Commentary: Sept. 11 anniversary reminds us of challenges that remain

Death and destruction. Eight years ago tomorrow, on a sun-burnished September morning, Americans underwent a vicious reality check. It became appallingly evident that enemies of this country had both the motive and the means to ravage and to kill.

They attacked in our national front yards, New York City and Washington. Iconic buildings fell, the headquarters of our military was breached, thousands perished. And but for the doomed heroes aboard Flight 93, the White House or the Capitol itself might have been obliterated.

Things haven't been the same since. "Homeland security" no longer sounds like a phrase strangely floating up from the 1930s; the threat posed by Muslim extremists of the sort who struck on Sept. 11, 2001 has forced us to undertake all manner of precautions.

Meanwhile, in dealing with those extremists, the United States has used practices of detention and interrogation that tested the bounds of acceptable conduct for a country committed to principles of fairness and humane treatment. Our character has been challenged.

But the starkest difference before the attacks and after has been this: Before, we were at peace (or at least, we thought we were). After, we've been at war. There we remain, with no clear end in sight. For President Obama's administration, there is no greater challenge than to fashion a strategy for ultimate success in America's struggle against the terrorists who use Afghanistan and Pakistan as their refuge.

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