely competitive but optimistic and generous underneath it all.
This anniversary of the fall of the Twin Towers and the attack on the Pentagon will pass with ritual moments of silence for what we lost that day.
Yet the biggest loss is the memory of who we were before then.