Following Sept. 11, many Americans who were too young to remember the Vietnam War or the assassinations of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. - and the national cataclysms that followed - gained, for the first time, a respect for the strength and stability of our institutions. We've not fought a war on U.S. soil since the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, but we've been reminded how strong and resilient we are as a country and as a people.
One lesson we've learned is that the same institutional anchors that seem so frustrating in a race of the swiftest are lifesavers in a storm. Our Constitution - the nation's architecture - was designed to "establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity." When we needed it, those institutions and that architecture delivered as the founders intended.
On the morning of Sept. 12, military personnel arrived at the Pentagon for work, the New York City Fire Department, although mourning the loss of hundreds of its own, continued to put out fires and assist in rescue efforts. Schools and libraries opened, emergencies were handled, information flowed and life continued, albeit with a new appreciation of what that truly means.
The Internet proved a valuable tool in making that happen. Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig, speaking a few years ago, said the architecture of the Internet is formed by computer code, not governed by the Constitution. The Internet was designed as an anarchy, a headless network able to survive a Cold War nuclear strike. When the phones went down, e-mail and the Internet still worked.
In a Wall Street Journal column, Peggy Noonan described the scene at ground zero where investment bankers, orthodontists, magazine editors and lawyers cheered the construction workers, cops, emergency medical workers and fire fighters. All of us were there in spirit through radio, television, cable and the Internet.
In the months afterward, we needed the Internet and computers to disseminate information and cooperate on law enforcement and public health. Under attack by a biological scourge, our instant communications and medical expertise have so far minimized its effects.
Through the Internet, the "global information society" joined with us in our loss and offered help and encouragement. We found that the global society is made up of individuals and they reacted like good neighbors do, setting aside their differences and lending a hand when needed.
We've learned a lot in the last few months, about our country, our fellow human beings and ourselves. Let this be the start of a new era of cooperation and tolerance - not only between religions, nations and races, but between blue collar and white collar, young and old, men and women, north, south, east and west. Beneath the stereotypes are individuals very much like us. A small percentage may actively work to destroy people and institutions, but the vast majority of us are engaged in building a better future for our posterity. Recent events have shown us that the goal is best achieved with others. Our information technology has contributed immeasurably toward that end.