April 24, 2006

"An action can be collectively willed but enacted by small groups."

Says Paul Greengrass, director of the film "United 93," who had to find a way to tell the story and not offend the families of the victims, many of whom did not want to see the men who took action "elevated" above the other passengers.

32 comments:

Jennifer said...

I have been wondering what the rumblings about offending the passengers families were. I had only thought of the "too soon" or "too real" discomfort for the families. It had not even occurred to me that the families of the passengers who either didn't act or whose actions are unknown were concerned about the valor of their loved ones. What an emotional minefield this has likely been for everybody.

Troy said...

I sympathize with both the families and greengrass, but eventually the story has to be told.

Not every GI ran up the beaches at Normandy a fair minority of them sat there, cried for mommy and shat their pants (an understandable response perhaps, but hardly the Rangers at Point du Hoc). Almost every act of collective bravery is accompanied by either inaction (either through inability or disagreement with the group's determination) or outright cowardice.

And besides that for the families -- the physical makeup of the plane only allows for a few people to be directly involved in any place.

PatCA said...

I think the reporter is searching for conflict here. All the families gave the movie their blessings. One show even headlined a story about it with scare headlines: Is It Too Soon...Hear What the Families have to say! blah, blah, and then the Beamers and a few others came on and said they thought the film was wonderful, that it wasn't too soon.

The more the media knocks it, the more times I plan on seeing it.

CB said...

I'm sure it would be extremely difficult to tell this very important story the way it should be told, and from what I've read so far, it seems like Mr. Greengrass has pulled it off. I always cringed at how the phrase "Let's roll" was bandied about after 9/11, and I'm glad to read that the movie doesn't sensationalize it.

By the way, Ann, the link goes to the second page of the article--funny thing is, I didn't even notice until I got to the bottom.

MadisonMan said...

I think the reporter is searching for conflict here.

More likely the director and studio are trying to generate conflict. Conflict sells tickets -- as your later comment demonstrates.

Synova said...

I've got a note stuck up by my desk with a phrase that I'm going to use in a story some day. I heard it from a Marine on some blog or other when bravery was being discussed. That phrase is "rationally fearful."

It was presented as a good thing, keeps people from being stupid.

There's fear and there's fear. I'm sure that every single person on that flight was equally afraid, and they had good reason to be, and equally brave, because they had no choice. They *should* be considered citizen warriors down to the very last grandma on board.

Brendan said...

many of whom did not want to see the men who took action "elevated" above the other passengers

Jeez. When did this become a competition? My heart breaks for these families, but this kind of pettiness could strain my sympathy.

LoafingOaf said...

I think the reporter is searching for conflict here.

I do too. They could've said the same thing about that excellent book about the WTC, 102 Minutes, where some people are revealed as heroes.

Everybody's always looking for controversy. It's no disparagement of the rest of us to tell the stories of extraordinary heroes.

Chris said...

Qui facit per alium, facit per se!

TWM said...

I don't suppose it needs pointing out that no one really knows who all actually did what and when on the flight. Other than the phone calls we don't have a clue. Maybe they all rushed up or maybe just a few.

And it doesn't really matter, does it?

The point is they tried.

Bissage said...

I plan not to see "United 93." Why? I don't know. Maybe because I jealously guard my imagination.

The Drill SGT said...

I respect the courage of all the passengers. We'll never know who did and didn't charge down the aisle, however, proven truisms of close combat and the geometry of the space lend credence to it having been done by a small proportion of the passengers. A military historian, SLA Marshall did ground breaking analysis during and just after WWII when he interviewed and analyzed the combat experiences of more than 500 rifle companies (150 men each). He found a number of global truths about combat:

1. Most men in even the most brutal battles don't fire their rifles. Marshall estimated that the number firing ranged from 15% average to 25% in elite units.
2. Men with crew served weapons fired more often, because their contribution was more visible to others and they felt they were contributing.
3. Men did not fight for God, Country or apple pie. They fought for the respect of their squad mates.

Given this pick-up group, only real self starters would break out of the mold. It was almost certainly 6+ athletes/big guys/natural leaders who charged down the aisle with others following. All may have done something, but it was led by real leaders.

rain_rain said...

Cause big guys and athletes are such natural leaders?

Bissage said...

. . . and some have greatness thrust upon them.

I'd like to second The Drill Sgt. Respect for all.

I don't remember where I heard it (maybe on the History Channel or something) but some old soldier remarked that every man who's never seen combat must at some point in his life wonder if he's a coward.

Many times I've asked myself what I would have done on that plane. Sometimes I like the answer. Sometimes I don't.

Troy said...

No but athletics teaches leadership in many who choose to learn that message. And last time I checked I'd rather have big guys in my fight than Chicken Little (or Kevin Covais) given the limited time I'd have to assess fighting ability. Relax rain rain... from what we know of the incident -- Sgt is right -- and besides that is an educated guess. You can put your money on little weenie guy types or 90 lb. beauty queens if you want (and you might win, but that's a helluva bet).

luagha said...

Big guys and atheletes have the benefit of peer pressure to help them - the other passengers naturally could look to them as being the biggest, strongest, and having the best chance.

The Drill SGT said...

luagha said...
Big guys and athletes have the benefit of peer pressure to help them

exactly...

the same as everyone expecting the 1 soldier wielding the 1 machine gun to be in the fight.

that "athletes/big guys/natural leaders" was an "or" condition. Something that made the others turn and look at them and something that drove them to decide they could not sit there passive.

as a personal aside, I remember a nasty flight into Detroit once on business, where we came in on final and aborted the landing and went around again. The cabin attendants spent time on the phone. My boss and I were sitting in cattle class but in an emergency exit row. The attendant was sitting in the jump seat across from us. She looked at us and said, "when we land, I'm going to be trying to get the doors open. You need to keep people back and off me till I get it open". My boss was a short guy, but a retired officer (like me) and weight lifter. We assured her that we were both ex-army officers and would support her in getting the job done. We went around Again and aborted again, then the pilot came on the intercom for the first time and announced, "well we've got a green light finally on the nose wheel and we're gonna try it again". Safe landing... The anti-climatic end to my almost heroic plane flight. My point is that, when she looked at us and asked for help, our background and experience made helping her a requirement, not optional.

Brendan said...

Who has problems with this movie? The family members? No. Conservatives? No. Libs/lefties? Yes. Why is that?

PatCA said...

Could be, MadisonMan, but that would be pretty Rovian to simultaneously seek the families' approval and suggest to the media they play up controversy (even if it doesn't exist, I guess you can frame the headline a certain way).

Meanwhile, I read that the suits are nervous and made Greenglass change the ending.http://www.libertyfilmfestival.com/libertas/?p=1507

Ann Althouse said...

Brendan: "Jeez. When did this become a competition? My heart breaks for these families, but this kind of pettiness could strain my sympathy."

We'll know we're in a new post-9/11 phase when someone makes a hilarious satire of the families. Matt Stone?

Ann Althouse said...

I don't see why anyone is surprised that big guys are more willing to fight than little guys. It's common sense. We all have different strategies depending on the attack. If you're bigger than your enemy you make different choices than if you're smaller. When you're smaller you try to think of some wily trick. When you're bigger you can go ahead and slam the enemy head on. If you go through life relatively small, you just don't develop the head-on attack style and the attitude that goes with it. You think of techniques for hiding and running and getting revenge in some backhanded way. And I'm sure the big guys are subjected to ridicule if they don't stand their ground. They're going to tend to learn to do what they need to do to avoid humiliation. It's not especially to their credit.

R C Dean said...

many of whom did not want to see the men who took action "elevated" above the other passengers

Maybe, just maybe, the people who actually did something that saves lives on the ground and strikes back at their enemies should be elevated above those who do nothing.

I'm just sayin'

Synova said...

Why do you use drill sgt if you were an officer? ;-)

I thought I'd point out something that other people might not get about what you've said, and that is, in relation to leadership, your experience and that of your friend not only made helping the stewardess a requirement, it also required accepting her leadership a requirement... even if she wasn't an athlete/big guy/natural leader... though if her request was as clear as you say she might have the last one.

The Drill SGT said...

Synova said...
Why do you use drill sgt if you were an officer? ;-)

College drop out (UCD)
Vietnam PFC
Post Vietnam Drill SGT
College Grad (UCD)
Regular army officer

Drill SGT makes a better moniker than ex-major

As for the stewardess, there's a saying in the Army.

"The guy in charge is the guy in charge."

She was the expert, we were the muscle, no shame in providing what support we could to the expert.

The Drill SGT said...

Synova said...
..in relation to leadership, your experience and that of your friend not only made helping the stewardess a requirement, it also required accepting her leadership a requirement...

The Army studies leadership alot. All groups have 2 leaders. The "de jure" and the "de facto" leaders. In good outfits they are the same. In bad ones, the leaders work at cross purposes.

She was the de jure leader by virtue of her position. We the small group decided, she was competent, trained, knew what she was doing and deserving of our support. We recognized that group survival was increased if we backed her. Effectively, we elected her the de facto leader as well. If she'd have been crying and moaning that "we are all gonna die" my boss would have done the door, I'd have blocked and we'd have tossed her down the slide after we got the door open to get her out of the way. :)

Synova said...

Well, yes. I understood that. And even the "if she was blubbering, that would be that" part of it. :-) I just figured other people might not.

And you've explained better than I did.

I'll bet that the "small group" of you and your friend reacted to her without having a discussion about it, too, if her request was as you've given it.

Leadership is an attitude as much as anything else and if people tend to look toward the big guy, I'm just pointing out, that neither of you would have been likely to try to take over *unless* there was an obvious need. Whereas someone with less discipline may well have needed convincing before before being comfortable taking on the role of "muscle."

Kris said...

I think some of the families were concerned that the only "brave" contributions shown were going to be those of a few big men/athletes rushing down the aisle. I absolutely do not mean to diminish what those people did, but I'm sure that brute strength wasn't the only weapon the passengers of United 93 had.

Many people on that plane contributed by gathering information from people on the ground. The remaining flight attendants boiled water and distributed whatever weapons they could think of to passengers to help with the flight. Who knows exactly who came up with their attack plan.

Chum said...

'Maybe, just maybe, the people who actually did something that saves lives on the ground and strikes back at their enemies should be elevated above those who do nothing.'

In that situation I would leave the action to bigger stronger people, which isn't the same as 'doing nothing'. I'd want the action takers to have a reasonable chance of success of overpowering the hijackers, and not leave it to someone my size.

Given this was a situation where everyone knew they were doomed it wasn't as if the action takers were the risk takers. At worst they risked being killed during their attack but it only saved them moments? minutes?

The quote is is very succinct.

bearbee said...

Chris said....
"qui facit per alium facit per se"


I had to look it up and then I had to think about it...

Bissage said...
"Many times I've asked myself what I would have done on that plane. Sometimes I like the answer. Sometimes I don't."


In life as well........

Mary said...

"You think of techniques for hiding and running and getting revenge in some backhanded way."

Sometimes you sit back and let the big (bad) guys beat themselves.

As far as "elevating" anyone, they all have families/loved ones left behind for that so why does that matter for a brief movie portrayal. Maybe those getting competitive can remember their shared ending; it's nicer to think about heroes than dead victims.

I liked Greengrass' earlier work Bloody Sunday, -- more challenging than overbearing with his "message".

ignacio said...

Mary said "Sometimes you sit back and let the big (bad) guys beat themselves."

Is this a fantasy or simple nonsense? A combination of the two?

Synova said...

In some situations at some times, it does work.

Obviously, if your plane get's hijacked by terrorists some other sort of action will be requried.