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Our New Pearl Harbor

Our New Pearl Harbor

Weehauken, N.J. — It’s almost impossible to reconcile the cool, clear, cloudless day with the scene across the water. There are no World Trade Centers, and up above the giant white clouds steaming from the spot where they used to be, pairs of F-15’s circle over Manhattan, around and around the encircled island. Along the closed entrances and highways into the city, ambulances, fire engines and police cars line up for miles waiting to take the thousands of casualties out of New York City and all over the Northeast. At the blood bank in Paramus where I tried to give blood, there were five-hour lines, and the police turned us away.Reporters break down on the air and sob. At the closed-down bridges and tunnels, people stand alongside their cars by the score, staring and crying. I keep calling the cell of one of my closest friends, who went to work inside the Towers at 8:30, and kept getting his voice-mail, until 11:00 a.m., when a recording said his phone was no longer in service. All around New York City, psychologists are showing up at school bus stops to deal with kids whose parents aren’t coming home. It’s impossible to stare at the TV and not think of the horrific convergence between technology, politics, and information.      

Eerily, the scene invokes disaster movies — a number of which have actually shown the World Trade Center towers being blown up. Staring across the harbor on this gorgeous day, it takes a few seconds to realize that this isn’t the evocation of something new and horrible, but the real thing, our own Pearl Harbor, perhaps even worse, since it struck us closer to home and reminded us all how technology can bring us all nose-to-nose with war in seconds, and there are no real barriers between people willing to use it in evil ways and us. Technology allows us to see the building collapse before the reporters even know what has happened. We have to try and make sense of it ourselves.

The silence is stunning, unprecedented for mid-morning, mid-week anywhere near Manhattan island. Everyone is in shock. Stories, malls, business are closing, their workers crying, distracted, unsure of how to behave.

Technology turns planes into weapons. It tracks aircraft hundreds of miles away. It brings us instant and horrific images. It sends us to e-mail, telephones and cell phones to spread news, facts, rumors and stories.

We are both shocked and oddly prepared. Sci-fi and other forms of popular culture have been preparing us for this kind of Techno-Armageddon for years. Technology can do all sorts of amazing things, but it can’t protect us from a handful of determined people. We’ve never seen anything like it, yet in a strange way we have thought of it for years.

Standing over the harbor, I did something I haven’t done in 20 years. I dropped to my knees — following the lead of a bunch of strangers — and prayed. I have a bunch of friends in somewhere in that Techno-Armageddon, and just wanted to post these thoughts. If anybody wants to post their own, hopefully here’s a good place.