Five years later, my memories of September 11, 2001 are as crisp and bright as was the sky that day. I remember not just the beats of the day�the unfolding national horror of it and my own personal dramas�but I remember the emotions, the sorrow and fear and rage. If I think too hard of it, my eyes still well with tears.

I was working at an office just outside the Washington Beltway. I had forgotten my cell phone that day. Friends couldn’t reach me. I couldn’t reach friends�I didn’t even have the number of the one person I knew who worked in the Twin Towers. I thought she worked on the 80th floor of Tower One, right where the first plane hit. Later I learned she worked on the 8th, and had not even made it to work before the attack.

I remember the drive home, NPR filling in details of the day. And I especially remember the small group of men and women standing at an intersection near my home in the heart of Washington, DC. They held up homemade signs reading “No retaliation.� I was shocked. As these people’s own neighbors lay dead and burning in the Pentagon, their first instinct was to call for restraint.

Restraint? I wanted bombs to rain on Afghanistan that night. I wanted vengeance, not just because we deserved it but because our future security depended on it. I couldn’t fathom how even the most ardent pacifists would react to such a day by asking that we spare the evil bastards who planned these attacks.

That was the moment that my sturdy, unquestioning liberal beliefs began to crack. More fissures would appear in the days to come as I read articles in The Progressive and at online leftist sites that blamed American policies and economic imperialism for the attacks and demanded we refrain from retaliation. Instead they wanted a UN police force to go into Afghanistan and arrest Osama bin Laden.

These writers were wrong, of course. Not just strategically, but morally as well. I stopped reading The Progressive, stopped visiting the leftist websites. But the transformation from unquestioning leftist into a question-it-all centrist was not immediate. I’ve paused and taken stock of my beliefs many times over the last five years. I ask myself all the time: is what I think I know right? Do I believe this because it is true or because it fits tidily into a nice little ideology?

Unfortunately, I do not think many Americas have changed or even adjusted their outlooks and beliefs since 9/11. On all sides of the political spectrum, people have failed to stop and rethink the world. They’ve simply taken the new realities and crammed them in to preexisting and ill-fitting ideologies. Blue. Red. Left. Right. Everyone righteous and angry. But no one is right. The “answers� are hollow.

On the 5th anniversary of 9/11, the day itself still resonates with a resounding crash. But we ourselves are, for the most part, mere echoes of what we were that day. United. Committed. Brave. Compassionate. It has washed away.

Yes, we could never maintain such unity, such commitment of purpose. But there was no reason we had to descend into ideological tribes fighting to persevere two equally flawed world views. Could we have not used that unity to forge new outlooks? Could we have avoided the bitterness and the cynicism that now pollutes our nation?

What has passed has passed and though I wish we had walked another path, I know we cannot go back and mend the many errors. We can only pause and assess where we are and why we’re here. And what we do now.

This is a time for Washingtons. For Lincolns. For Roosevelts. This is a time for leadership. So it is my deepest hope that Americans stop reflexively agreeing with “their side� and start questioning all sides. Only then can we hope to elect leaders from outside the vapid political system that so ineffectually rules us. Only then can we find the new visions for the changed world.

I fear that this is just rhetorical bullshit. I fear nothing will change. I even fear that my fears are misplaced�that the system is fine, that America is flourishing and those of us who believe otherwise are just overwrought thinkers with too much time on our hands. I fear I may be a fool.

But, then again, I don’t let my fears rule me. So I write and will continue to write in the hope that people are listening. That people stop and think and realize that we are not on the right path�and that neither left nor right has a roadmap that will work. We need change. Five years later and we still need change.

Cross-posted at: Maverick Views

Politics 9/11 Has Not Changed Us Enough