People like to say that everything changed after Sept. 11, 2001.

As we remember the more than 3,000 who died in those terrorist attacks 17 years ago today, we should take some comfort and perhaps some pride in the fact that everything did not change.

Certainly, much has changed. We have been in a perpetual state of war since the attacks.

The national security apparatus since the attacks is more pervasive and invasive than ever before in our nation’s history. Both situations are Orwellian and should cause Americans who truly value freedom and liberty to worry.

Those two corrosive forces are more threatening to our freedoms than anything the terror group du jour might cook up.

There are, of course, people who get wound up about the terrorist threat and are willing to trade our traditional freedoms for a government chit purporting to guarantee their personal safety.

Those always have been among us, though. They have over the years found the death of our nation embodied in some group or another from immigrants — Irish, Italian, Slavic, Hispanic, you name it — to labor unions, to suffragettes, to hippies, to name a few.

And before the War on Terror were the Cold War with the accompanying Red Scare and the War on Drugs, all of which to some were justification for the abandonment of fundamental American ideals.

Those willing to make that terrible trade, actual freedom for a thin promise of safety, have generally been the minority and most likely, thankfully, still are today.

More Americans will pass the day without giving even a passing thought to the threat of terrorism.

That’s not an indication of disengagement or weakness or frivolity. It’s an indication that, despite being frequently stereotyped as superficial, ignorant and oblivious, rank-and-file Americans have a pretty well-tuned sense of what’s real.

For most Americans, the real worries are things such as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, and those are well-founded choices.

That’s not to argue there’s no threat from contemporary terror groups. There is and we should fight those groups vigorously here and abroad and with weapons designed and people trained for that special task.

The fact is, most Americans, millions and millions of them, earlier this week exercised their rights to worship as they like, or they exercised their right to disdain worship of any kind; millions engaged in innumerable personal and collective quirks, habits and preferences without much fear of anything, especially terrorism or government restraint justified by terrorism.

That will continue to be the case as long as most of us refuse to let fear or hate or bigotry turn us away from our best instincts and highest ideals and into something less than Americans.

• Michael A. Smith

Editor’s note: A version of this editorial was first published Sept. 11, 2015.

Michael A. Smith: 409-683-5206;


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