The instant wisdom that emerged after the terror attacks on the United States 11 years ago today was that Americans would never be the same. This judgment clearly did not anticipate all that would occur.
The nation has settled into a "new normal," with security concerns a major part of life. Since 9/11, airline passengers know they will not board any flight without the standard rituals of inconvenience -- shoes off, possessions in the tray, luggage scanned, perhaps a pat-down.
Cameras watch crowds in public spaces. We are warned to report suspicious activities. A forgotten box or briefcase is a matter for the bomb squad. Never has the adage been more closely observed: Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.
But what becomes routine also becomes less scary. While Americans do not have their guard down, we go about our everyday business with less obvious concern. The dark shadow of terrorism has lifted to the extent that this presidential election is largely being fought on the state of the economy, not on which candidate is more likely to keep us safe.
The killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May, 2011, boosted the country's sense of ease. Not only did it avenge the 3,000 innocent victims of 9/11, it proved that we should not live in fear of terrorists; instead, they should live in fear of a roused free people. The public regard for the Armed Forces remains high.
The once-ubiquitous phrase "war on terror" is not much heard these days, and is not much missed. But the fight against terrorists goes on: Drones patrol the skies over Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
At Ground Zero in New York City, at the Pentagon, and elsewhere, Americans will gather today to mourn those who should never be forgotten, and to ponder the significance of the day of infamy. America has changed, but it also has regained its equilibrium -- itself proof that the terrorists did not win, and never will.