9/11 film raises questions about all innocent victims
I JUST survived "United 93." The movie's unvarnished realism made me squirm. As the passengers and crew struggled to comprehend and then cope with the hijacking, I quaked with sorrow, then got angry. My distress was not only for the thousands who died or lost loved ones on Sept. 11, but for my own family, whose mother fell victim to a Black Panther's bomb 36 years ago.
Mom was combing her hair when the restroom exploded in the Dayton's department store in downtown St. Paul, Minn. As Dad tore away the shattered door to retrieve his shrapnel-lacerated mate, a second, much larger bomb waited in a nearby locker. Meant to level the building and bury scores of mobilized firefighters and police, it was discovered minutes before detonation. Four surgeons, two with Vietnam War experience, labored all night to save Mom's life, but the blast ruined her walking ability, shattered her hearing and scorched her lungs so badly she suffered chronic respiratory ailments that ultimately killed her.
Like United 93's passengers and crew, she was in the wrong place at the wrong time, an innocent victim during the upheaval of the civil rights revolution and Vietnam War protests. Like the hijackers, the Dayton's bomber -- the 15-year-old son of a civil rights activist -- was too young and wrathful to understand that progress requires not anger but inner strength, patience and unfailing persistence.
"I KNOW that young man's rage," Mom said from her bloodstained hospital bed when told whom police had arrested, her own life thwarted by gender prejudice. Her compassionate comment dampened even my father's anger and forced us to consider the underlying despair that too often drives people to invite hatred into their hearts.
My Depression-era mother also knew that part of life is brave perseverance. Following her example, my family responded to our crisis as another test of the human spirit -- to struggle on, as did survivors from Auschwitz, London, Dresden and Hiroshima, or people who lost friends and family in the melting trade center towers, or the Afghans and Iraqis whose loved ones now die from bullets and bombs.
The explosion ripped apart my mother's body, but her inner strength rallied. She stood firm in her belief that there was no point adding more hate to a situation already out of hand, that revenge could not heal her loss. Never losing faith that people determine the future, she resumed her lifelong civic activism.
PERHAPS HER past involvement in the civil rights and anti-war movements helped her recognize that the bomber's action -- and her injuries -- were directly tied to larger political and social problems. That's what heightened my sorrow and anger during the movie's poignant scenes of innocents besieged with fearful bewilderment. Besides the misguided terrorists, who else has blood on their hands from 9/11?
The irony of United 93's story is that through determination and resourcefulness, the blameless passengers died preventing the plane from reaching the U.S. Capitol, where for decades lawmakers had promulgated Middle East doctrines, oil policies and covert operations certain to frustrate and alienate the Arab world. After 9/11, our current politicians reacted with rage and rhetoric similar to that of the terrorists, even as the rest of the world offered us sympathy and compassion. Despite calls for calm and renewed peace efforts, America invaded two Arab nations and now threatens to attack Iran -- while thousands more innocent civilians die.
I STOOD numb in the theater's parking lot and concluded that everyone should endure "United 93" so they can feel in their own guts the passengers' fear and confusion -- and the waste of their lives. Maybe then -- inspired by those victims' heroic actions--we can muster the political courage to demand more than bloody rage from our leaders. Only then can the world community begin the long, hard work toward real security by committing ourselves to ending the belligerent violence spreading across the globe.
Tom Peek is a writer and teacher on the Big Island.