It's hard not to look back on the September 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States and conclude it's all been downhill for the world ever since.
A timeline of the past two decades would show the al-Qaeda assault on New York and the Pentagon as kicking off years of bombings and rampages from Bali to Madrid, London, Mumbai, and Paris.
New Zealand had service members in Afghanistan and the Middle East, citizens caught up in acts of terrorism overseas, and its own attacks in Christchurch two years ago and last week in Auckland.
While trillions of dollars were globally being poured into wars and security measures, climate change was building as a threat. Wildlife species have been going extinct at a rapid rate with loss of habitats, which creates conditions for viruses to emerge into pandemics - like the one we're still in the middle of.
The 20-year anniversary of 9/11 this coming weekend quickly follows a US retreat from Afghanistan, with the Taliban it deposed for harbouring al-Qaeda now back in power.
With all that's happened since, it is easy to gloss over the murderous strike on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, and the earthquake it was at the time.
It was then an inconceivable blow to US society and power on the mainland, killing ordinary people in one of the world's great cities.
People here who received calls in the night to "turn on the TV" and did so will never forget it - the diabolical power of those images of planes being smashed into iconic buildings. People falling to their deaths. Others stumbling away in the rubble, caked in dust.
The sympathy immediately afterwards around the world was genuine, and a lot of countries lost citizens in the tragedy.
Some form of retaliation against Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda was expected for the nearly 3000 dead.
The response was also for the gut punch to the superpower's psyche and prestige, and a determination to eliminate chances of a repeat strike.
President George W. Bush had strong US public backing to take revenge in Afghanistan and the support of key ally Britain.
Still, bin Laden was able to escape Tora Bora and Bush quickly focused on invading Iraq, which was not involved in the 9/11 attacks.
With unfinished family business with Saddam Hussein and lieutenants willing to push US power to dark extremes, Bush squandered global goodwill on two costly wars and degraded America's standing in the process with the "Axis of Evil"; a doctrine of pre-emptive strikes; Abu Ghraib torture; drone weaponry; Guantanamo Bay; waterboarding and rendition.
A key rule of warfare is to go in with a plan and have an exit strategy. Bush's "war on terror" was an open-ended escalation framed in religious rhetoric of good versus evil.
Most estimates of the war on terror put its death toll at nearly a million people and the financial cost at about US$8 trillion.
For all the criticism President Joe Biden has received over the Kabul pullout, the basic decision is recognition that the US needs to mend its problems at home.
The scars of 9/11 now lie buried under a mound of dead and maimed bodies from two decades of war.