For many generations of people, the history of their time is divided between "before" and "after". Sometimes that divide is a joyous one: We can only dimly imagine what it was like to be a slave hearing about emancipation. Some of those historical dividing points are ambiguous: The end of U.S. involvement in the war in Vietnam was bittersweet, a time of both defeat and the end of soldiers' dying. But most of the events that cut through the collective memory of a generation tend to be terrible. There was the world before Pearl Harbor and after it, before the Watts riots and afterwards and - of course - before 9/11 and what has happened since.
The country has changed in a number of ways since that day two years ago and although the specific ways in which people have responded could not perhaps have been seen at the time the two general types of changes that have come about were in fact foretold (we can now see) by the initial responses to the attacks.
Those attacks prompted two sets of indelible images. The first, of course, were those videos of the planes - seemingly impossibly small, like a child's toy almost - cutting through the buildings and then the awful crumpling of the buildings into dust and noise and blood. But the other set of images -not so deeply engraved on our collective consciousness, perhaps - is that of the firefighters and paramedics and police rushing in to save lives and of thousands of people standing in lines around the country to give blood so that somewhere a stranger might live. The attacks brought both horror and grace to this nation.
Temporary Security and Essential Freedom
It is tempting to ask whether the United States is in a better position now than it was on Sept. 10, 2001, and certainly tempting to give a simple yes or no answer. But the situation is so complex that it may well be a mistake to do so. Americans are certainly safer today than they were before the attacks from some forms of ter...