77 minutes after an airliner struck the first of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11, the 40 passengers and crew of United 93 fought back against the hijackers of their plane, which was intended to strike Washington DC. Their courage prevented what might have been even greater devastation, and even greater success for Osama Bin Ladin, on that day.
Yet, the overwhelming media coverage and political attention at the time, and now, is devoted to the dramatic damage inflicted in New York and Washington.
While it is human nature to grieve the loss that happened and to take for granted the loss that was prevented, I believe that it is proper to celebrate Flight 93 as the American Thermopylae. Like the out-numbered Greeks who held Persia at bay long ago, the passengers of Flight 93 saved the national government from catastrophic harm.
The national narrative about 9/11 deserves to be re-balanced to give Flight 93 a weight equal to that of the fall of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon fire. In addition to loss, we as a nation are entitled to feel tremendous pride that the Americans on Flight 93 exemplified the best attributes of our heritage: Initiative, bravery, self-sacrifice, resolution, and willingness to act together for the greater good. In the last 30 minutes of their lives, they held a vote on whether to fight back. In a mere 30 minutes after being hijacked, they defeated the fourth attack by the terrorists on 9/11.
The memorial to the Twin Towers in New York is a massive, elegant and dignified monument to loss, and to the courage of the 9/11 first responders. The Flight 93 memorial is low-key, minimalist, and somber, even rustic. When you go there you have the sense that the primary keepers of the memory of Flight 93 are the locals who had a plane dropped on them, rather than a grateful nation.
Flight 93 has received attention in TV and movies. As good as those stories are--and the movie United 93 is wonderful--they are stories about Flight 93 as an event.
I am currently outlining a book on Flight 93, addressing the larger question of its place (or more properly, absence) in the political and cultural narrative of 9/11. Hopefully, given the passage of time, such reconsideration will be accepted.