A dozen years have passed since civilian jet airliners were taken over by terrorists who turned the planes into missiles, killing their passengers and thousands more at the World Trade Center, striking the Pentagon and crashing amid a passenger revolt into a field east of Pittsburgh.
It's a long time. Children who were infants are now 12. And more children who were born after Sept. 11, 2001, are now old enough to begin asking what happened and are being taught the significance of the events of that day. We are at the equivalent of Dec. 7, 1953, for the Pearl Harbor generation, which by then had already dealt with the Korean War in addition to fighting to bring about a free new world in World War II.
Unlike that generation, our war sparked by the attacks continues. And though President Barack Obama vows to get the troops pulled out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, ending the original fighting that began after Sept. 11, 2001, the nation stands at the brink of another escalating conflict in Syria.
Just what do we tell those kids beginning to ask all those questions? The first group of them will be entering high school in a couple of years.
Are we telling them that the nation has changed for the better? That we now accept increased security at airports and sports stadiums as part of the reality of life in a free society, that we acquiesce to electronic snooping by our own government as a means to keeping us safe from another 9-11?
Are we telling them that we're winning the fight against terrorism, when even rogue immigrants who shouldn't have had a beef against the nation feel compelled - and are free enough in the U.S. - to turn kitchen appliances into bombs that maim people at a peaceful public sporting event?
Will history show the U.S. as gaining the upper hand on the terrorists?
Unlike looking back at Pearl Harbor from the vantage point of 1953, time still hasn't given enough distance to see clearly what Sept. 11, 2001, really has done to the course of American history.