Friday, April 28, 2006

United 93 and the Seven Minutes

Just returned from seeing "United 93." I think much of its almost non-stop intensity is achieved through verisimilitude: many of the FAA controllers and military leaders and bureaucrats were played by themselves, and mportant dramatic moments were captured on tape, enabling writer/director Peter Greengrass to recreate them with incredbile precision.

But I wonder -- how much of the communications between the FAA and the military and the White House depicted in the film are also true? I ask because several references are made in the film to the need for presidential approval of rules of engagement. The military needs approval to bring down this commercial plane if it is deemed necessary to prevent greater harm. Only the President can grant this approval. Requests are made, but neither denial nor approval is forthcoming, to the great frustration of the commanders on the ground.

Given the filmmaker's efforts at accuracy throughout the film (and simple common sense), I'm imagining efforts were indeed made to learn the President's mind on this rather imporatant little matter. In fact, we know this is true, because we know the message got to him -- we saw Andy Card whisper it in his ear in that famous bit of footage. And then we watched him keep on reading to those kids for SEVEN MINUTES while some of the most serious shit in history is going down outside.

Radio Right will tell you that during those seven minutes, the country was perfectly safe. That despite being informed by his Chief of Staff that the country was under attack, the President's team had every thing covered and the President did just what he should have. But If "United 93" is accurate on this point about the need for rules of engagement approval, then that's not true. Our President was desperately needed. If not for actual leadership, at the very least for his authority. But he couldn't even give that.

Fortunately, we had Mark Bingham and Todd Beamer and the other passengers of United 93 to be decisive when the President wouldn't be.

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