When the Challenger space shuttle blew up. Students gathered in the student lounge for hours, watching in disbelief. In a way, it was more existential than September 11. We watched the same ten seconds of the shuttle explosion over and over again, without there being a trace of the Shuttle anywhere in the world. That day was a technological disaster, a mechanical disaster that Americans, in our inimical fashion, could quickly fix.
What students watched on September 11, 2001 was a social and political disaster. Watching the events unfold was a lot less existential and a lot more practical because it is a disaster that will have a far greater impact on their world-and they, in turn, can affect that impact.
In the next months and years, we as a society will rethink everything from privacy to business organizations to architecture. Businesses will look at Morgan Stanley's experience-occupying much of the World Trade Center-and think again about the virtues of further decentralization of operations. Just as architecture in the 1970s seemed to respond to the turmoil of the 1960s (consider the fortress-like administration building at the University of Michigan or the FBI building in Washington), we may see architecture change in the future. Aside from a defiant impulse to rebuild the World Trade Center itself, perhaps we will want smaller buildings-that are easier to evacuate and not as self-promotingly visible. Perhaps we will insist, despite what our engineers tell us, that big buildings be built stronger. Consider that when an admittedly lighter, slower plane (a B-25 bomber traveling at about 200 mph) crashed into the Empire State Building in 1945, that majestic skyscraper sustained relatively little damage.
But most of our rethinking will concern law-how we will balance understandable demands for improved security with our right to privacy, our freedom to travel, our free speech, our policy of welcoming immigrants, and our commitment to a tolerant society. Once we learn how the terrorists learned to fly these Boeing planes, should we place new restrictions on pilot training? Access to flight simulators? First Amendment experts may rightly be concerned about such restrictions-we may have, in effect, a replay of the debates about publishing how to build a bomb.
As to privacy, expect a rash of proposals to improve security which will have varying degrees of impact on people's anonymity....