September 11, 2003 11:00 pm

Are we safer, stronger, smarter?

Two years ago today our nation suffered one of the most horrendous events in its history. The coordinated terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon resulted in the loss of thousands of lives and changed the way we live and do business. Sept. 11, 2001 will live in infamy as a tragic day for America but one that proved to us we should never take our freedoms and our way of life for granted. Sadly, we've lost some of both.

Recalling that day brings back terrible memories of planes crashing into buildings, the Pentagon and into a field in Pennsylvania; of people jumping to their deaths from the Twin Towers; and people running for their lives to escape the buildings' collapse. But reflectiions on that day also evoke a sense of perseverance, of pulling together, and renewed patriotism and love of country.

The day changed our lives, but it didn't dampen America's spirit. Not since World War II had America seen such a resurgence in patriotism and pride. Too, there has been a renewed respect for firefighters and law enforcement officers.

So what has changed since 9/11? Are we safer today?

Americans, being the independent lot that we are, are likely to see the implications of 9/11 differently. We've toughened airport security. The government has rounded up people suspected of having ties to terror. The nation is prepared to be on various levels of alert. We've attacked Afghanistan and Iraq, supposedly making the world a safer place. And we've spent billions doing so.

The country quickly passed laws under the Patriot Act that restrict civil liberties and privacy. Two years hence many people, including lawmakers, are saying the act went too far. And while airports might be safer and airlines not so inclined to simply hand over their planes to hijackers, what about ports and other points of entry into this country. Can we even begin to comprehend the evil and possible targets that might lurk in terrorists' minds?

Are we safer because of the war in Iraq, or have we only complicated international relations and further angered those inclined to commit terrorist acts on America and Americans?

No one knows the answers to these questions. Only time will tell if we have taken enough, or the right, precautions to prevent future attacks.

Still, no one can question the impact 9/11 had on our lives. On that day America endured the worst invasion in its history. Thousands of lives were lost. Americans' lives were changed forever.

But as America and Americans have shown time and time again in the nation's 227-year history, we will persevere and we'll be stronger. Only history, however, will show if we became smarter, too.