Friday, October 20, 2006


World Trade Center, Revisited

I know it’s far too late to influence potential movie-goers, but I wanted to comment on the extraordinary movie I saw last night at the local neighborhood discount movie house.

Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center.

As a movie, it’s probably less impressive than the story it could have told.

I hoped to see some glimpse of what went on inside the Towers. Throughout the movie, I kept thinking about what Rick Rescorla was doing in Tower Two in the minutes leading up to the Towers’ collapse, evacuating tens of thousands, going back for more. (For a great account of Rescorla, a tribute to his many acts of courage and devotion to duty, see Mudville’s Rick Rescorla Was a Soldier.)

As Rescorla evacuated thousands, as NYFD responders streamed in and out of the Towers, officers John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno were among a team of Port Authority Police that deployed to the disaster scene, and were organizing and equipping themselves at the base of the Tower, and preparing to climb into eternity.

Through the most miraculous of circumstances, McLoughlin and Jimeno managed to survive the collapse of both towers and agonizing hours trapped in the massive debris field of the WTC.

McLoughlin asks himself during his entombment, “What good did we do?” They answered the call, and catastrophe fell upon them before they could complete their mission. The two were the only survivors from the small team (6 or so?) assembling on the concourse that morning.

As an account of the survival of the two Port Authority Police officers rescued from the living hell that was Ground Zero, it’s an honorable and emotional tribute, to these men and their families, and to all those who toiled in sorrow and mourning on that twisted, hopeless pile.

Mrs. Manly had a powerful reaction to a scene in which Allison Jimeno comes out into her neighborhood the night of 9/11. When every home, in the city or anywhere in America, had TVs flickering with the news that ran all that day, the endless footage of the planes, the towers, for those brief moments in time. Before those who craft our culture decided we didn’t need to see them anymore.

The sound track brilliantly captures what must have seemed to her an anguished cacophony of overlapping and jumbling ruminations and pronouncements on this day that changed everything, forever.

She stumbles along the street, not knowing where to turn, having nowhere to turn, wanting to block it all out. Alone, struggling to stand, losing hope.

Mrs. Manly remarked, that’s how I felt a lot of times while you were in Iraq. I thought too, how often it felt that Mrs. Manly and Little Manly kept me alive.

God may have been my Rock and my salvation, but the Saints he sent my way in the person of wife and son and daughters,  planned for me before the World began, were ever much and ever more, warm confirmation that first He loved me, that I might love and honor Him.

Stone’s WTC is a noble, honorable, honest depiction of human triumph in the midst of the most horrible expression on human brutality.

The film made me very uncomfortable. I was often on the edge of my seat, in tears, or gasping, or remembering how often I sat this same way on 9/11, transfixed by news reporting, my hand over my mouth, as if keeping something safely within.

The thunderous crashes around the base of the Towers as the fires raged above. Otherworldly, unexplained. An escalation of dread and terror, little time for mourning, while hope collapsed with thousands of tons of steel and glass and humanity.

The families are shown gathering in a dreary Belleview cafeteria. Panic and fear awash in bad coffee, noisy worry, and anxious prayer. Packed as tightly in their postponed grief as those miracles awaiting rescue among the carnage.

For many, many thousands, they still dwell in these rooms of sorrow. Bereft of a loved one, lacking even scant evidence of final moments. Far too many left behind.

This is not the last of such reflections on the day, on the war against us. We will revisit and mourn anew this day of grief. It is well that we remember, and dedicate ourselves to whatever we must do, to do our best to prevent any such attack upon innocents, as this.

I remarked in passing, that those who shape our culture, our arts and our media, decided soon after 9/11 that America must not be allowed to dwell on the images of carnage and destruction that was 9/11.

They claim higher moral purposes in cleansing our civic and cultural life of these images. Some, feared angry retribution, vengeance and violence. Some sought to respect the grief-stricken. Clearly, some sought to prevent a militarization they feared and political ascendancy they opposed. Many see vindication in dispiriting reportage, public opposition, and political polarization.

I think we need to revisit 9/11 often, for as long as the Nation exists. Not to anger or inflame, but to remind us of how high are the stakes, how brutal are our enemies, how sudden can be catastrophe, and how immediate can be the call upon us, to action, and to eternity.

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