World Trade Center

August 12, 2006

Last night Marlene and I saw World Trade Center, the new movie from Oliver Stone about the rescue of two New York Port Authority policemen from the rubble of the Twin Towers on 9/11. Both of us were choked up by the end. I imagine that everyone who sees the movie will relive that awful day and will think about where they were when they heard the news. The movie is a triumph because it focuses on the lives of two men, both of them decent, honorable, ordinary police officers who served alongside hundreds of other equally decent and honorable men who didn’t survive that day. You are reminded again of the disbelief, the shock, the terror and ultimately the anger we all felt on that Tuesday morning almost five years ago. Certain scenes stay in the mind. In a bus on their way to the WTC before the first tower fell, the officers pass by a man in the street who apparently has had a heart attack. It is a portent of things to come. You see them all staring at the man as the bus hurries on by. Seconds later one officer says to another, “We weren’t prepared for anything like this.” The scene of the collapsing building perfectly catches the unimaginable horror of that moment. From then on the movie focuses on the two men who ultimately survive–two out of only twenty dug from the rubble. Oliver Stone said the movie is apolitical, and it is in one sense. But when one man in an office declares, “Whether you know it or not, we’re at war,” and when a former Marine puts on his combat fatigues and goes to Ground Zero, when that same Marine says late in the movie, “It’s going to take a lot of good men to avenge this,” you realize the larger implications.
We are at war.
We’ve been at war.
We are still at war.
If you doubt that, consider the foiled plot to blow up ten U.S.-bound jumbo jets over the Atlantic. They were going to do it next Wednesday.
As I walked out of the theater, I thought to myself that it would be a good thing if every American watched United 93 and World Trade Center back to back. Then perhaps we would understand that Newt Gingrich is right when we says we are living in the opening days of World War III.
Early this morning a friend and I took an 18-mile bike ride through the bucolic Mississippi countryside. It happens that my friend is an expert on cell phone technology. When I asked him if it is true that a cell phone could be used as a detonator for a bomb, he said it was simple to do. Just a matter of setting up the battery to give off a spark at the right time. Any electrical engineer could do the wiring. When we got back home, I heard a discussion on TV about Iran’s potential nuclear capability. One sober-minded man said he thought Israel would nuke Tehran if necessary in order to stop them. No one argued with him.
The movie ends with a reminder that though 9/11 unleashed evil on the world, it also brought Americans together in a way that hasn’t happened in our lifetime before or since. Out of tragedy came hope, and for a fleeting moment, national unity. If the movie reminds us of the true nature of the war we are in right now, it will do even more good than Oliver Stone intended.

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