Three years ago, Norwell High School social studies teacher Julie Fox commemorated 9/11 by asking her students to write journal entries recounting where they were when the planes hit and how they felt at that moment. But now, Fox tells the Boston Globe, too few students remember the day. So Fox spends class time explaining the basics of what happened on 9/11 and why. “It’s almost like teaching the Civil War,” she said.

High School students are not the only ones for whom 9/11 is becoming a distant memory. According to the Washington Post, 70% of Democrats say the war in Afghanistan has not been worth its costs (compared to 70% of Republicans who say the war is still worth fighting). Council on Foreign Relations Fellow Stephen Biddle explains: “Surely a big piece of the declining poll numbers for support for Afghanistan is that the public does not yet see the connection between Afghanistan and al-Qaida today.”

Responding to their leftist base, opposition to the effort in Afghanistan is growing. among liberals in Congress. Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), co-chair of the 82-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, said her group is unified in wanting to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told reporters yesterday: “I don’t think there’s a great deal of support for sending more troops to Afghanistan in the country or the Congress.”

One would think that President Obama would take the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks as an opportunity to educate Americans about the link between the fight in Afghanistan and the still very real threat posed by al-Qaida today. No such luck. Instead, President Obama has chosen to use 9/11 to promote his own domestic policy agenda. In a letter celebrating 9/11 as a “National Day of Service and Rememberance” President Obama writes:

We are building a new foundation for growth and prosperity, but we cannot succeed without your help. We can rebuild out schools, but we need mentors and tutors to guide our students. We can modernize our health system, but we need volunteers to care for the sick and assist others in leading healthier lives. We can invest in clean energy, but we need people to maintain energy efficiency in their homes and help create a green economy.

School construction? Health care reform? Green jobs? These are all important areas of public policy debate, but what do they have to do with keeping us safe from those who wish to inflict a second 9/11 on the American people? Debra Burlingame, whose brother was the pilot of the American Airlines jet that crashed into the Pentagon told the Associated Press: “When I first heard about it, I was concerned. I fear, I greatly fear, at some point we’ll transition to turning it into Earth Day where we go and plant trees and the remembrance part will become smaller and smaller and smaller.”

Thanks to President Obama’s, that is exactly what is happening. In Oklahoma students will pull weeds, plant flowers, paint benches, and plant a tree. In Minnesota, 100 volunteers will assemble Energy Efficiency Outreach Bags. And in South Carolina AmeriCorps members will serve in a variety of projects, including garden beautification, food and clothing collections, and working with homeless and hungry people.

True volunteerism strengthens civil society. But federal government involvement undermines, not strengthens, true public service. Instead of coordinating garden beautifications, the federal government should honor the memory of the tragedy of 9/11 by focusing on policies that will make sure it never happens again.

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