The events of 9/11/2001 were clearly the most defining of this young century. The United States before and after seem like different countries in subtle ways. Where we stand as a people in our relative trade-offs between liberty and security has been altered and in ways that seem almost unbelievable. Many of the same people who don't trust government to provide public services, have turned over liberties to their government and put increasing power into the executive branch in order to make us feel more secure.
America's response to 9/11 in my opinion was an over-reaction. The losses on this date were traumatic and hard to watch. All Americans will remember watching the towers collapse, knowing that they were watching the sudden oblivion of lives in real time. However, this attack was more symbolic than devastating to a country as large and wealthy as the United States. It is like a bee sting causing an elephant to run off a cliff to it's peril. We as Americans need to understand this, but we must never forget the lessons of leadership, or lack thereof, that influenced this.
To contrast leadership in similar situations, let's evaluate another traumatic event that was in fact more damaging to the United States, namely Pearl Harbor. Franklin Delano Roosevelt displayed all the steely resolve that Americans need to feel from their President, but Roosevelt played upon America's strength to get them through this difficult time. Our current President seems to have preyed upon the fear of Americans. While FDR was saying, "there is nothing to fear, but fear itself", Bush seemed to be saying, "be afraid, be very afraid, and by the way, let's give more emergency powers to the executive branch." FDR used his leadership to inspire Americans to succeed. Bush used the fear Americans felt against them for his own political objectives.
Understanding America's response and miscues after 9/11 define where we are as a nation and explains the challenges we now face in far off places on our globe. The two most influential books I've read on this period are "Fiasco" by Thomas Ricks and "The One Percent Doctrine" by Ron Suskind.
We as a people must come to grips with what has happened to our country and find ways to retake what we have lost. Failure to do so has allowed Osama bin ladin to influence who we are and what we are about. He is a man not deserving of that honor.