The burden of the war is always borne unevenly, but it seems especially so now. Americans were encouraged to go about their lives in the wake of 9/11 — otherwise, went the refrain, the terrorists would have won.
There was something that seems so distant today: a unity of purpose, however fleeting.
"In the aftermath of a disaster, people pull together. They support each other," said Andrew Cherlin, a Johns Hopkins University sociology professor who will speak at an on-campus commemoration of 9/11 on Sunday. "But it doesn't last. It's too hard to keep up the spirit of cooperation."
In the initial years, at least, there was a sense of 9/11 existing on a separate plane, above political and other divisions, afloat in its own space. That may always have been more myth than reality, but it would have been hard then to imagine the scene in this week's debate of Republican presidential candidates. There, observers noted cheers in the audience over the number of executions under Texas Gov. Rick Perry's administration, but, in an apparent reluctance to show any support for President Barack Obama, silence at the mention of the assassination of Osama bin Laden under his watch.
Even Ground Zero itself, once the rallying point and symbol of a resilient nation, has been drawn into battle.
Last year, opponents of a proposal to build a Muslim center several blocks away ignited a controversy by dubbing it the Ground Zero mosque. This year, many of the same opponents loudly decried the so-called "banning" of clergy from the official 9/11 ceremony at Ground Zero — never mind that the previous nine commemorations didn't involve religious leaders either — and organized their own highly politicized event.
Maybe it is giving agenda-driven activists too much credit to even take note of their manufactured controversy. But that too is a legacy, an unfortunate one, of 9/11, Cherlin believes.
"It fractured us along religious lines, ethic lines, in a new way," he said. "We were already used to separating, unfortunately, along racial lines."
But 10 years is, well, 10 years. What happens in the next 10 is as unpredictable as what has happened in those just passed. Cherlin finds hope where he can, even if it is in this single day.
"I think it is great how this was organized," he says of the Hopkins commemoration, noting this it was planned by Muslim, Jewish and diversity-promoting student groups. "We should be in solidarity with them."