In a movie as spare and restrained as its title, the only excess is the suggestion, itself oblique, that the government responded even more confusedly that morning than was to be expected. Most government people, like the rest of us, were in the process of having their sense of the possible abruptly and radically enlarged.
Going to see ``United 93'' is a civic duty because Samuel Johnson was right: People more often need to be reminded than informed. After an astonishing 56 months without a second terrorist attack, this nation perhaps has become dangerously immune to astonishment. The movie may quicken our appreciation of the measures and successes -- many of which must remain secret -- that have kept would-be killers at bay.
The editors of National Review were wise to view ``United 93'' in the dazzling light still cast by a Memorial Day address, ``The Soldier's Faith,'' delivered in 1895 by a veteran of Ball's Bluff, Antietam and other Civil War battles. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. said why understanding that faith is important:
``In this snug, over-safe corner of the world ... we may realize that our comfortable routine is no eternal necessity of things, but merely a little space of calm in the midst of the tempestuous untamed streaming of the world, and in order that we may be ready for danger. ... Out of heroism grows faith in the worth of heroism.''
The message of the movie is: We are all potential soldiers. And we all may be, at any moment, at the war's front, because in this war the front can be anywhere.
The hinge on which the movie turns are 13 words that a passenger speaks, without histrionics, as he and others prepare to rush the cockpit, shortly before the plane plunges into a Pennsylvania field. The words are: ``No one is going to help us. We've got to do it ourselves.'' Those words not only summarize this nation's situation in today's war, but also express a citizen's general responsibilities in a free society.