02 May 2006

United 93

Ron Rosenbaum at Slate has some interesting, pessimistic observations about United 93, the new film about the events on the 9/11 flight that didn't make it to its intended target.
Nothing can take away from that collective act of heroism, but something makes me wonder: Why is this the third film made about Flight 93?
The conjectural response to the hijacking has become (even more than the courage of the rescuers in the rubble) the redemptive fable we cling to, the fragment we shore against our ruin. Or so it is as envisioned in The Flight That Fought Back and Flight 93 and now United 93. A film in which, we are told by its production notes, we see "the courage that was born from ... the crucible" of 9/11. A story of "something much larger than the event itself," Greengrass tells us, a story in which "we ... find wisdom." One almost hears the subtext: This is "the feel-good film about 9/11."
There is that source of fascination with Flight 93, yes, but I don't think that's all there is to it. I think there's something else folks feel happening in the Flight 93 story that they haven't heard articulated, and can't quite put their finger on, that brings us all back to it because we have some unfinished business in understanding it.

Contemporary terrorist networks are made possible, in part, by advanced communication and information technologies that enable them to plan and coördinate "asymmetric" attacks like 9/11. This is very scary, but I've pointed out before that those same communication and information technologies make it easier to adapt and respond to these inventive attacks, as demonstrated by Flight 93. The 9/11 attack worked by taking advantage of passengers' assumption that the hijackers wanted to survive their own attack, and would regard the passengers as valuable hostages ... but cellphones and airphones ensured that this trick only worked for about an hour before the Flight 93 passengers got wise.

Think about that.

This is simultaneously harrowing and reassuring, and one of the key lessons of 9/11. Knowledge, not fear, is security. We could eliminate all of the gate security at airports. Heck, we could let you bring a revolver onto an airplane if we wanted to, now. The 9/11 trick just won't work again.


Reel Fanatic said...

I obviously hope we are indeed ready fully to avert another 9/11, but I have to admit I am not as certain as you ... I am glad I saw this very important film even though I found the final act, knowing well how it end, virtually unwatchable at points

Jonathan Korman said...

I wouldn't claim that we're ready to avert another 9/11. Alas, I am certain that future successful terrorist attacks in the US are inevitable.

But there's an idea that the only thing that can help us prevent terrorist attacks is are things like guys in uniforms searching your luggage. In fact, Flight 93 teaches us that these measures are less effective than knowledge.