Thursday, September 11, 2008

What Do We Learn from 9/11?

Last night, I promised myself that I wouldn't write anything on 9/11, the day when I came close to dying and so many other people lost their lives. But I'm moved to write this morning because I see a huge hole in our public discussions of the event: how to properly make sure that something like this doesn't happen again.

Of course, the anniversary itself is given over to commemorating losses and sharing griefs. This is right and proper.

But on the days between anniversaries, the desire to commemorate overwhelms the desire to learn. We remember the heroism of the firefighters, for example, but don't learn enough about the problems with radios and deployment that led to their deaths. Unless we face these questions squarely, though, we run the risk of seeing other firefighters die unnecessarily on other days.

Moving out from the day itself, there is still work to be done to make the United States a harder target against terrorist attacks. This will require hard thinking to reconcile liberty and security. Yet the work that must be done sinks into a swamp of bombast, inertia and violence against the constitution.

The Bush Administration's exploitation of 9/11 for ruinous policies in Iraq, the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan: fixing all of these requires thinking that is smart and tough. Our president has settled for being mean and simplistic. The next president must do better.

Yet there is a big hole in this campaign season: serious debate between Obama and McCain about the place of the United States in the world. Until that debate comes, and with it constructive policies to attain peace, justice and security, we will fall short of what we might learn from 9/11.


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