The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

United 93

United 93 (2006)

Grueling.  That’s  really the operative word for this fine, fine film about the events of September 11, 2001.  The actors are all unknowns—in fact, many of the actual air traffic control officials played themselves. The families of the dead approved the film.  It is glaringly obvious that in every way he could, the filmmaker (Paul Greengrass) did what he could to simply depict what might have happened in that plane.  No leering villains.  No Wesley Snipes-style martial arts heroics.  Frightened, committed people on all sides, whose intentions place them on an irreversible collision course.

Man oh man, I watched the movie wondering if there was a plausible loophole, a way I might figure I might have survived the tragedy of that day.  I don’t see it, I honestly don’t.   There is a very good reason I don’t hold the Bush administration, or some secret cabal of insane neo-Cons responsible for those events:

I believe that that particular gambit, hijacking a plane and flying it into a building, would have worked almost anywhere.  It had never been done before, and ANYTHING that is new will work once.  You could spar with the greatest martial artist in the world, and if you suddenly grew a third arm in the center of your chest, you could hit him.  Once.  And as soon as the people on that plane knew what had happened to the World Trade Center, everything changed.

You see, the basic theory pre-9/11 was that if you cooperated with the hijackers, you were more likely to live.  That froze good, strong, smart people in place for the critical moments it took for their position to progress beyond the point of no return.  I feel sorry for most of the conspiracy theorists: such a plot would require such razor-tight collusion on the part of so many people, combined with their silence afterward—literally hundreds of people would have to know about it all.
Sorry.  I have no belief that people are that smart, that capable of keeping a deadly secret, one that would have to weigh on all their souls like millstones.  No, I don’t buy it.
Some have criticized the film for not demonizing the hijackers.  This was one of the things I liked most.  Man, if you’ve got to fight someone, you’d better respect them and try to understand what motivates them, or your chances of losing skyrocket.  Only an immature warrior needs to hate his enemies in order to kill them, if necessary. 

I remember the days just after that horrid attack, and the way radio commentators were calling the hijackers “cowardly.”  Wow.  That doesn’t correspond to any definition of cowardice I’ve ever heard.  What they meant was that the deliberate targeting of civilians is anathema.  I can understand that. 

But I remember being back in grade school, and a bully twice my size picking fights with me every day.  Kicking my butt with monotonous regularity.  One day, I punched him in the crotch.  He doubled over, screaming.  The other kids called me a coward for my “unfair” attack.  Hmmm…let me see.  I’m courageous if I play by rules where I am doomed to lose.  But if I express myself in an actually effective manner, I’m a “coward” for going outside the rules.

Friends, if you think like this, and don’t see the hypocrisy, we’re going to lose this “war.”  In my mind, there is only one way to deal with this, and it’s the Tao of Terrorism.  We need some combination of a Male/Female approach:
Male response: kill everyone connected with any attack on us.  Ruthlessly, efficiently, at their dinner tables in front of their children if need be. 
2) Look deeply in to the legitimate grievances that create people willing to die to achieve their aims.  Where have our actions, as an empire, as human beings with an hierarchical bent, alienated people and fostered such rage?  We must do EVERYTHING in our power to give  no  rational reasons to hate us. 

Not grasping that the hijackers, as well as the passengers, are human would be a hideous mistake, and the kind of thinking that creates more terrorists.  You cannot “kill all the terrorists” any more than you can stop the flow of drugs with law enforcement.  Just as the scarcity  of drugs drives up their price, making it more profitable to take a risk, the repression and violence used to kill terrorists creates more terrorists.

And yet, there we are.  And as bad as my One-Two punch of “Male” and “Female” approaches might sound, either without the other would be far, far worse.  Lethally worse.  And the people who think that either approach would work, alone, scare the hell out of me.

Eventually, we will have a web of communication and cooperation that will treat these actions as what they actually are: criminal acts.  Criminals to be hunted down and killed or tried.  The concept of a “War on Terror” is, in my mind, simply the wrong metaphor, used by people who think that having the biggest, baddest hammer in the world means that they are ready to fix any broken appliance.   It’s a really bad joke, and the punch line will be at the expense of our grandchildren if we’re not careful.
See “United 93.”  Never forget.  There are just fallible human beings up on that screen. The moral high-ground belongs to the passengers, there is no doubt in my mind.  I wish I could feel as certain about the things we did in response to the events of that terrible day.

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