Monday, September 11, 2006

September 11: Five Years On

In honour of it being September 11 today, I went to see the movie United 93, the story of the one hijacked plane that never reached its target, because the passengers tried to overthrow the hijackers. It was a very powerful movie. I have seen reviews that criticised "inaccuracies" in the film (although its not a documentary, but a docudrama), but I found it very believable.

One of the things I appreciated about the movie was the hijackers were not shown as some kind of personification of evil. It did not justify their actions. It showed them working the controls of the plane with hands bloody from the passengers they had stabbed. But they were shown as real people. They were shown as pale, sweating, terrified human beings, just like all the other pale, sweating, terrified human beings involved in September 11.

That was part of the power of the film - the feeling that it was something like the way things really happened, and would probably happen again in similar circumstances. There was the early "Are you kidding me?" disbelief among the air traffic control people as they realized that a series of hijacks had taken place. There was the continual failure of communications and other systems between the air traffic control centres, the military, federal aviation authorities and others that was all too believable. There was the incredible, still somehow almost unreal sight of the other planes crashing into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. There was the gradual realisation of the United 93 passengers that any attempt to bargain with the hijackers or to rely on anyone else to help them was useless, that the hijacking of their plane was actually a suicide mission, and that they were all going to die unless they did something.

Of course, they all died, anyway. The last part of the film showed the utter chaos at the end. Everyone, the passengers and the hijackers themselves, was moaning, weeping, fighting and praying to their different gods. But they all died together.

I came away with such a stunning impression of confusion, destruction and fucked up-ness. The ideologies of any of those involved actually seemed kind of beside the point.

And, you know, this impression was not just about the movie.

I thought, as I walked away from the movie, about how horrible it would be to be trapped in a tin can, fighting for your life while you plummet towards the ground. I thought about how horrible it would be to be trapped in the World Trade Centre, with all the smoke and the flames as the building crumbled around you and you saw people throwing themselves out of the windows.

I thought about the young Australian, American and other soldiers in Iraq. Probably wondering, like my partner did in Vietnam, what the hell kind of choices we have all made that would bring them to such an alien environment, killing or being killed.

And, actually, I thought how horrible it would be to be an Iraqi civilian right now, too.

I thought about how the Christian and Muslim beliefs in a compassionate and merciful God seem to be fuelling all the killing. I thought about all the orphans, some of them babies like my Little Dude.

I thought about Bruce Springsteen's song Devils and Dust:

We've got God on our side
And we're just trying to survive
What if what you do to survive
Kills the things you love
Fear's a powerful thing
It'll turn your heart black, you can trust
It'll take your God filled soul
Fill it with devils and dust

Is all this fucked-upness really the best we can do?


Blogger Rob said...

It's amazing how much suffering and death has occurred in the world since the beginning of recorded history, much of it related in some way to religion (or the corruptive interpretation of it) - how so ironic!

3:53 AM  
Blogger cagedone said...

Well al this stuff just makes me more cynical about religion. Whatever creed it may be.

Scarey to think I walked through the twin towers plaza 4 months before it happened. I remember clearly the two towers disappearing up through the clouds. In some respects I am glad I did not choose to go to the top as a tourist, rather the Empire state building...Alas a majestic experience.

To think those people truely believed they would go to heaven if they carried out this terrible deed. Just how misguided can someone become? How twisted, how utterly devoid of intelligence can people be to beleive that killing 1000s of innocent people would be a short cut to God?

People be judged by actions, not what they believe. I know of a couple who don't beleive in religion, who spend their lives running programs for young kids, foster caring unlucky kids. In our normal society they give so much to others. Actions like these speak louder than any belief I can name.

5:59 AM  
Blogger FTN said...

I hate to turn this discussion solely towards religion, but we can't lump all people like this together with every other belief system and just make a blanket statement on religion as a result. EVERYONE has a belief system, and they are all quite different. The people that hijack planes and kill people? They aren't "religious." They are crazy, insane, and the epitome of evil. It is a disservice to all of us to lump terrorists and killers together with people like Mother Teresa and Billy Graham just because they had a "religion."

I'm glad I won't be judged solely on my actions, because I know we'd ALL come up short if that was the case.

6:42 AM  
Blogger cagedone said...

I can't resist FTN.

But your statement is mearly an excuse for you to be less than what you can be.

Even though I may be an athiest it seems pretty clear to me that a statement such as "I'm glad I won't be judged solely on my actions, because I know we'd ALL come up short" just allows you to sleep better at night.

If there is judgement, and while I agree no one is perfect, but I would expect that people who have made an effort through their life to do the right thing would get a better reception at the pearly gates than those who wait till the end of their life, then out of fear they say with ALL THEIR HEART "please forgive me for I have sinned!"

4:08 PM  
Blogger Emily said...

I dunno, FTN, I just don't get the sense that they were crazy, insane, or the epitome of evil, although its true that their actions were all of those things.

Sometimes it seems to me that, while not every religion and their followers are the same, religious fanatics and terrorists of every faith have similar characteristics. I take your point about comparing terrorists to Mother Theresa. But there is some quality about, say, Osama Bin Laden and Ian Paisley, that is essentially the same. Some inability to accept the world as it is. Some rigidity that prefers destruction to compromise. Some kind of "We had to destroy the village in order to save it" mentality.

I'm not sure how much those characteristics say about the religions themselves. I mean, millions of people draw strength from religion to do good all over the world.

Then there are those few who just seem to connect to something extreme, something twisted and murderous, in the religious impulse. Something that can't see God in others, that can't see things as they really are, and can't even see how far out they have come from even the truths of their own faith.

4:19 PM  
Blogger FTN said...

This is an interesting discussion...

Cagedone: I think you are misunderstanding me. It's not an excuse for me to sin or "be less than what I can be" at all. One of the most important things in my life is to worship the God that I serve, and I can do that by my actions. That's VERY important.

However, my point is that I believe God to be perfect, and whether someone sins a little bit or a lot, they are ALL gonna come up short. Every one of us. Surely you don't believe anyone -- not even your friends that run programs for young kids -- can be absolutely perfect?

The basic tenet of Christianity is that all of us have sinned, and because of that, we are separated from God. That's why Jesus died, as a sacrifice, to "bridge" the gap between us and God. That doesn't mean that actions aren't important, but it does mean that I'm not going to get to heaven just by being a good person and sitting in a church pew on Sunday mornings.

You were right about one thing: You wrote that "Actions like these speak louder than any belief I can name." I agree that there are plenty of people out there that claim to be Christians, yet live decidedly "unGodly" lives.

Emily: I have to admit that I had no idea who Ian Paisley was. I suppose this shows the lack of information that many Americans have on the basic going-ons in other countries. From looking at Wikipedia, he seems to be rather abrasive politician and religious leader, but I didn't see anything about mass murder. But since I don't know much about him, it might be a bad example.

There are plenty of "religious fanatics." And terrorists of every faith, sure. One of my points is that EVERYONE has a belief system -- everyone has a "religion," even those that don't fit under Catholic/Jew/Muslim/whatever. We can say that fanatics and terrorists do have similar characteristics. They like to kill people. We could say that ANY murderer has a "religious impulse." Some of them are for the religion of sex, or for the religion of money, or thrills, or whatever. Whatever they are, they are, as you said, twisted and murderous.

I should probably mention that I hate the word "religion" anyways. I have a relationship with God. I'll skip the religion.

Sorry to hijack this post (oops, bad choice of words). I may have to write about "religion" on my blog next week.

7:42 AM  

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