April 20, 2006,
“Too soon!” some New York filmgoers recently yelled after seeing the trailer for United 93, the new movie about the Boeing 757 that crashed September 11, 2001, in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. When this heart-pounding, gut-twisting picture opens April 28, four years, seven months, and 17 days will have elapsed since 9/11. Is that too soon?
Islamofascists do not know the words “too soon.”
Just 13 months after 9/11, al Qaeda franchisees bombed nightclubs in Bali on October 12, 2002, killing 202 people, including seven Americans.
Exactly two and a half years after 9/11, al Qaeda attacked trains in Madrid, on March 11, 2004, killing 191 commuters.
Nearly three years and 10 months after 9/11, al Qaeda struck yet again, on July 7, 2005, killing 52 on the London Underground and a local bus.
Almost daily, al Qaeda in Iraq blasts Iraqis, Americans, and others through ceaseless acts of stunning viciousness.
United 93 arrives just in time. As we bicker over Donald Rumsfeld’s job security by day and obsess over American Idol by night, writer-director Paul Greengrass offers a harrowing reminder of what’s in play on Earth today.
In a film of devastating emotional power, Greengrass traces that morning’s mounting horrors. This is no PC film crafted by moral relativists in Malibu. As soon as Universal Studios’ logo fades to black, a man quietly prays in Arabic. He holds a small Koran in his palms while sitting atop a motel bed. “It’s time,” one hijacker announces, and their murderous journey begins.
United 93 should bury for good the absurd cliché that violent Muslim zealots are “cowards.” Rather than watch their knees knock together like castanets, the four al Qaeda agents on the doomed flight are focused and ruthless. When a cockpit screen announces, “Two a/c [aircraft] hit World Trade Center,” the al Qaeda agents celebrate. “The brothers have hit the targets,” says pilot Ziad Jarrah. “We’re in control,” replies hijacker Saeed al Ghamdi. “Thanks be to God.”
Behind them, ordinary Americans who had been eating omelets, knitting, and perusing travel guides quickly discern that their plane is a missile, and they mount a plan to retake it.
Though their jet slammed upside down into a field at 580 MPH, United 93’s 44 passengers surely spared many more lives than they sacrificed. They also likely saved the U.S. Capitol, whose photo Jarrah affixes like prey to the airliner’s steering column.
“That final image haunts me a physical struggle for the controls of a gasoline-fueled 21st-Century flying machine between a band of suicidal religious fanatics and a group of innocents drawn from amongst us all,” Greengrass said. “It’s really, in a way, the struggle for our world today.”
Greengrass uses little known actors and even some real-life air-traffic controllers and military tacticians who were on duty on 9/11. They make the film feel like a documentary, or perhaps a reality TV show captured on celluloid. The cast appears perfectly authentic as they grapple with a growing sense of doom and an increasingly unfathomable challenge.
One performance stands out among many fine ones. Ben Sliney ran the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, from which it coordinated air-traffic controllers’ response to the hijackings. It also quickly grounded some 4,500 aircraft across America. Sliney supervised all this on 9/11, his first day on that job. He is portrayed rivetingly on screen by none other than Ben Sliney himself.
This fine film’s verisimilitude parallels recent, real-world developments.
“Shall we pull it down?” Jarrah asks another hijacker as passengers bang on the cockpit door.
“Yes, put it in it, and pull it down,” the other replies. “Allah is the greatest.”
Those words are on tapes played at the death-penalty trial of al Qaeda agent Zacarias Moussaoui. His Arctic demeanor mirrors the ice-cold evil that runs through the veins of those who have declared war on America and our allies.
“We [Muslims] have to be above you,” the so-called 20th hijacker testified April 13. “You [Americans] have to be subdued.” He added, “No regrets. No remorse,” expressing his hope that 9/11 “happened on the 12th, the 13th, the 14th, and the 15th…every day until we get you.”
Newsday’s John Riley reported a touching anecdote in a story about Moussauoui’s trial. On April 11, Nicholas Hughes the nephew of the late Kris Hughes, slain in the Twin Towers wrote his uncle a letter. “Grandma,” Nicholas asked Kris’ mother, Elaine, “how does the postman know what planet to go to?”
Meanwhile, 456 bone slivers were discovered atop the condemned Deutsche Bank building across from Ground Zero the giant, open wound that shamefully festers where the Twin Towers once soared. These fragments may help identify some of the 1,151 individuals whose survivors have yet to bury their loved ones’ earthly remains.
Also, New Jersey coroner Dr. James Kay has determined that NYPD detective James Zadroga, 34, died from “exposure to toxic fumes and dust” during his 470 hours of rescue and recovery service at Ground Zero, just after the attacks.
“Detective Zadroga was the 24th officer to die as a result of the World Trade Center attack,” Detectives Endowment Association President Michael Paladino told the New York Post’s Murray Weiss and Cathy Burke. “The original 23 died that day, but he died years later.”
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D., N.Y.) told the Post that Zadroga’s autopsy “confirms what we’ve long feared: that the death toll from 9/11 is still growing.”
Too soon? This story never stopped.
Deroy Murdock is a New York-based columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a senior fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Arlington, Virginia.