The most interesting question is not how America in 2011 is unlike America in 2001 but how it is unlike what it was in 1951. The intensity of today’s focus on the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 testifies to more than the multiplication of media ravenous for content, and to more than today’s unhistorical and self-dramatizing tendency to think that eruptions of evil are violations of a natural entitlement to happiness. It also represents the search for refuge from a decade defined by unsatisfactory responses to Sept. 11…

Ten years on from Sept. 11, national unity, usually a compensation for the rigors of war, has been a casualty of wars of dubious choices. Ten years after 1941, and in more recent decades, the nation, having lost 400,000 in the unavoidable war that Pearl Harbor announced, preferred to remember more inspiriting dates, such as D-Day.

Today, for reasons having little to do with 9/11 and policy responses to it, the nation is more demoralized than at any time since the late 1970s, when, as now, feelings of impotence, vulnerability and decline were pervasive. Of all the sadness surrounding this anniversary, the most aching is the palpable and futile hope that commemoration can somehow help heal self-inflicted wounds.