Carlos Arredondo, one of the civilian heroes who helped the wounded at the Boston Marathon, leaves the scene with a blood-soaked flag on April 15.
(Image credit: Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

One of the frustrating legacies of September 11 is that a lot of commentators buy into the idea of an artificial, ahistorical "mentality" that somehow kicked in on September 12, a "mentality" that supposedly brought out the best from Americans, erased partisan distinctions, unified the country, and helped New York struggle back to life.

No: The heroism of 9/11 happened on 9/11. It happened during the terrorist attacks, when firefighters ran into the burning towers, or even when Donald Rumsfeld, ignoring protocol, rushed outside to help tend to the wounded at the Pentagon. Political comity? A fig-leaf. Policy decisions made in the direct aftermath of 9/11, and I guess you could call them "9/12 mentality" policy decisions, led to two wars, only of one of which was justified, the enormous expansion of the national security bureaucracy, intense political polarization, and a siege syndrome that seemed to bypass the professional filters of politicians, journalists, and government workers, not to mention a citizenry that had to struggle to contain anti-Arab biases. It took YEARS for the U.S. to figure out how to do counter-terrorism and anti-terrorism correctly. That 9/12 mentality? Torture, GITMO, and significant, virtually oversight-less changes to the law. We're still trying to figure out how this new reality jibes with our long-standing legal traditions.

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Marc Ambinder

Marc Ambinder is's editor-at-large. He is the author, with D.B. Grady, of The Command and Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry. Marc is also a contributing editor for The Atlantic and GQ. Formerly, he served as White House correspondent for National Journal, chief political consultant for CBS News, and politics editor at The Atlantic. Marc is a 2001 graduate of Harvard. He is married to Michael Park, a corporate strategy consultant, and lives in Los Angeles.