Pennsylvania is home to the eternal resting places of many American heroes. The most recent to join that honored company are the passengers and crew of United flight 93. Forty Americans, randomly selected by the vagaries of travel and schedules. Forty men and women thrown together by blind and impartial fate. Forty fellow citizens who in a few minutes of life, a few minutes for which nothing in their collective experience could have prepared them, made a collective decision of magnificent courage.
These Americans decided to die not on their knees as fearful captives but as free people fighting. Free people fighting--whether literally as was the case of those who died at Gettysburg or metaphorically as is the reality for so many of us and our ancestors seeking to do more than simply survive in the face of adversity--has defined the American nation and its collective character since our beginning.
Amid the saccharine, multi-cultural, interfaith, touchy-feely drivel which spread as a sentimental and cheapening miasma through the Tenth Anniversary commemorations, the stark bravery of the Flight 93 Forty shines as the real torch of humanity. Their sacrifice, taken freely after a democratic vote, offsets the evil of the Muslim terrorists and mass murderers. They, like the first responders who entered the Twin Towers while all who could leave were doing so, redeem humanity from the stain placed upon it by the Muslims who killed with the words "Allah akbar" on their lips.
Contemplating the forty who died on the remote field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, one can only wonder, "Would I have been so brave? Would I have chosen to die on my feet fighting rather than on my knees in fear?" One can only be thankful not to have had the dreadful necessity of making this choice.
The ceremony at Shanksville as well as those at the Twin Towers and the Pentagon made the Geek think about the tenth anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Geek was alive and sentient at the time of the tenth anniversary, 7 December 51. He was an avid follower of the to and fro movement of the war the US was fighting at the time, the "police action" in Korea. His memories were quickly confirmed: There was no particular commemoration of the Japanese strike. Certainly, there were no high profile events involving past and present presidents of the US as has been the case this weekend. Headlines focused on the war in Korea, the economy, and even crime but not on any marking of the anniversary of the event which did well and truly change both the US and the world.
It has been said with nauseating frequency that 9/11 changed the US and the world in ways both profound and impossible to describe. The Geek remembers saying just that to Her Geekness as the first reports came over the radio. (Ten years ago there was no satellite Internet or television available in the canyon.) The Geek and the many pundits were wrong. At least the Geek is willing to admit that.
The events of 9/11/01 did not change the world. The changes, particularly the open warfare between advocates of violent political Islam and the civilized states of the world, had been underway since the Iranian Islamic Revolution and the Muslim based resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, both dating from 1979. Al-Qaeda had been in existence for years before the manned cruise missiles hit New York, Washington, and the field outside of Shanksville. Osama bin Laden's declaration of war was six years old. The US had already been attacked both at home (World Trade Center 1993) and abroad, in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Kenya, and Tanzania.
9/11 made the war unmistakable and inescapable. While the strategy and tactics employed by the US in response may well have been faulty and counterproductive, the war was not of our making or wanting. While the idea of a "global war on terror" is both logically flawed and impossible in the real world, the continuation of the war and the threats of terror behind it are not of our making, our desire, our policy. The "war" both past and future is the sole creation of those who espouse and practice violent political Islam.
There is no doubt but most Americans want out of this perhaps never ending war, but such is impossible. We are all rather like the passengers and crew on flight 93, the challenge, the threat, the war has been brought to us by others, by others who desire to harm, to kill, to destroy us and all we and our ancestors have created. Like the Flight 93 Forty we have to choose: Fight for freedom or die on our knees captives to fear.