Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Soul of America

The amazing film United 93 is many things.

It is a time machine. As you watch the grim events unfolding, from the first-on-the-scene perspectives of aviation personnel, you are inexorably pulled back into those disastrous moments in our nation’s history. As I watched the smoke billowing from the Twin Towers, I was transported once again to my living room, wrapped in a bath towel and dripping wet from my morning shower. At the sound of Pete’s thunderous cry of disbelief, I had raced there and stopped dead in my tracks at the image on the television screen. My first two words in the post-9/11 world were Our Lord’s name.

The movie is also a timely reminder of what we are up against in this protracted, unavoidable war. The enemy, what Dennis Prager calls Islamic totalitarianism, will not surrender. It has no mercy, and it craves our destruction with a single-minded fanaticism. These are the unyielding facts that may be forgotten at our endless peril.

United 93 is, above all, a microcosm of the United States of America. The movie’s tag line states that “40 ordinary people sat down as strangers and stood up as one.” We are a multifaceted nation, a country of strength built from human spirit, courage, and creativity. Our citizens descend from the distant reaches of the globe, and our forebears came to live together in America seeking independence, a better life, and the freedom to live it as they chose.

The passengers aboard United 93 possessed that same spirit, courage, and creativity. These “ordinary people” did not go as lambs to the slaughter. It has been said that courage is fear that has said its prayers. They were surely afraid, but they fought for their lives and for all they held dear. In so doing, they drew a map for all of us left behind to navigate the dangers of the post-9/11 world.

They also held up a mirror to us, to help us see and recognize what lies deep within. This film reminds us, through the brave actions of these ordinary people, what it means to be Americans. Through their valiant efforts to regain control of their doomed aircraft, we see the soul of America at work. Today, nearly five years later, it is a soul in distress and sorely in need of such a visceral reminder.

British film maker Paul Greengrass has captured the American spirit in a truthful way that few native directors have achieved. Every American should see this film. It is packed with a mother lode of emotions, challenging us to remember September 11 with clarity and honesty. It will make you both angry and sad. But the overarching emotion, for me, is one of pride. United 93 is a razor-sharp cut into our national soul that should jolt many of us into a renewed awareness of our purpose in fighting the global War on Terror.

It should also inspire renewed national pride and honor for those very first warrior-citizens who stood and fought back against our enemy.