September 11, 2004

Something about Americans

I listened to the radio, watched a little (but not much) TV, read the papers this morning, and while 9/11 memorials were obviously the story, very little was said about the very ordinary Americans who did something extraordinary that day -- who chose to storm the cockpit of the hijacked Flight 93 and, in the first hours of the War on Terror, strike the first avenging blow against Islamist terror.

Joe Katzman of Winds of Change has written one of the most thorough and moving accounts of what those individuals did -- You can find it here, here, here and here.

I don't think I there's much to add to what Joe wrote, except to say that in the dark days after 9/11, the story of Flight 93, of how these people sacrificied their lives that others might live -- unlike the monsters they struck back at, who wanted to give their lives so others might die -- assured me that we would fight back, that we would persevere, and we would -- we will -- prevail.

I wish it was still online (I like the piece so much I downloaded it years ago -- it's been on three different Macs); in 1994, to commemorate D-Day, the American Spectator ran a piece by Yale Kramer, a professor of clinical psychology, on the U.S. landing at Omaha Beach. Kramer wrote,

It was individuals, not divisions, who determined the outcome that day. Disciplined training and experience are enormously helpful to the combat soldier in overcoming his terror in battle. When these are absent or minimal, as they were that morning, the fighting man must depend on his own personal motivations--his sense of honor, of duty, of loyalty to his comrades--and the leadership of those around him.

Among the tired, wet, scared groups of men huddled behind the sea wall waiting to be bombarded to death piecemeal by the enemies' mortars and artillery, a small number of leaders--officers, noncoms, and privates--began to emerge, and by example, exhortation, and bullying began to move the men up that slope, strewn with barbed wire and sown with mines, inch by inch. They were men like Staff Sergeant William Courtney and Private First Class William Braher of A Company's Fifth Ranger Battalion, who were probably the first Americans to reach the top of the cliff on the extreme western flank, around 8:30 a.m. When they gained the summit, they sent word to a company of the 116th Infantry below to follow them up, and a handful of men did so. ...

The 116th was new to combat, and having mislanded in front of a very heavily defended section of the beach, it lost most of its officers and so had become confused and dangerously demoralized. That is until General Norman Cota arrived at the western end of the beach and began prodding and rousing his men, leading from the front--a posture he was famous for--and exposing himself to enemy fire.

This was the situation everywhere along Omaha that morning, especially among the men who had never been in combat before. Every instinct told them to stay put and keep under cover. ...

Individual men--a succession of individual men, on their own, or leading small groups of ten or twenty, not under orders or according to some master plan, but out of a sense of desperation, or responsibility to their comrades, or honor, or pride, or all of them mixed together--began driving vital wedges into the German defenses all along the Omaha front. By mid-afternoon the Americans had overrun even the strongest of the German positions on Omaha.

I can't imagine what it must have been like to be on that plane, but like the noncoms and privates on Omaha Beach, like countless other Americans before them, they found it within themselves to overcome whatever fears they had, and to storm the enemy.

I remember the victims of September 11, and I mourn the dead, but it should not be forgotten that some of them, having discovered what was happening, struck the first blow in the War on Terror. In David Hackett Fischer's excellent Paul Revere's Ride, he tells of an aging Minuteman who was asked why it was that he fought the British regulars, a vastly superior army, all those years ago in Lexington and Concord. He explained:

"Young man, what we meant in going for those Redcoats was this: we had always governed ourselves and we always meant to. They didn't mean we should."

The Islamofascists on Flight 93, with their utopian, impossible dream of a pan-Caliphate run on their twisted view of Islam, were planning to hit either the Capitol or White House or some other symbol of our intention to govern ourselves. The passengers on Flight 93 went after them. That's what I would most like to remember about 9/11, and to never forget about Americans.

Posted by Ideofact at September 11, 2004 11:56 PM

Amen to that. Giuliani did a good job in the aftermath, but I always thought TIME should have made the passengers of Flight 93 the Persons of the Year.

Posted by: Thomas Nephew at September 12, 2004 12:41 PM