Tags: 'United | 93': | America's | Ordinary | Heroes

'United 93': America's Ordinary Heroes

Wednesday, 26 April 2006 12:00 AM

Some 5 1/2 years have passed since the catastrophic events of Sept 11, 2001. Yet the soon-to-be-released movie "United 93" will show that the feelings and worries of that day are as intense as ever.

Recently I was invited to a private screening of "United 93." The film is interesting because it offers a microscopic look at the events of that day, particularly focusing on the activities of air traffic control and NORAD, The North American Aerospace Defense Command, and of course the momentous events that took place on United Flight 93 in the skies above Pennsylvania.

We know that on that fateful day, two other jet planes slammed into the World Trade Center.

The first, American Airlines Flight 11 out of Boston, hit the north tower at 8:45 a.m. EDT; 92 passengers and crewmembers were killed instantly.

The second, United Airlines Flight 175 out of Boston, slammed into the south tower at 9:03 a.m., immediately killing another 65 passengers and crew members.

In Washington D.C., the Pentagon was struck by a third commercial jet – American Airlines Flight 77 – at 9:45 that morning, killing 64 passengers and crew.

Interestingly, the film doesn't explore the weighty issues of government malfeasance in failing to prevent the tragedy of Sept. 11. The 9/11 Commission, in its 585-page report issued on July 22, 2004, addressed many of these issues.

In a way, "United 93" didn't have to go into those issues. Any thinking person who watches the film will see how totally unprepared authorities were for a major terrorist act on America's homeland. Mayhem and confusion ruled at the FAA's air traffic control and NORAD.

The film seems to make the point that had authorities acted promptly after learning of the first two hijackings, "United 93" may never have happened. But it took more than an hour for air traffic control and government authorities to ground air traffic after they received a report that at least one commercial plane had been hijacked.

The military response was utterly weak.

Considering we spend billions on national defense, it was not reassuring. Military fighters sent to defend Washington from possible terror attacks that day were flown over the vast Atlantic Ocean seeking enemy planes that might be coming from outside our borders. The military apparently didn't even know that these civilian planes were coming from within the United States.

Other military planes sent to intercept the hijacked jets didn't even have missiles to stop them.

The film also notes that although President Bush had given orders to shoot down the civilian planes that were hijacked, military officials decided not to relay those orders to their pilots. The fear was that in the confusion they might accidentally shoot down an innocent passenger plane. (As late as 12:30 p.m. that day, there were still 50 flights in U.S. airspace.)

The details that emerge in "United 93," I believe, are simply the tip of the iceberg. What the film

The film doesn't mention President Bush or Vice President Cheney or portray the activities of high-level administration officials on Sept. 11. And I believe this is fair. There has been an effort by the media in the years since Sept. 11 to somehow blame Bush for the catastrophe of that day. But again, this was an operation that had been years in the planning and President Bush had only months before become president of the United States.

If there are any lessons to be learned from watching "United 93," and I hope there will be, the first to me is that Sept. 11 was a monumental failure of government. We place so much trust in government, yet it failed us so miserably.

I find it ironic that in the wake of Sept. 11 we have given government tremendous new powers and seemingly unlimited sums of taxpayer monies, yet we see that our government is incapable of handling even natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina.

The second and most important lesson from the film is that freedom comes at a cost. For the passengers of United Flight 93 and their families it came at a very high cost. Passengers like Todd Beamer and his "let's roll" cry just moments before he and other heroic passengers rushed the pilots' cabin of United 93 demonstrates the extraordinary heroism that Americans still have. We need such heroism to preserve our way of life, and thankfully, modern day heroes can still be found among ordinary Americans.

Some will come away from the film believing it is very depressing. I did not see it that way.

It showed that Americans themselves, despite all the problems of our democracy and the inadequacies of our government officials, can rise to the occasion, even in the face of tremendous evil. "United 93" is worth watching to appreciate this fact, if for no other reason.


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Some 5 1/2 years have passed since the catastrophic events of Sept 11, 2001. Yet the soon-to-be-released movie "United 93" will show that the feelings and worries of that day are as intense as ever. Recently I was invited to a private screening of "United 93."The film is...
Wednesday, 26 April 2006 12:00 AM
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