car·riage re·turn

n. the lever or mechanism on a typewriter that would cause the cylinder on which the paper was held (the carriage) to return to the left margin of the page

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United We Stand

I don’t ever want to see United 93 again.

As a platoon function,the guys I work with voted to spend the early portion of Thursday afternoon watching United 93. Having a decent idea of what was in store,I abstained from voting. To be honest,I really didn’t want to go. I still wish I didn’t watch that movie,wish I’d walked out,wish I could just forget everything it made me remember,but deep down,even though I hate admitting it,I’m grateful (though not glad) I saw it.

Not often does one go to a movie knowing exactly how the plot will unfold,exactly how the movie will end. From the moment United 93 starts,however,you know precisely what is going to happen. And,just like being in a horrible automobile wreck,it seems to unravel at a painfully slow pace,allowing your brain to grasp every horrific detail as it is presented. You’re strapped in,unable to alter the course of the action. Crying out changes nothing,closing your eyes does not prevent the worst from happening;it merely means you only refuse to accept the full burden of knowledge.

United 93 angered me in ways I haven’t been angry in years. It provoked and mocked me at every turn,forcing the light of reality into my writhing brain,dredging up memories with a galvanized blade,daring me to deny anything I was presented. I hated every minute of it,but I watched. No weak stomach or faintness of heart can excuse me of the responsibility I have to bear witness to everything that went on that day.

I’m grateful to be the age I am,to have had the window of opportunity presented to me to serve this country in the wake of an event that has changed the lives of every single American,and every single person on this earth. We have all been bystanders,and it is up to us to remember forever,no matter how painful or infuriating,what went on.

I remember being in the Butchery lab on the lower floor of Le Cordon Bleu,breaking down a side of beef,when one of the other students came into the classroom. The whine of the bandsaw I was using on the beef was too loud for me to hear what was said,but soon a friend came over. I turned the saw off,and he told me the World Trade Center had been hit by a plane. At first I thought he meant the Trade Center in St. Paul,where friends of mine were at work,but he clarified,saying it was one of the towers in Manhattan.

Class continued,but no one was paying attention. Students would wander out into the hall,listening to a radio that Eileen,the director of student resources,had placed outside her office. We slumped against the walls,listening to the every breaking report,conversing in small groups and low tones,muttering words like “JFK,”“Oklahoma City,”and “war”under our breath.

We went home that night,and I immediately headed to the store and bought whatever extra food I could afford,filled up the Volvo with fuel,and returned home to drink a good deal of Wild Turkey. The next day was my birthday,but my mind was no closer to turning twenty than Neptune is to the sun.

Less than a year later,only two months after finishing culinary school,I’d taken the oath of enlistment and was preparing to say goodbye to my family.

I was just one of many younger Americans who felt a call. I’ve served with guys from all over this country who left the plow standing in the middle of the field,either literally or figuratively,to be a part of what we hoped would be an effective solution. I’ve gone on patrols alongside a guy from New York City with an MBA who had friends that never made it out of the towers alive. I fought through boot camp,training schools,and a hostile ground tour with former firefighters,electricians,paramedics,undertakers,computer programmers,cops,college students,and pothead high school dropouts who had been scraping by with a job at McDonald’s. We weren’t there to stop IT from happening,but we were damned sure IT wouldn’t ever happen on our watch.

It’s hard to believe nearly five years have passed since The Day. My memories have been forced underground,compounded by the weight of almost four years in the military,a deployment to one of the nastiest places in Iraq,and the everyday silt that accumulates in the creases of the mind. Today those memories were shot to the surface and sandblasted clean.

Sadly,it was obvious that the new kids who have joined our unit,and who watched the film with us,don’t share the same perspective. Many of these kids were only in their mid-teens when IT went down,a scary adult problem,parents with worried looks,a few days off of school,then back to life again as normal. They don’t have much of a perception regarding how life shifted in the wake of those early autumn events five years ago. But for the guys I came in with,“normal”is a world we’ll never see again,a world we said goodbye to when we woke up that morning and went to work,to school. No matter how many of us stay in for a career or go on to other parts of our life after our time is up,we’ll always be the First Responders,the guys who remember the urgent feeling deep in our heart that we needed to take care of something.

United 93 brought anger,frustration,and sadness. For me,the anger and frustration was directed not at an ethnic group,a foreign government,or even a terrorist organization,but at us. We failed that day. Or rather,our system failed. The film confronts you with this bluntly:

Individuals crucial to the tracking of and reaction to the hijackings aren’t where they’re supposed to be,aren’t able to be contacted.

No one is communicating with anyone else,let alone in a timely or effective manner.

The Air Force has no standard operating procedure in place to deal with the situation (after the disbelieving supervisor finally confirms it to be a “real world”situation instead of a training operation or drill),and they have insufficient equipment and access to deal with the situation.

The Air Force can’t pass along RoE (Rules of Engagement) to their pilots. Shooting down a hijacked aircraft on a suicide run takes approval of the President of the United States,who can’t be contacted,even though he’s flying on Air Force One. When they finally do get the approval to shoot down suspicious aircraft,military commanders don’t take action,fearing they’ll make the wrong decision.

The Air Force had to clear emergency fighter jet patrols with the damn FAA. And the stupid sonsofbitches at the FAA denied their clearance.

Bullshit. All bullshit. The fact that we were sitting ducks,protected only by our own illusion of safety (witness the disbelief in the voice of every individual when told of a new hijacking),is one thing. But my true anger and frustration comes from my personal,first-hand knowledge and experience with the bureaucracy,politics,and red-tape that handcuffs the entire military and any associated governmental agency. It maimed us back then,and it continues to mortally wound us through the State and Defense departments’mismanagement of the war.

The anger and frustration continues because five years later we’ve not come one step closer to catching the individuals ultimately responsible for the deaths of so many regular folks. We’ve mired ourselves in the quicksandish occupation of a nation which had absolutely no effective connection to the terrorist acts. We’ve killed innocents,ruined lives and entire cities,alienated an entire region of the planet,needlessly spilled the blood of our own military,and wasted trillions of dollars.

Meanwhile,the families of the dead are still without justice.

The sadness came from the telephone calls made by the passengers and stewardesses on board United Flight 93,the brief,choking goodbyes to loved ones and friends,the anguished thought in the back of my mind that one of them got a busy signal from their spouse,parent,or child’s telephone. The humanity of that situation is beyond anything of that I’ve ever experienced in any other film,the sadness more profound than any other emotion I’ve had provoked by art in my life.

The MPAA gave United 93 an “R”rating for “language,and some intense sequences of terror and violence.”I believe this to be a complete crock of bullshit as well. This film shouldn’t have received a rating at all. No one should have to see this,but everyone must in time shoulder the responsibility to remember.

Go see United 93. Don’t see it alone;go with the person you love the most. Hold that loving hand,put your arm around those shoulders,and think about how precious that individual is to you. Don’t look away or close your eyes,no matter how hard it is. Remember how you felt Then,look at where you’ve gone since Then,and then do something about changing the course of action.

Words and resolutions to get us out of Iraq,to alter the fight,will only do us so much. The killers are still at large,and the administration that is supposed to be pursuing them has completely failed to bring them to justice. Once again,it falls to the common people to charge the up the aisle and make right a situation out of control.

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