On 9/11’s 10th anniversary I wrote a post that contained this observation:

For those of us who were grownups when 9/11 happened, it’s also been transmuted—not to something that was always there, but to something that’s been incorporated into our view of the world. We’ve all done that differently. But for us, the shock and surprise and horror reoccurs (to a somewhat diminished extent, of course; there’s no shock like the first shock) whenever we see the footage, or when we think—really really think, without the protective shield of familiarity—of what actually happened on that day.

I believe that, in the four years that have passed since I wrote those words, 9/11 has been transmuted into something that was always there, something that no longer surprises. And although I haven’t watched any footage today of the attack, I think there is less shock and no surprise.

The reason for that is that a great deal has happened since I wrote those words four years ago. Since then, although we had responded in Afghanistan to 9/11 and then to Saddam Hussein’s defiance of nuclear weapons inspections in Iraq, the Obama administration has purposely wiped out those gains, particularly in Iraq. When I wrote that 10-year anniversary piece in September of 2011, the US was poised on the brink of Obama’s complete withdrawal from Iraq, which he was determined to accomplish against the opinion and advice of every military adviser. In the four years since that withdrawal, ISIS has risen up in the vacuum that was left, and it has wreaked horrors on civilian populations, barbarities that are of enormous scale and magnitude even compared to 9/11 and which have reverberated around the world with images of sadistic violence. Does anyone doubt for a single moment that the killers would wreak a thousand, ten thousand, a hundred thousand 9/11s on us if they could?

And then there’s the Iran deal that looms on the horizon, debated in a Congress that seems powerless against a tyrannical president bound and determined to sell our country out to a regime that is worse than Saddam Hussein’s and more implacably our enemy and the enemy of the world.

I could not have made up such a scenario back when 9/11 happened. And yet here we are.

The anniversary of 9/11 is a very solemn day. Today, when I say that “there is less shock and no surprise,” I mean neither disrespect nor belittling of the terrible event that was 9/11. The horror is just as horrible, and perhaps even all the more horrible knowing the point we’ve reached now. The 9/11 dead are still dead, their families still bereft, the 9/11 perpetrators still vile, the 9/11 heroes still heroic. We need to remember them and to bow our heads in grief, and in prayer if we are religious people.

But what I will be hoping for is a sea-change. I don’t know when it will happen. I don’t know how it will happen. I don’t know if it will happen. But I know we need a new dedication to the spirit on which this country was founded: that of courage, liberty, dedication, and clear-sightedness.

9/11 was not like Gettysburg. It was not a battle where soldiers died; it was a sneak attack on civilians going about their daily lives, although many who died were in the line of duty as police or firefighters. On the 9/11 anniversary we honor and mourn them all, every single one. But I want to paraphrase the closing of the Gettysburg Address and add:

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

[ADDENDUM: Here is the story of my own experience on 9/11 and its immediate aftermath.]

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]