Monday, September 11, 2006

An unhappy anniversary

There are moments in time that bind all of us together, memories we share with everyone who was alive on that date, all different, but all of the same defining event.

The numbers of persons who learned live and first-hand of the attack at Pearl Harbor are dwindling now. Those of us who remember President Kennedy's assassination are at least in their late 40's. And only adults now have first hand recollections of where they were when they learned of the Challenger explosion.

So it will also be, some day, with 9/11.

All of us who witnessed that day -- I was going to say "experienced" but only those in Lower Manhattan, or at the Pentagon, or the innocents on board the doomed airliners, and the members of their immediate families truly "experienced" the horrors of that day -- all of us who witnessed that day drew lessons from it.

Here are the lessons I've drawn: First, good communications are vital. And "official channels" alone are insufficient. Flight 93 never reached its target because people used their cell phones. They found out something of what was going on outside, enough to know that the hijackers were going to kill them, notwithstanding any promises they'd made. So they tried to take the plane back. It didn't work -- but the hijackers did not reach their target.

The second lesson is a subset of the first: When disaster strikes, government should strive to facilitate good communication, not control it or shut it down. The bureaucrat's first instict is to stamp "top secret" on everything, and worry about what should be disclosed later. And, as you recall from watching coverage all day long on 9/11 -- isn't that something we all did, at least eventually? -- there was all sorts of misinformation, disinformation, and uninformed specultation that was bandied about. Facts had to be mined like gold nuggets from the rushing TV stream. But secrecy is what the terrorists use. Maybe the police have to use secret tactics to hunt down terrorists before another 9/11 happens.

But when something does happen, secrecy doesn't help. Information does -- even partial, undigested information. See Flight 93.

I don't think these lessons are accepted by our government.

What do you think? What lessons have you drawn from 9/11 -- and, in your opinion, have these lessons been learned by our leaders?


Patry Francis said...

I wrote something similar, but yours says more, and says it better.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

With so much security around, we have been far more careful and consious. With so much having to be done, the terrorists have succeeded in creating an insecurity.