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In our opinion: Sept. 11 changed the country, but the idea of America must never fail

We affirm the country has defied the world’s concerns: America may be bruised, but it has never buckled.

More than 3,000 flags on display on Sept. 10, 2018, near the Sandy City Hall, honoring the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks as the Utah Healing Field continues a local tradition that began in 2002.
More than 3,000 flags on display on Sept. 10, 2018, near the Sandy City Hall, honoring the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks as the Utah Healing Field continues a local tradition that began in 2002.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Two days after the horrors of Sept. 11, 2001, The Economist posed the question, “After this unspeakable crime, will anything ever be the same?”

The prophetic query is made relevant today because The Economist, a British publication, had the advantage of viewing the tragedy from a distance and in connection to their relationship with the U.S. Brits, and most of the democratic world, weren’t pondering the impending hassles of airport security, nor were they concerned with the logistics of clearing rubble from Ground Zero when they asked how things would be different.

The international anxiety was more fundamental: Would America keep the torch of freedom burning? How would it retaliate? Would it retreat from foreign affairs? Would the world’s greatest country buckle?

The past 18 years have answered those questions in numerous ways to varying degrees of support and defiance.

Once-strong public support for military engagements in the Middle East has dwindled, and U.S. presence in Afghanistan has drawn out to become America’s longest war. Nearly two decades ago, returning to isolationism was out of the question, but now politicians across the political spectrum seem happier turning to domestic issues at the expense of foreign relationships. Religious participation boomed, then waned, as have prejudices and discriminations against religious groups, namely Muslims.

The human cost of Sept. 11 was the largest loss on American soil since the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, and its emotional toll has only expanded in the past 18 years. Yet, we affirm the country has defied the world’s concerns: America may be bruised, but it has never buckled.

Nevertheless, things are different. The events of that day feel almost as fresh as they once did. That won’t change. The U.S. can never shed the dark days of its past, but through unity and vision, ordinary Americans turn those moments into fuel for perseverance.

Terrorism, too, remains with us. Its basic nature makes it hard to combat, let alone eradicate. When nations fought the wars of the past, they fought other nation states. Aggressors could be contained with economic pressure and military threats. Terrorists — unmoored from political structures — don’t respond to traditional demands. Like weeds, they spread wherever discontent is sown.

That makes reports this week of President Donald Trump canceling a meeting with Taliban leaders both surprising and alarming. Hosting them at Camp David would, as some commentators suggest, give legitimacy to an illegitimate government. America needs better friendships; these are not the friends we want.

Instead, America should cultivate the friendships it’s been neglecting — those who, 18 years ago, wondered if things would ever be the same. While the passage of time answers their query with a simple “no,” one thing ought never to change — an enduring hope that the radical idea of America will never fail.

“Thanks to America, and only thanks to America,” The Economist concluded in its Sept. 13 report, “the world has enjoyed these past decades an age of hitherto unimagined freedom and opportunity. Those who would deflect it from its path must not, and surely will not, succeed.”