I cannot express these lessons any better myself, so here is a repost from Glenn Reynolds on 9/11/01. His wisdom in the aftermath of great tragedy is inspiring:
[Posted at 1:49 PM EDT, 9/11/01]
Here, for your consideration, are a few points to be taken from past experience:
The Fog of War: Nobody knows much right now. Many things that we think we know are likely to be wrong.
Overreaction is the Terrorist's Friend: Even in major cases like this, the terrorist's real weapon is fear and hysteria. Overreacting will play into their hands.
It's Not Just Terrorists Who Take Advantage: Someone will propose new "Antiterrorism" legislation. It will be full of things off of bureaucrats' wish lists. They will be things that wouldn't have prevented these attacks even if they had been in place yesterday. Many of them will be civil-liberties disasters. Some of them will actually promote the kind of ill-feeling that breeds terrorism. That's what happened in 1996. Let's not let it happen again.
Only One Antiterrorism Method Works: That's punishing those behind it. The actual terrorists are hard to reach. But terrorism of this scale is always backed by governments. If they're punished severely -- and that means severely, not a bombed aspirin-factory but something that puts those behind it in the crosshairs -- this kind of thing won't happen again. That was the lesson of the Libyan bombing.
"Increased Security" Won't Work. When you try to defend everything, you defend nothing. Airport security is a joke because it's spread so thin that it can't possibly stop people who are really serious. You can't prevent terrorism by defensive measures; at most you can stop a few amateurs who can barely function. Note that the increased measures after TWA 800 (which wasn't terrorism anyway, we're told) didn't prevent what appear to be coordinated hijackings. (Archie Bunker's plan, in which each passenger is issued a gun on embarking, would have worked better). Deterrence works here, just as everywhere else. But you have to be serious about it.
For now, the terrorists have won. They've shut down the U.S. government, more or less. They've shut down air travel. They're all over TV. But whether they really win depends on how we deal with this; hysterically, or like angry -- but measured -- adults.
In the days following 9/11 we were all Americans first, various factions (religions, races, political parties, etc.) second. May be become a united people--a truly United States of America--in the future and forever.