The Collapse of the WTC, The Failure of Lehman

As the word “anniversary” was repeated over the past 5 days, surely I was not the only to notice the uncanny parallels between our observance of the eighth anniversary of 9/11 and the first anniversary of the collapse of the fourth largest investment bank in the country.

Both were massive real events, but also both symbolized the vulnerability of our financial system.  One collapse came as the result of a vicious attack, of course, the other was the product of flaws in our system, but both produced trauma, shock, and lingering grief.  We had thought both were “too big to fail.”  Both led to searches for the causes and the culprits but, nonetheless, we knew that basic flaws were exposed – and our world seemed changed irrevocably.

Over the weekend, newspapers were full of the stories of the “survivors.”  Where were they now?  What had been the impact?  How were their lives continuing?  Moreover, there were attempts to reflect on what we have learned from the experience.  How can we protect ourselves?  Could it happen again?

Monday, the President came to Wall Street to call for financial reform, but Wall Street was, at best, lukewarm, The New York Times reported today.  “There was no cheering section. The audience offered up only one round of applause, and a scan of the faces as the president spoke — grimacing, staring at the floor, nervously glancing at BlackBerrys — spoke volumes about how they felt as they listened to the president’s words.” (See “A Tough Crowd on Wall Street.”)  Dramatic contrast to the massive strikes against the Taliban and the wars against Afganistan and Iraq that followed 9/11.

The external enemy is always preferred.  It seems easier to identify and to attack – even before we understand it for sure.   The internal danger is harder to spot, and harder to mobilize against. It is, inevitably, part of us.  No wonder we delay, equivocate, avoid.  And, yet, at this point, it may well be the greater danger we face.