Did 9-11 change the world forever?
Perhaps, but what day doesn't?
The terrorist attacks of 9-11 created a lot of hub bub, but I would say that the world has been far more transformed by smart phones or the collapse of the housing bubble. It's true that we spent hundreds of billions of dollars and lost thousands of lives by letting the 9-11 attacks seduce us into two open-ended wars, but how much have these wars really changed the world? Afghanistan seems to be pretty much on the verge of reverting back to the exact state we found it in. Iraq seems temporarily stable, but it was stable when we went into it. It wasn't a threat to the world in 2002, and it's not a threat to the world now. Nor, despite our best efforts, does it appear to be a beacon of democracy for countries throughout the middle east to emulate. Instead, most of the arab revolutions taking place strike me as being closer to the Iranian model: Dictators who were liked by the West are being overthrown, and the governments that rise out of them don't seem like they are going to be particularly progressive. Of course, it's still early for many of these nations. I don't pretend to guess what they will look like thirty years from now.
My suspicion is, if they are more democratic and less "jihady," it will be because of smart phones, and not because of smart bombs.
Is America safer today than it was in 2001? I suppose that an airplane would be much more difficult to hijack today. (Has there been a successful airplane hijacking anywhere in the world during the last ten years?) On the other hand, we have a lot of evidence that if a terrorist wanted to be less spectacular in his efforts, he'd have little standing in his way to purchase a gun and walk into any business in America and open fire. But, perhaps terrorists don't think we'd be overy terrified if they followed this path. Given the flash mobs that started popping up in American cities this year (including Greensboro, at a park I've walked through a hundred times), we've gotten so good as a populace at inflicting random violence on ourselves, we've set the bar too high for international terrorists to compete.
I also remember reading in 2001 that Osama bin Laden was hoping that an attack on the World Trade Center would cripple the US economy. But it turns out that banks in collusion with congress had a far more effective strategy to accomplish this.
I don't want to down play the pain of the day. A lot of people died for no good reason at all. A lot of families were shattered. It was a tragedy by any objective or subjective standard. But, I think it's a good thing that, ten years later, its receded so much from national memory. As anyone who has lost a loved one discovers, life moves on. And I think this was the ultimate defeat for Bin Laden and his ilk. We don't hold national "Bin Laden" hate days. Most of us just went back to our lives. In the long run, all his grand designs have come to nothing.