A dozen years after 19 men hijacked four airplanes and committed the largest act of terrorism against the United States, there's a lot to pause and reflect upon.
On Wednesday morning at the National September 11 Memorial plaza at the World Trade Center site, the names of the 2,983 people who died in 2001 and during an earlier bombing on the Twin Towers in 1993 were read.
In Washington, D.C., Pres. Barack Obama observed a moment of silence on the South Lawn of the White House before attending an observance at the Pentagon, into which one of the four hijacked planes was flown.
At the Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania, where passengers -- at the cost of their own lives -- successfully aborted what was believed to have been an attack on a high-profile target, such as the White House or the Capitol Building, in D.C., the names of the 33 passengers and seven crew members were read.
In addition, somber memorials were held across the United States in remembrance of that horrible day, a day that many among us remember with incredible sadness, unrequited anger and soul-numbing helplessness.
In the dozen years that have passed, America, and the world has changed, and not for the better.
While an argument can be made that we are indeed safer from terrorist attacks today than 12 years ago, the feeling of insecurity and impermanence that permeates our society today could be the greatest legacy of Sept. 11, 2001.
And some have posited the disturbing notion that in fact, the terrorists did win on Sept. 11, but not due to the attacks on the United States, but in our reactions to the attacks.
The breadth of the modern surveillance state is breathtaking, and not in a good way. The national security edifice that has its fingers in all of our lives would make George Orwell blush and the Communist leaders of the defunct USSR jealous.
To some extent, surveillance in the United States rivals that of the scrutiny levied upon the Chinese by their government. The only difference is how the respective governments use their surveillance to punish opponents. While the United States has yet to utilize its surveillance powers in the same way that the Chinese do, the conspiracy minded among us believe it's only a matter of time.
And while the nation's infrastructure crumbles around us, budgets for the Department of Defense, the National Security Agency, the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies tasked with protecting us from terrorism and malignant forces have ballooned. We have thrown all of our resources at combating external enemies, and the things that have made our society strong and a beacon to people around the world -- education, upward mobility, community services, social and economic justice -- have taken a backseat to security.
As any student of history can tell you, that's a recipe for disaster; empires that have fallen from decay within litter the landscape of the past.
We would be remiss if we didn't mention the nearly 4,500 Americans who died and more than 35,000 who were injured in the war in Iraq; a war that we were led by the nose in to by a cabal of ill-intentioned mandarins who, if the world was truly just, would be in the docket answering to war crimes today.
But perhaps the most significant result of the attack on the United States on September 11 has been the "you're either with us or against us" mentality that has driven multiple wedges into our society and turned respectful antagonism into venomous enmity.
While the nation joined together on September 12 -- and people around the world rallied to America's side -- it wasn't long after that the unity engendered by the attack began to fray and split.
Self-serving politicians, sociopathic corporate executives with dollar signs for pupils, racists, bigots, ethically challenged opportunists and monomaniacs shattered that unanimity with their odious quests for power, profit and prestige.
The false dilemma -- that there were only two divergent paths to follow on September 12, 2001 -- that was exploited by those with their own less-than-benevolent agendas has proven to be our undoing.
Our legislators are stuck in a perpetual squabble, the rich get richer as everyone else gets poorer, innocuous e-mails and phone calls are being swept up by the vacuum wielded by the NSA, the police state is not only unquestioned but is welcomed by many of us, we are more concerned with who is twerking than we are with who is pulling the strings, most of us seek refuge with those who we agree with rather than seek the discomfort of challenging our dearly held beliefs, narcissism has replaced volunteerism, obesity is a national epidemic, scholarship has been replaced by common core standards, violence has become the vocabulary of expression for the disenfranchised, and our bridges and roads are crumbling under our wheels.
We must ask is this how we honor those who died on September 11 and in our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?
The tears we shed are not only for them and their families, but also for the America that has withered in front of our eyes. Those who died and those who fought deserve better from us.