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Sept. 11: A lasting reminder to honor sacrifices by rebuilding America

Some of the consequences and responses from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were all too fleeting. Others are with us still - as lasting alterations in the way we live our lives, or as permanent scars on our psyches.

In those first days after the attacks occurred in New York, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere in the sky, Oregonians and other Americans were overwhelmed by a mix of reactions: utter sadness, anger, dismay and a feeling of national unity in the face of such a monstrosity.

Over the past 10 years, those emotions have tempered, to the point where it's hard to recall exactly how it felt on that day when we heard or saw the news. Spontaneous acts of patriotism - the Gresham flag displays memorializing those who died, for example - have faded with time as well. And of course, that unity of national spirit proved temporary indeed.

Yet, even 10 years hence, Sept. 11, 2001, still stands as a vivid dividing line between how things were and how things would be going forward. The small hassles related to security are everyday reminders when Americans board an airplane or enter a federal building. The 130 Oregonians who have died in the two wars that followed Sept. 11 are lost forever - their lives permanently sacrificed to the idea that U.S. intervention overseas could prevent future attacks at home. Nationally, the thousands who died in the initial attacks and the thousands more who've died while serving in Afghanistan and Iraq are mourned daily by those they left behind.

A decade later, the Sept. 11 mastermind, Osama Bin Laden, is dead and the United States is in many other ways safer than before. But the nation also may be reaching the limits of what can be accomplished militarily. Most everyone seems to recognize that it's time for the United States to leave Afghanistan, the country that originally harbored Bin Laden and his fellow Al Qaeda criminals.

President Obama has outlined a plan to withdraw by 2014. Oregon's U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley makes a persuasive case that our departure ought to come even sooner.

Merkley argues that there is not enough money in the world to build a modern nation state in Afghanistan. The Afghan people don't want a strong central government. They already see their nation's corrupt elite capturing much of the money being spent there by the United States.

Merkley's position is not one of disrespect to the Oregonians who've served in Afghanistan. They have carried out their assignments admirably. Nor does he advocate abrupt withdrawal that could lead to immediate collapse.

But he is acknowledging that, a full 10 years after the horrific attacks that led us to Afghanistan, our mission there provides ever-diminishing returns.

We agree. The treasure being invested there - ranging from the talents and lives of our servicemen and women to the billions of dollars from the treasury - could be, and should be, better spent rebuilding this nation instead.