The omnipotence of technology ended Tuesday morning, Sept. 11.
First, this was a distinctly low-technology attack. For all the calamitous loss, the barbarous acts started with box cutters and knives. And many of the terrorists learned to pilot modern jetliners for their suicide mission at normal commercial flight schools, and were poor students at that.
Other terrorist threats we can imagine are even lower tech, although their devastation could be orders of magnitude greater. The numbing reality is how little technology is involved to reek calamity.
But we ourselves put our faith in technological power to protect us.
Government intelligence forsook grunt human espionage to rely pervasively on spy satellites and global eavesdropping. Smart bombs and cruise missiles mesmerized the military as a basic national security infrastructure began to atrophy. We all worshipped at many high tech altars seeking invincibility.
The Pentagon is spending megabillions on a problematic National Missile Defense System, when a simple craft can possibly be floated with megaton destruction adjacent to an unsuspecting U.S. target city.
The security shield to prevent last week's tragedy was wantonly breached. Now advanced concepts of all descriptions are being rushed to the fore to fill the gap. Yes, the nation must look to new technology -- but well knowing now that it isn't foolproof. We must also realize that the next attack probably won't emulate last week's airliner hijacking tragedy where the major focus now lies.
And do we -- government, industry and citizens -- have the wisdom to lay out a crash anti-terrorism technology roadmap, incredibly more costly and tangled than our semiconductor and computer roadmaps? Veteran savants who have lived through previous Technology Crusades know the waste, frustration and oft-futility that is generated almost as much as any successes.
Deifying technology can create a false god. It alone can no more make us invulnerable to terrorism than to wanton acts of vandalism, graffiti and psychotic killing sprees. Community and bonds of society are the protection against these civic scourges where technology oft stands impotent. A new era of global societal controls may be our first line of defense in the war on terrorism.
In this new bonding, technology becomes a precious tool, not savior. Information Technology that transfixed the world with tragic images last week is also the catalyst to galvanize the civilized world to combat terrorism at its roots. But humanity and spiritual guidance of many faiths, not technology idols, must be the driving force.