How accurate is United 93, Universal Pictures’ new movie depicting the drama and heroism aboard the fourth plane hijacked on Sept. 11, 2001? The answer tells us a lot about Hollywood and government in the age of terrorism: The film is closer to the truth than every account the government put out before the 9/11 commission’s investigation. Its release marks our passage through the post-Sept. 11 looking glass, with our wildest fairy tales now spun not in Hollywood but in Washington.
So much of the facts surrounding the events of 9.11 have been mythologized and propagandized by a government that knows it got caught unprepared and unable to react in a manner that may have mitigated the impact of that horrible day. Of course, it’s quite possible that nothing the government or the military might have done that morning would have made a bit of difference in the final outcome. What I find interesting, and tremendously disturbing, is the degree to which the government and the military has gone to weave a story that places official action, reaction, and lack of action in the most positive light.
VP DIck Cheney has recounted at length the harrowing decision that was made to allow an American fighter jet to possibly shoot down an American airliner full of American passengers. According to this story, the decision was made at the highest level of government the United 93 would not be allowed to reach Washington, DC. It sounds good, and it sounds as if senior government and military officials were on top of things. Would that this were true. The problem with this story is that it is almost completely fictionalized and not at all a reflection of what actually took place. Cheney’s scenario paints a picture of a strong, decisive government response, when in fact chaos and inaction reigned. Yes, it was a highly unusual and out-of-the-ordinary set of circumstances that decision-makers were faced with on the morning of 9.11. It would nice to be able to believe that the people involved in the events of that morning could admit to the facts so that we might learn what lessons are available to be learned.
The reality is that the chain of command didnt work that morning. Some government officials have blamed the confusion and lack of effective response on the “fog of war”. This explanation may, in their own minds at least, absolve them of any wrongdoing or ineptitude, but the reality is that the “fog of war”, if it can even be described as such, wasn’t all that thick.
Engaging in recriminations almost five years later will not change anything, but one has to wonder why a Hollywood movie, United 93, seems to have a better grip on the available facts that any spin that has been fabricated by our government and military? Why is our own government so afraid of the truth? No one is calling for heads to roll, or for anyone to be hung out to dry as the responsible party. We just want to know what happened. Could any of the planes have been stopped short of the Pentagon or the World Trade Center? Could ANYTHING have been done keep so many people from dying horrific deaths?
I suppose we’ll never know the answers to many of the still unanswered questions…but shouldn’t we be able to expect that we wouldn’t have to go to a movie theater to get closer to the truth of what happened on 9.11?