Still America — still free

The 9/11 Memorial in New York, New York, in the shadow of the unfinished Freedom Tower in 2011. (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

The Post and Courier’s front-page headlines on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 included: “Congressmen considering more tax cuts” and “North Charleston moves to rezone SPA land.”

Then a horrendous, historic event moved this newspaper to publish an “extra” Sept. 11 edition. That front page’s headlines, 14 years ago today, included:

“UNDER ATTACK, Planes hit World Trade Center, Towers fall, Mideast terrorists claim responsibility, Airports, banks markets are shut down, Death toll huge.”

America didn’t remain “shut down” for long. And despite our flaws and divisions, we’re still moving forward today.

We’ve even gone 14 years without terrorists inflicting another massive strike in the United States. Few would have expected that reassuring outcome while watching the Twin Towers go down.

Of course, the 9/11 assault upon America didn’t just kill roughly 3,000 people. It exposed our vulnerability to the vile forces of Islamic radical terror.

However, 9/11 also produced awe-inspiring valor by firefighters, police, United Flight 93 passengers and so many others while fueling a firm national resolve to deny terrorists the victory they sought.

Thousands of brave Americans have since lost their lives in Afghanistan, Iraq and beyond in this ongoing conflict.

President George W. Bush called it the War on Terror.

President Barack Obama abandoned that title, explaining in May 2013 that “we must define our effort not as a boundless ‘Global War on Terror,’ but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America.”

Whatever you call our struggle against al-Qaida and like-minded terror groups (including the recently emerged barbarians of the Islamic State), it continues.

The overdue 2011 death of al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden at the hands of Navy SEALs in Pakistan, while welcome, didn’t end this transcendent struggle between the civilized world and the murderous zealots of a twisted ideology.

Our unified front in the months after 9/11 inevitably gave way to divisive debates on how to handle terrorism. Bitter opposition eventually arose to President Bush’s aggressive strategy and tactics in this long-term fight. And many Americans now intensely disapprove of President Obama’s more limited approach.

Our next commander in chief is also bound to draw severe criticism over how he — or she — deals with the terror threat.

Yet our self-governing ability — our constitutional right — to disagree with not just each other but those in the halls of power isn’t a national weakness.

It’s a national strength.

And if we lose our liberty in the name of security, the terrorists win.

Yes, finding the proper balance between freedom and safety is another essential debate.

But regardless of your views on that or any other issue, honor those we lost on that awful day 14 years ago and in our subsequent missions against terror.

Honor, too, those who still courageously stand on the front lines in this defining conflict of our times.