Remembering 9/11: Q&A with the World Trade Center's Biographer, the Closing of the U.S.-Canada Border, Hello to the New Cold War,


Throughout this week, we'll be posting old and new Reason material related to the 9/11 attacks.

To see a snapshot of what Reason.com (then called Reason Online) looked like in late September 2001, go here.

On September 13, 2001, Reason's National Correspondent Mike Lynch talked with Angus Kress Gillespie (no relation to me), whose 1999 social history Twin Towers: The Life of New York City's World Trade Center was until the 9/11 attacks the definitive account of the Big Apple's tallest and least-loved skyscraper complex. Snippets:

REASON: [The Trade Center] had a controversial birth. How did it grow up?

Gillespie: The Port Authority did two brilliant things to turn the public relations problem around. When confronted with a tall building, our instinct is to reach the top. The Port Authority gave people not one, but two ways to do that: A luxury restaurant for the wealthy and an observation deck suitable for Joe Sixpack to bring the wife and kids for under $10 for the entire family. It was accessible for every taste. Not only that, but in the 1970s there were three spectacular daredevil events that drew favorable attention to the twin towers. There was the tightrope walk by Philippe Petit in 1974. Owen J. Quinn parachuted from one of the towers in 1976. George "The Human Fly" Willig scaled the building in 1977. In every case, the Port Authority, which was receiving tons of free publicity, had the wisdom not to vigorously prosecute the perpetrators but instead give them a minimal slap on the wrists. All of those things helped to win over the New Yorkers.

As far as the rest of the world is concerned, gradually the old school died off and a new generation came along who had always known the World Trade Center and its twin towers. Even though they are not appreciated by the architectural establishment, they have a subtle beauty all their own. Notice the two towers aren't side by side, they were off set. So perhaps as a static display it's not all that impressive. But say you're on a boat in the Hudson River and you circle around the two towers, there's an interesting interplay between the two shapes. The are spectacularly beautiful, or were, from Jersey City at sunset because the aluminum would reflect the colors of the sunset. So was it beautiful, even if the architectural critics say no. But was it beautiful, yes, if you knew were to look and were appreciating these subtleties….

REASON: What was lost…with the collapse of the towers?

Gillespie: I would say in terms of business, not that much, $10 or $20 billion. The insurance industry can absorb this hit and the American economy will move along. This is certainly a loss, but it's something the mighty American economic engine can withstand. In terms of politics, it's an insult. It's a poke in the eye, a kick in the shins. It's the gesture of a group with little power against a superpower. It's provocative and insulting, but we'll get over it. Perhaps even we'll find the perpetrators and extract revenge. But the biggest damage is aesthetic, because it's a permanent loss to the skyline of Manhattan. As the author of a book about the World Trade Center and someone who is very fond of the buildings, I would like to see them rebuilt. But as a rational person, I don't see it happening. The deck is stacked against rebuilding.

REASON: How so?

Gillespie: At least three ways. The culture has changed in the last 30 years. There are enormous and legitimate environmental worries about constructing any large building. The EPA now has real teeth. The second problem is that since the building was built we've seen an empowerment of the neighborhoods and the NIMBY factor. Third, there's the demoralization factor. Even if we're able to rebuild it in six months, who would want to rent space in it?

Read the whole interview here.

For years prior to the 9/11 attacks, travel between the United States and Canada was a simple thing: All that was required was a driver's license. That changed shortly after 9/11 and the need to carry more documentation what was once widely celebrated as the world's longest open border. On September 15, 2001, former Reason intern Jeremy Lott wrote about being a U.S. citizen living in Washington state while commuting to college in Canada:

Three days a week, I cross the U.S.-Canadian border to British Columbia to attend Trinity Western University. In the wake of the horrific events of Tuesday, September 11, what used to be perhaps the easiest international commute on the planet has now become something very different.

A lot of pundits–and more than a few politicians–are ready to declare war on terrorism; they talk of the need to completely restructure American society to win that war. The sort of social regimentation that requires hasn't been discussed much yet, but it needs to be. In seeking to preserve our open society, a new war on terrorism may end up shutting it down….

Such disruptions are understandable, given the calamitous events. Hopefully, they're temporary, too. My car, with almost 200,000 miles, will not take two hours of stopping and starting on a regular basis. I did not go back to Canada today. For next week, I've arranged to stay in Canada and will be staying there until the border once again becomes more open. I am far from the only student in this bind and there are many thousands of people who cross the border in both directions every day to work. For a little while, we can improvise, staying with friends and the like.

But if this new "heightened security" persists, it will lead to structural readjustments. Fewer people will cross the border for any reason; employment will be essentially restricted to the country of residence; and ultimately people will interact less. A once open society will become much less so.

If that happens, the mad bombers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon will have destroyed even more than they did on their suicide flights.

Whole article here.

At the end of September 2001, Lynch reported on President George W. Bush's first big post-9/11 bailout-cum-stimulus program aimed at kickstarting an economy still trying to gather itself after the tech bubble popped. Our reporter cautioned against using "tragedy to bail out failing business."

President George W. Bush signed a $15 billion aid package for domestic airlines on Saturday, September 22. The question: Is this package a one-time emergency measure related to the events of September 11, or is it the first in a series of checks Congress will be cutting in hopes of stimulating the economy?…

"[The insurance industry's] approach is, the airlines are coming to you; you're helping them out," a Democratic leadership staffer told the Post. "We're next in line after them. They're absolutely making it known they have a problem." Other industries making their needs known on the Hill include travel agents, rental car companies, and aerial photographers. And the needs are certainly not limited to the private sector. In addition to the military and intelligence buildup, there's a push for more border guards and funding for Amtrak, which seems to be suffering from too many passengers….

the guaranteeing of billions of dollars of loans for airlines that were already struggling makes less sense. Ditto for handing more money over to Amtrak for previously planned projects. Policymakers must remember that the economy was going through an adjustment period before September 11. Airlines were already on track to lose up to $3 billion this year. Many other businesses were destined to fail. Lawmakers obviously can't let a collapse in the insurance market ground every commercial carrier, but they ought to let weaker carriers go bankrupt. University of Pennsylvania Law Professor David A. Skeel Jr. reminds us that our bankruptcy laws were developed to handle the collapse of an industry critical to the 19th century-the railroads.

It's painful to watch business failure and unemployment piled upon the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. But it's critical that politicians avoid the seductive path of relying on public policy to prop up failing businesses while trying to manage a failing economy with expansionary fiscal policy — that is, by spending more taxpayer money. That's the Japanese model of the last decade. And it doesn't work.

More here.

NEXT: Don't Know Much About a Science Book, So DO SOMETHING!!!!

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  1. “The biggest loss was aesthetic…”


      1. Those towers really tied the skyline together, did they not?

        1. Did those big shiny things have any people in them?

          1. Oh, all those people would have died anyway.

            1. In a way, I think that’s the context Gillespie was in. They were interviewing him because of his book on the WTC. That was his scope of expertise.

              He was probably talking about the enduring effects of the attacks on the city. The change in aesthetic meaning the constant reminder. The loss of life was so obviously tragic, and since it had just happened when he was interviewed the scale was still difficult to comprehend.

              Or maybe he was so cold that he could only empathize with the architecture.

          2. “Whenever I watch TV and see those poor, starving kids all over the world, I can’t help but cry. I mean, I’d love to be skinny like that, but not with all those flies and death and stuff.”

    1. Reminds me of the Onion story about the autistic reporter and the train accident.

  2. I feel bad for the intern who went to Trinity Western. In addition to being located in the boring wasteland of Langley, BC, it is super religious and doesn’t allow students to get drunk, have sex before marriage, or use porn (all routinely ignored, I’m sure).

    Also: repping the Quebec motto in the alt text was a nice touch.

    1. boring wasteland of Langley, BC

      It (at least) has one of the better places to purchase firearms and ammo.

    2. Getting drunk, fucking and watching porn are ALL more fun when you’re told not to.

    3. Did they remove the alt-text or something? I don’t see any.

  3. Is Jeremy Lott still in Canada, or did he eventually give up on waiting for the border to become open again?

  4. Politicians claim to be concerned about the economy, but making cross-border shopping a nightmare doesn’t bother them.


  5. I always liked the look of the towers. They added distinction to the skyline.

    And they were positioned offset so you didn’t have to look right into your neighbor’s window. Otherwise it would have been like working in one of those cookie cutter housing plans. Duh.

    1. Many people in architectural design thought the WTC was very middle-of-the-road. I thought so too.

      It’s scale, however, was why I liked it. Yes, it really added to the skyline.

      1. They didn’t look a whole lot different from the Standard Oil bldg in Chicago.

  6. Getting into Canada is still pretty simple, but for a returning American they make it tough. Long lines, stupid and pointless questions and ID, lots of ID.

    1. And God help you if you have an orange in your lap. God help you.

      1. You assured me yesterday that Mardy would win, and you were wrong. I can never trust you again. Liar.

        And holy shit, Donald Young is still in this and is playing Andy Murray today. I’m pretty sure that Andy will crush him, but I like that kid. He has attitude. Why does this match have to be on a work day?

        1. Young has charisma to burn. Even a little bit of success is going to have the endorsements rolling it.

          I’m pretty sure all of today’s games are rained out. They might have got some play in early, but the assloads of rain we yesterday are in NYC now.

          1. Young also seems to be quite good. It’s time for Roddick’s time as “best American” to be over. He hasn’t won since 2003, for fuck’s sake. And Mardy can’t seem to get up there either.

        2. I told you about Andy Young yesterday.

          1. Is the person of whom you speak some sort of Andy Murray/Donald Young hybrid?

            1. there was supposed to be a “vs.” in there somewhere…

        3. I must have Canadians on my mind now. I read “Andy Murray” as “Anne Murray” several times before I realized you were talking about tennis.

    2. Where do you cross? I actually find it is quite the opposite. I am a Canadian with a US green card and while the Canadians treat me like shit, the US guards often say little more than a “welcome home” when I return. Sometimes I wonder if the Canadian nastiness is due to my being a defector by living in the US.

      1. I mutter “poutine” under my breath constantly and just breeze right through Canadian customs.

        1. I doubt it’s the word itself helping you through, though the smell of rotten poutine on your breath probably does the trick.

          1. That’s how they know I am one of them.

            1. You know, when Donald Sutherland screamed the alien alert at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, he was Canadian. You may be on to something.

        2. I will never get over how people talk about “poutine” as though it were some kind of ancient Canadian tradition.

      2. Mostly I-89 in Swanton, but also Champlain in NY. Going in the Canadian staff are polite and very brief. The US built ginormous new stations and that’s when the US guys started taking themselves too seriously, IMHO. That’s also when we started getting traffic backed up.

      3. The only time I have been to Canada since 911 was to Campobello island, and that was pretty low key in both directions (which isn’t terribly surprising). I even met some people who were allowed back into the US without passports with only a mild scolding.

    3. My girlfriend and I were in Ottawa at the beginning of August. On the way back we were stopped by US customs for no reason that I’ve been able to discern. After waiting a few minutes a ‘supervisor’ with US Customs comes over to us holding both of our US passports and asks us which of us is Canadian. I shit you not.

    4. the “enhanced ID’s” help a LOT.

      i have a WA enhanced ID, and it makes it pretty smooth.

  7. “the Closing of the U.S.-Canada Border”

    So remember while you’re mourning that at least some good came out of this.

  8. Here’s my new conspiracy theory for the day. The 911 attacks were perpetrated by those shithead weed growers in CA who were against last years legalization initiative, in an effort to protect their racket against the influx of cheap, decent quality Canadian weed.

  9. I can’t prove it but I’ll share it anyway because it’s the irresponsible thing to do:
    The US border posts have directional microphones that can eavesdrop on people in cars waiting to cross. So don’t tell Nick to stuff the joints under the seat or laugh at that guard with the big butt or it will cost ya.

    1. Tim, that’ll cost ya.

      1. “Our Border Personnel are consummate professionals and will not detain us one second longer than necessary”

        My rehearsed speech.

        1. But watch out for those micro-emotions in your voice. They’re going to be trained to pick up on those.

  10. Living in Detroit with family in Toronto we decided to drink the Kool-Aid and get Nexus Passes. It certainly makes a difference–at the Blue Water Bridge the line to get into Canada can take an hour at least, and similar waits to get back (especially on Sunday afternoons). With the Nexus card we just breeze through.
    Unlike Dagny I’ve had much worse reactions from American guards (although I should say that I’m now an American citizen). Some of them have been downright weird.
    Of course, there was the time I accidentally brought my wife’s passport instead of mine, and the Canadian guard didn’t notice. On the return trip the American guard did, however. Surprisingly, it only took about twenty minutes to get things cleared up. On the other hand, while waiting in the inspection booth I was told sternly to take my hands out of my pockets, and you couldn’t go to the bathroom without company.
    However, the days of having lunch in Windsor (there are actually good restaurants there, surprisingly) are long gone, because you can never tell how long the lines at the tunnel will be.

    1. I’m told there are great restaurants in Quebec but mostly I go there for farm supplies and tractor parts.

      1. Montreal has great food and bilingual panhandlers. It’s truly not to be missed.

        1. It also has rabidly anti-American French Canadians. I got tired after my second visit. Is Alberta nice?

          1. If you think they’re anti-American you should hear how they feel about English-Canadians.

            I actually don’t know how you came to that conclusion, my and others’ experience is that les Quebecois love Americans, and their $.

          2. IOW, if you found French Canadians rabidly anti-American, you don’t want to go anywhere else in Canada. You couldn’t handle it.

            1. triumph, the insult comic dog has a great bit in french canada. i’m sure you can find it on youtube. he goes up to (montreal iirc)and rips em a new one.

  11. 9/11 changed a lot of things not only for NYC but the whole country. I feel sorry for those who continue to suffer from undiagnosable physical ailments.

  12. An absolutely horrific day.

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