"Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction." ~ Blaise Pascal
Why I Didn't Watch 'United 93'
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I didn't watch "United 93" for the same reason I don't watch movies about the Holocaust, even though my grandparents spent three years in a concentration camp and most of my mother's relatives were murdered by the Nazis. I don't watch movies that imply heroic status on victims of terror, especially when terror is of the politically incorrect variety. The passengers on Flight 93 knew they were going to die a horrible death after talking on their cell phones and hearing about what happened at the World Trade Center. Their only chance of surviving, however slim, was to retake the plane and hope that somehow they might be able to land the plane safely. That is not heroism, but rather the human instinct for self-preservation influencing the behavior of the passengers.
As to the Holocaust, contrary to myths and distortions of reality, the millions of Jews murdered by the Nazis were not heroes or martyrs for their religion. They were not killed because of what they believed but because of who they were, and because of who their ancestors were, in accordance with the laws of racial purity existing in Germany at the time. They were about as heroic as African natives captured by slave traders, put in chains, and shipped to America. Though millions of Africans died during the passage, I've never heard them referred to as heroes or martyrs.
My idea of heroism is someone who intentionally puts themselves in harm's way to save others. When a French airliner traveling to Israel was hijacked to Uganda thirty years ago, the Gentile passengers and crew were released. The Captain and other crew members, however, chose to stay behind rather than abandon their Jewish passengers to whatever fate would await them. Eventually, everybody was rescued in an Israeli commando raid. Other examples of heroism are the Gentiles who hid Jewish refugees in their homes during the Holocaust, and white abolitionists who assisted runaway slaves in the underground railroad to Canada.
I think people mistakenly tend to equate heroism with goodness, and cowardice with evil. Yet, history is full of examples of brave people who did evil things. One of the most highly decorated soldiers in the German Army during World War One was an obscure corporal named Adolph Hitler. Another Nazi leader, Herman Goering, was a World War One fighter pilot who had been shot down and severely injured, yet returned to flying a few months later. Goering became one of Germany's top aces with 22 confirmed kills and was awarded the highest decoration for bravery.
Another reason I don't watch movies about victims of political terror is the way they are used to justify "payback," or some other agenda that involves making others suffer and pay for what happened. Despite my family history (or maybe because of it) I become very annoyed when I hear phrases like "Never Again" and other references to the Holocaust used to defend Israeli actions against Palestinians and American support for those actions. The last few years the world has witnessed how the "Empire Strikes Back" after September 11, and movies like "United 93," however well made, only add more fuel to the fire that has already engulfed other countries in the Middle East and elsewhere.
There is a joke I heard many years ago that is ironically appropriate to "United 93" and subsequent events. A transatlantic passenger plane has mechanical problems, and the pilot asks for volunteers to jump out and lighten the load. An Englishman yells "God Save the Queen" and jumps, followed by a Frenchman who yells "Vive La France." Then a Texan gets up, yells "Remember the Alamo," and throws out a Mexican. This seems like a good way to describe America's actions toward the rest of the world post-September 11, and given all that has occurred since that fateful day maybe it would be better if Americans did not remember so much.