Tuesday, September 11, 2007

September 11th.

Just watched United 93 for the first time. We've had it on our shelf for a while, and never got out to see it in the theater, so we figured tonight of all nights we'd sit down and commit ourselves to it.

Every American should see this movie. It's good. It's gripping. My heart was in my throat for most of it, and it captures it all pretty right on, without all the fluff and bluster of a typical Hollywood film. I think it's one for the ages, actually. A film that will tell the real story 50, 100 years from now, and without anybody lamely having to interpret it. It's directed by Paul Greengrass, in my mind known as that film director who will spend a hundred million dollars on a flick and not spare a dime on tripod rental. Thankfully, United 93 didn't need one. It feels like a documentary, and my wholehearted, flag-waving, patriotic thanks goes out to Matt Damon, Sean Penn, and Johnny Depp for not being in it.

It's hard to watch. Those air traffic controllers in for the day of their lives that will haunt them forever. Those passengers calling home to tell their family they love them (what else would they say?) Those lost, evil young men with the bandanas tied around their heads, box cutters, blood full of adrenaline, praying to a god that would have them all die in a useless lie.

Of course, I remember where I was on 9/11/01. It was a Tuesday, like today, only I didn't have a family and a home and a business to run. I was housesitting. Doing odd jobs to pay off some over-the-limit credit cards. Staying up late reading pretend literature, drinking beer with my buddies, driving around in my beat-up old Honda Civic. I'd stayed up late on the 10th, actually, and slept in on Tuesday, waking to the phone ringing. I got the message "how terrible it was what happened" and turned on the news to see it all at once: the planes hitting the buildings, the buildings going down, the confusion. To be honest, I don't know if I had even turned on the TV before the towers had fallen. All I could see was everything at once, like coming home to your house burning down and arriving at the same time as the firefighters.

I remember thinking, who are we going to start bombing? And when? And it wasn't until a couple days passed and the gravity of it all really got me. That Friday there were people on every street corner. A man came into the brewery and played the Stars an Stripes on his bagpipes. The whole place shut up, for once. I remember going surfing on Wednesday morning at sunrise and there wasn't a plane in the sky. All the freighters were lined up offshore, not allowed into L.A. harbor. There must have been fifty of them. It was an unforgettable sight. People started saying "Never forget". And everyone had their flag out. That is to say, they had a flag out. I think September 12th was that historic day in America when a lot of people realized they didn't own a flag.

I brought my flag down tonight, put it in the closet until Veterans Day. I've decided to wave the flag at my house from Memorial Day until September 11th, as long as men are out there dying for our country. I'd fly it every day, but you know, people just get used to seeing it. Months after 9/11/01 people had still kept their flags out and so many of them were faded and torn, as if they'd been forgotten. It bothered me then, and it bothers me now. But that's just me.

And I admit it: I've forgotten. I forget every year. And I don't like it one bit. It's part of the human psyche, a post-traumatic reaction, to immediately forget the terror of a life-changing event. It doesn't help that the TV news won't show the planes hitting those buildings anymore, or those buildings coming down, or remind us of the gruesome fate of all those firefighters and police officers and countless innocents crushed and incinerated in the biggest mass murder in American history. But the news still reports "NEVER FORGET" on their title cards. Just what is it that they want us to remember?

Lileks will remind you, here, if you're wondering. Watching that now I can't help but think how different my reaction would be today if something so terrible would take place again. It's all different now, with a family to protect and a new world you're proud of and love so much more. Within a year of September 11th, many of my friends would be married and moved away, and a few months after that I would be married and moved away myself and the country would go to war in Iraq on the eve of my wedding. Looking back, September 11th is that pivotal event in my life that's hard to see past. For me, that's the day that marked the beginning of the big changes in my life. The day the old passions started being replaced. The day frivolity died.

Lileks adds:

It seemed right away like it would be a big war [on terror], three to four years – Afghanistan first, of course, then Iraq, then Iran. The idea that it would have stalled and ended up in diffuse oblique arguments about political timetables would have been immensely depressing. There was a model for this sort of thing, a template. Advance. But that requires cultural confidence, a loose agreement on the goals, the rationale, the nature of the enemy and the endgame. We don’t have those things. Imagine telling someone six years ago Iran would be allowed, by default, to make nuclear weapons. They would wonder what the hell we’d done with half a decade, plus change. What part of 25 years of Death to America didn’t we get, exactly?

And I may be a big conservative and all, but I've got a few questions that should transcend ideology: When are we going to get Bin Laden and Zawahiri? And what difference does it make if we kill Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan or Iraq as long as they're all dead? And when are we going to fill those damn holes in Manhattan and build the biggest frickin' buildings in the world in the shape of two large middle fingers aimed towards Mecca?

Sorry. Sorry about the "Mecca" thing. I'm still a kind of upset about Sept. 11th. But where are the peace-loving Muslims condemning Osama? Every day those towers are not rebuilt is a day of victory for Al-Qaeda. And the day our troops come home from Iraq is the day Osama gets a thousand more recruits when he gives his grand speech about how the Americans turned tail and fled -like they did in Somalia, like they did in Vietnam, (he said just the other day.) Tell you what: we're not going home. We still have troops in Germany. We still have troops in Japan. We still have troops in Korea. And we still have troops up and down the Russian border. No troops are leaving the Middle East anytime soon. You don't have to like it. I don't like it, either. You can hope for the best in this world all you want, but not without preparing for the worst.

Someone called in to Prager today and mentioned that "There are a few bullies in this world, and then there are a few people who will stand up to the bullies, and then there is EVERYBODY else." America used to be the few in the world who would stand up to the bullies. Here's a quote from Theodore Roosevelt: "I should welcome almost any war, for I think this country needs one." It would be his fifth cousin, Franklin Roosevelt, who was on the opposite end of the political spectrum as Theodore, and who would stand up to the bullies of the world during WWII.

And today? I don't fear another terrorist attack, but I do fear that I, my friends and family, and this country, might one day tragically fall into that third, loathsome category of EVERYBODY else.

God bless the passengers of United Flight 93. They were not like everybody else. And countless lives were saved because of it.