Every September 11th the, now historic, video footage of large passenger aircraft disappearing into the Twin Towers, followed subsequently by images of their slow motion collapse, bring about a reaction that may best be described as hypnotic - in an almost disbelieving way. It’s a difficult scene not to watch, regardless of how many times you’ve seen it. So jarring are these images that many films shot in New York before the attack were altered to hide the World Trade Center in fear of disturbing the mood of the viewing public.

Our lives changed that day, as did the lives of everyone living in a free society. The “enhanced” security, and the general policy of rampant paranoia that followed, continues to hold us in its grip. Governments use this tragedy to become less transparent while demanding that we, as individuals, become more transparent – physically so at large airports – and if we take issue with this foray into our intimate lives we are deemed either, selfish, sympathetic to the bad guys, or, indeed, simple-minded when it comes to foreign affairs.

It appears, at times, elements in government are abusing this situation for their own obscure reasons, as exemplified by the ongoing communications monitoring of each citizen, (as well as of select foreign dignitaries) but, then, we can’t know this for certain because only they can tell us – and they say opening their methods to scrutiny could jeopardize our safety. Consequently, we are forced to trust them, and this becomes a difficult pill to swallow given that all governments are prone to varying amounts of corruption – and history, even recent history, has shown that the abuse of power tends to flourish when hidden from the watchful eyes of the public.

Challenging governments on this point comes with a few significant moral dilemmas. One very real problem with defending against terror attacks is that, as any military expert will readily admit, the defenders, by necessity, are always one step behind the attackers. In other words, the aggressor always has the potential for one free shot. After terrorists fly planes into tall buildings we make it difficult to do the same thing again. When a van loaded with home-made explosives is parked in front of a public building, then explodes killing hundreds of people, new policies and training are put into effect to combat more of the same – but it has already been successful.

Intelligent terrorists learn that the best way to cower the enemy into confusion is to use a different method of attack each time creating new layers of paranoia. Defenders can only respond to what they have experienced and not to every new attack the terrorists are capable of dreaming up (shoe bombs and underwear bombs for instance). The reality of modern terrorism is that it takes hundreds, thousands, perhaps millions of times more effort to defend against, than to perpetrate, because you are trying to defend against every attack “imaginable”.

Unfortunately, terrorists have learned that simply by causing an extreme level of activity within the “enemies” borders they gain ground in their battle. You can see it in their propaganda. As a small group taking on a great western power they will always be able to portray themselves as the underdog and, thus, expectations are low while achieving small but well publicized victories is relatively easy. All they need do is shoot up or blow up or execute any group of people not in sympathy with their cause, anywhere in the world. Add in the incredible frustration caused by this imbalance within defense forces and abuses become common (Abu Ghraib prison, water boarding, Marines urinating on enemy bodies) and these abuses further strengthen the terrorist position.

As far as most Western nations are concerned these two wars created by the attack on the Twin Towers, in Iraq and Afghanistan, are over, although neither was won and the fighting continues under different circumstances. Seemingly, abandonment of these wars was the result of political fatigue and the long overdue acknowledgement of how silly it is to try and bully, or bribe, a radically different culture into accepting significant social and political change. In both places it was beneficial to throw out the brutal and morally corrupt governments but, for the thousands of lives lost and the trillions of dollars spent on bringing about structural change, there is precious little evidence anything positive remains – and even less evidence that a level of gratitude, or even good will, toward the countries that participated, still exists.

For all of the patriotic hoopla and warriors for democracy speeches, fighting terrorism on the ground in a foreign country has proven a bust. The mere fact that you come from a totally foreign land with a totally foreign culture, aspects of which you are trying to impose on them, makes you the invader. The brave soldiers who died in the attempt did so for the right reasons and still deserve to be honored for their sacrifice – but it becomes difficult to understand how nobody in all that vast storehouse of wisdom and knowledge, called government, could not have foretold such an obviously poor result.

So how should terrorists be dealt with? If the model the U.S. has recently developed can be taken as the reigning example, (one learned after many years of sacrificing their young people in battle and financial resources in support), it’s more efficient to put your efforts into determining, through intelligence gathering, who are the brains and the leadership behind the terrorist organization – and to fly an unmanned drone to their location and blow them to bits, (I wonder if Tom Clancy gets royalties from this). If they miss, drones are relatively cheap and another chance will sooner or later arise. In the meantime terrorist leaders are now, themselves, being terrorized by the constant threat of bolts from the sky… and perhaps there is justice in that.

However, this technique may be effective only with large, well-organized, terrorist groups – ones capable of being studied. The fact is we continue to live in a world where many thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of people are willing to die for a cause – and where ongoing technological developments place more and more destructive power in fewer and fewer hands. Indeed, bombs no bigger than briefcases have been tested which are capable of wiping out the downtown core of virtually any city on Earth and leaving it a moonscape for generations to come. The mere existence of such potential ensures the future of continued anti-terrorist activities.

Our governments continually seek to destroy those who promote terrorism and, hopefully, intercept those who perpetrate it, but bitter and angry people will always be with us. It’s a disease for which no cure has yet been found, and whether we call the more extreme proponents terrorists, mass-murderers or, simply, fanatical psychopaths, their goal is to rid the world of “us”. The questions each of us must ask are: How great a threat are they really – and what are we willing to sacrifice to stop them? So far we have been leaving these questions up to our government and they have been working out on the extreme edge, fearful of being blamed if something gets by.

As individuals, now being forced to live within the ever-shrinking boundaries our governments impose, what we have left is the opportunity and, perhaps, the obligation, to live our lives boldly and confidently – setting clear and transparent goals and working to achieve them – because only by displaying the value and joy in living with freedom, and its privileges, can we encourage the rest of the world to copy us. Only by giving those who live in fear a positive vision of life – one ultimately open to them – will we bring about real change. Inherent in this belief, certainly, is the need to maintain or even enhance our freedoms and, unfortunately, this is not the direction we are moving in. I suppose this means the terrorists are winning.