Today is September the Eleventh; the thirteenth anniversary of one of the darkest days in modern history, certainly of my generation. Like December 7, 1941, and November 22, 1963, it remains imprinted upon the psyche of those who experienced it, almost certainly for life. However like all historical events, it is moving away in time. As amazing as it seems, post-9/11 children are starting to enter their early teens. Soon enough, the twentieth anniversary will be upon us, then the twenty-fifth. And so it goes. There will be a whole generation of Americans who will not recall that glorious, crisp blue morning when the last moments of innocence were swept away in a series of terrible events. A demographic who did not exist before that day.

So where are we now? The news this week is full of how Russia is poised on the border of Ukraine, determined to defy the West, whatever the cost, if it keeps NATO from the door. President Obama has just announced that he will pursue airstrikes in Syria to crush the threat of ISIS. In the future, how will these headlines have panned out? Will they be of interest years from now, or just footnotes in the long march of history across the pages of textbooks yet to be written?

Current events aside, what about America? The news I feel, is not good. After thirteen years, the wound of that fateful day continues to cause damage. America today is a true paper tiger, a shadow of its former self. A country once bold and beautiful is now cowardly and corrupt, terrified of any threat, real or imagined, and prepared to go to any lengths to protect itself from unseen enemies. It shames me to think of the Land of the Free able to use torture to wrench confessions from people held with total disregard for due process. A government that thinks nothing of spying not only on the phone conversations of its friends and allies, but intercepting and recording the chatter of millions of citizens, innocent of any crime, real or imagined.

Two years ago I was in a large international airport for the first time since November, 2001. I saw a ridiculously oversize flag hung overhead in a needless display of jingoism, while everywhere there were armed police and the bane of modern travelers, the tinpot dictators of the TSA, scurrying around in their quasi-official uniforms, with “Homeland Security” badges sewn to the shoulders. I felt depressed that Orwell’s horrific vision had indeed come to life. Maybe the reason for the large flag is so that when people like me blink hard and look back up at it, we can at least be slightly reassured that it’s not a Swastika. Maybe.

What has the TSA done, at any rate, other than harass and steal and humiliate honest American citizens? They have done nothing to make the skies safer. They are reactive, not proactive. Someone tries to sneak explosives on board in their shoes; only then do we have to take our shoes off. Not before. Same with belts. Wait until someone tries stuffing a bra with plastic explosives. Meanwhile the staff are rude, lazy and like any other bureaucracy, burdened with being underpaid, understaffed and overworked. A few times a year, some journalist manages to sneak a fake gun on an airliner; there’s an outcry, then nothing happens. If future terrorists take control of a plane with judo, will we all then need to be handcuffed before we can travel? Homeland Security is a joke, and a bigger threat to America than the phantom evils they claim to chase.

And then traveling in the area for a few weeks, I was struck by the huge number of large, gaudy and expensive churches I saw everywhere and what has apparently become the national mantra, Support Our Troops. In a country that for so long has led the world in science and technology, god has taken a firm hold, and anyone who dares voice dissent with the mission is also slandering the brave solders being sent to die for it. People are rejecting reason for blind faith in droves, and the line between poorly thought-out & executed foreign policy and the people trying to carry it out is subtly blurred.

All of it makes me sick. In Vietnam, it was clear to anyone outside the administration that the US policy was banal, pointless and ultimately destined to fail. But there was a clear separation between trying to prop up the discredited domino theory and the poor bastards being killed or maimed in its name. Not anymore. To be critical of what we’ve done in Iraq or Afghanistan is to also be critical of this current generation of poor bastards, also dying for an idea.

I understand why Edward Snowden did what he did, and I think that while he’s technically guilty of breaking the law, he will in time be considered a great patriot. Rather than pay lip service to what America used to legitimately stand for, he did what the Founding Fathers did: broke the law for the people of this (once) great nation. The events of 9/11 allowed agencies like the NSA to succumb to their worst paranoid fantasies. It saddens me to see the USA so terrified that the most heinous and illegal acts are sanctioned. More and more, the outside world sees America as a regime, not unlike Putin’s Russia, or the Chinese. Maybe it’s always been so, and the events of that crisp sunny day years ago just allowed it to come out into the light. But I’d like to think that was not the case. That we were a different people thirteen years and one day ago. I wish we were still the same people now.