9/11, the movie

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(HOST) Recently commentator David Moats saw the movie about the events of nine-eleven. It didn’t move him as much as he expected – but it did make him think.

(MOATS) I went to see the movie “World Trade Center,” and there was hardly anyone there. People told me later, “I don’t want to see that. I saw it already, for real.” There was talk in the papers about whether the movie had come too soon – or too late – whether we were ready to take another look at that horrible day.

It was a good movie – well-made, dramatic, tear-inducing. But I began to think about its effect – or its lack of effect – and about what we have gone through since the day the towers came down.

The movie’s effect was strong. There was the terrible ordeal of the two cops trapped for hours under giant heaps of rubble and the ordeal of their families. And then there was the relief that came from their rescue. Yes, you thought. It might have been like that.

But the movie had a curious lack of effect too. It didn’t stick with me, and the reason, I think, was it didn’t tell me anything new. We already knew about the bright sunny morning, people going to work, the shock and confusion, people trying to learn what had happened, and then the immense catastrophe. We already knew about the losses and the heroism. And we knew how it all turned out.

When I came out of the movie theater, it occurred to me that the problem with the movie is that five years later we remain stuck in the moment. We haven’t really moved on.

Nine-eleven came as a terrific blow to our national self-confidence. The usual questions followed: How could this happen, why do they hate us, who is to blame? And having taken this fearsome, confidence-shaking blow, we responded with a deadly combination: fear – and fury.

We were inspired by the steadiness and determination of the rescue efforts. But our response went beyond that. We rushed to pass laws and to initiate programs that the courts have already started to discard. Our leaders approved policies that have entangled us in extraordinary violations of human decency. And of course, the anger over 9/11 became the fuse for a war in a nation that, as most now admit, including the president, had nothing to do with the attack on 9/11.

We’ve not been able to move on from 9/11 because we’re still mired in the mistakes that followed from 9/11. Many people responded with bravery, including the service men and women who found themselves caught up in one struggle or another. But too many of our leaders responded with fear – that they might be blamed, that they didn’t have a grip, that enemies were everywhere.

The only way we can make 9/11 part of the past is to stand up to our fears, to meet what lies ahead with courage, and also with wisdom and compassion.

Sure, there are those who might strike again. We can deal with it. We don’t like it. But we don’t have to panic and do things that make us ashamed. Then a few years from now someone will make a movie about 9/11, and people will go see it, like they go see movies about World War II, and they’ll say, “I’m glad we got through that.”

David Moats is the editorial page editor for the Rutland Herald and winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. He spoke from studios at Middlebury College.

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