Nine years ago today, a group of Al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four large commercial jets, all filled with fuel for a cross-country flight. The first three hit their targets, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the passengers did not realize what was going to happen until it was too late. Americans' previous experience with skyjackers led us to expect that the plane would land in some rogue state, the perps would negotiate for a ransom and a safe getaway, and the hostages would be freed. Thus, airline passengers were taught not to resist, to avoid getting anyone hurt.
Flight 93 took off late. When the terrorists took over the plane, they encouraged the passengers to make cell phone calls and learn what happened. They may have thought it would add to their fear and suffering and make them more docile (though it's hard to speculate what someone with such a crazy set of priorities was thinking). Instead, the passengers were determined that the terrorists would not reach their goal. They managed to overpower the terrorists sufficiently to force them to ditch the plane in an empty field in Pennsylvania, far from the Capitol building, its presumed target.
Although everyone on board died, it is possible that thousands of lives were saved, including our Congress. You can make whatever jokes you like about Congress, but losing one branch of our government would have been a serious blow to our constitution and our way of life. It could have turned us into a military dictatorship.
The lesson I took from Flight 93 is that terrorists would never again be able to hijack a plane, because the passengers would not let them get away with it anymore. That lesson has been reinforced by the thwarted attempts of shoe-bomber Richard Reid (who was tacked by a couple of female flight attendants, then subdued with the help of nearby male passengers) and the Nigerian underwear bomber (who was also restrained by alert passengers).
For all of the security theater that takes place at airports these days, we are still the last, best defense against terrorism. And yet, for the past nine years, our government and their media accomplices have convinced us that we must be afraid in our daily lives. We must give up our privacy so that the government can protect us. We must be suspicious of those elderly Pakistani grocers on the corner. We must beat up a visiting Greek Orthodox priest asking for directions in broken English, because he has olive skin and must be a terrorist. We must keep those dangerous prisoners in Gitmo because their very presence in a U.S. supermax prison will somehow contaminate the community, as if they are radioactive.
Bullshit. Flight 93 was hijacked by Al Qaeda's best and brightest. Those men had trained for years for that mission, and at least one man (Zacarias Moussoui) was rejected as being too batshit crazy to be included. They were still taken out by a group of unarmed but determined passengers.
When we behave as though we have something to fear from our neighbors and we need to keep mosques out of town and allow the government to wiretap our phones in order to be safe, we dishonor Todd Beamer, Jeremy Glick and the other heroes of Flight 93. We all have it in us to be heroes. We have the power. We should use it responsibly.
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