When it was built
about three decades ago, the World Trade Center was considered a
marvel of technology. It was designed to withstand hurricane-force
winds of up to 200 miles per hour, raging fires, and even
earthquakes. Each of the main towers was believed to be able to
easily survive an impact from a Boeing 707, the largest commercial
jet at the time.
The buildings' sound construction was actually tested during the
terrorist attack in 1993. Amazingly, even large amounts of
explosives planted in strategic locations at the foundation of one
of the skyscrapers caused virtually no major structural damage.
As strange as it now sounds, mere days ago it seemed that nothing
short of an atomic bomb could bring down this icon of American
commerce. Yet, a small group of people armed with plastic knives and
a brutal disregard for human life accomplished the unthinkable. And
they did it by turning our own technology against us.
False Sense of
Terrorists executed what no conventional movie scriptwriter in
Hollywood would consider even a distant possibility. Shockingly, the
hijackers didn't need to take control of a nuclear weapon launch
site; nor did they require any financial resources beyond the price
of a plane ticket.
Only in the wake of a tragedy of such enormous proportions can we
truly understand how vulnerable we really are, and how little we can
do to prevent a disaster.
We have become so dependent on technology that we expect it to
somehow miraculously help us when terror strikes. Unfortunately, in
time of desperate need, most of the things that we rely upon on a
daily basis proved to be virtually worthless.
Ironically, the Internet, which was by now supposed to have
become the most reliable source of instantaneous news updates, was
the first to fail. Both CNN.com and ABCNews.com went down only
minutes after the event and were not fully functional for at least
an hour. Some smaller networks took even longer to recover.
In New York City itself, where most of the broadcasting used to
come from a transmitter located atop one of the twin towers, only
one non-cable TV channel was reported to be still available for
viewing. On the other hand, the radio, which has served for almost a
century, seemed once again to emerge as the primary source of
Cell phone communications were rendered essentially useless, and
were not fully operational even 48 hours later. The old-fashioned
ground wire phone system was also suddenly brought to its knees. All
my initial attempts to contact friends in the City resulted in a
prerecorded message reporting a "tornado in the area."
Even police coordination was partially disrupted due to the fact
that one of their communication hubs was located inside of the World
For the first time in the nation's history, all air travel was
stopped "until further notice." All financial markets were shut
down. Most government buildings and high-rises around the country
were quickly evacuated. The president was taken to "an undisclosed
location." For a moment, the whole country came to a halt.
But that was just the beginning. This disaster also made us
realize how interdependent the world has become. Many stock market
indexes in Europe and Asia plunged, with Korea's sinking more than
12 percent and Japan's Nikkei dropping below the level of the U.S.
Dow for the first time in 17 years.
The most significant aspect of Tuesday's attack was that it was
accomplished by a only few dozen isolated fanatics. This,
unfortunately, makes me wonder if we are going to be forced to agree
with the Unabomber, who once wrote that "no social arrangements,
whether laws, institutions, customs or ethical codes, can provide
permanent protection against technology."
The foundations of our society have been shaken, and it will take
a long time to evaluate the damage, both physical and psychological.
And perhaps we will never be able to look at ourselves and the
technology that surrounds us in quite the same way.