We Can't Wish Away the War

Posted: Apr 21, 2006 4:28 PM

As moviegoers began to see trailers for the new movie "United 93" in theaters a few weeks ago, audience members cried "too soon" -- some of them literally crying, as if victimized by a mere movie trailer. Why? Because nearly five years later they still don't get it. We still don't get it.

Americans who are "shocked" by moviemakers dramatizing the heroism of passengers on the airplane that went down in Shanksville, Pa., on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, are as asleep as legislators who aren't serious about protecting our borders, diplomats who want to make nice with the terrorists who run Iran and oppress its people, and those who would have left Saddam Hussein in power. We're a nation that should be shocked when reporters reveal classified national-security strategy, but award them Pulitzers instead of condemning their irresponsibility.

For sure, not everyone who has reservations about "United 93" can be dismissed as clueless. Some worry about the ethics of making a movie off of tragedy -- legitimate, decent concerns. (Universal has pledged 10 percent of the opening weekend's revenue to the Flight 93 National Memorial.) But it's notable that not one family of Flight 93's victims objected to the making of the movie, according to its producers, who got their go-ahead for the film.

Others of us are more fortunate than those families. We can delude ourselves that we aren't at war, that nothing changed on Sept. 11, and we're not as vulnerable as innocent Israelis who know that every bus they get on or pizza place they grab a slice at could be a suicide bomber's next target.

"United 93" and efforts like it remind us of what happened that day, of the kind of people we are, and of the war we're in. In a TV interview, David Beamer, father of Todd Beamer, known for his "Let's Roll" declaration on Flight 93, recalled seeing a bumper sticker that advised, "just pretend everything is OK." Unfortunately, we can't just wish an Axis of Evil away -- though some of us certainly do try.

But "I was horrified" one woman told NBC, talking about the movie trailer. Not by anything she saw in it. Not by anything in particular about it. It's just easier to just pretend everything is OK.

We'll I'm horrified, too, as so many of us are -- that there are people determined to kill us, and our allies, because of who we are. I am also horrified that so many of us go on as if what happened won't happen again. Perhaps they're right. As one official intimately familiar with the threats we face recently predicted, matter-of-factly, in conversation, "Sept. 11 won't happen again: It will be 10 times worse."

We're told that our emotions may be too "raw" to make the existence of a movie about the events of Sept. 11 appropriate. Damn straight the emotions are raw.

The war we're in is in the present tense and it will be for a long haul. We had better get used to it. We owe it to our heroes - to those who died on that Boeing 757 that crashed in a field and to the military men and women and families who are committed, with their very lives, to freedom. If you commute in a major American city Monday through Friday, how can you not have some real, even personal, sense of the threat? The raw emotion needn't be a debilitating emotion, but a knowing one. So many families who have lost and are sacrificing in this war know it best. And it's only normal and healthy -- that our culture would respond to these realities. A movie highlighting a brave group of Americans in this war on terror -- I can think of a lot worse.

Until we face the naked truth of the brutality of what we're up against, we're more vulnerable than we need to be. One headline about moviegoers' outrage at the "United 93" trailer described audiences as "jolted" by the existence of the movie. Well, as were about to hit the five-year mark in this war on terror, it's about time we're jolted already.