Archive for October, 2011

October 31, 2011

Flight 93: American Heroes

by Nathan Hershey

[Evie’s article on this topic: Flight 93: Acknowledging Diversity ]

I am very interested in recording my thoughts about Flight 93.  It was a response by thirty-three airline passengers and seven crew members to one of the terrorist attacks made on September 11, 2001.  The 9/11 hijackings were conducted by terrorists targeting American aircrafts.  I want to focus on the attack made on United Airlines Flight 93.  Unlike the other three 9/11 stories, the behavior of this flight’s forty passengers and crew thwarted these terrorists’ ultimate goals from being accomplished.  These goals were the destruction of a major building in Washington, DC, and the killing of hundreds, if not thousands, of Americans.

The resistance by the flight’s passengers and crew should be viewed as a story of American heroism.  The passengers included two individuals of other nationalities, but all of the passengers and crew banded together in an act of unusual bravery.  It was an unplanned engagement between ordinary people and enemy forces that evolved into a fierce struggle for control of the aircraft.  After learning of the attacks made on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and discussing their options for about half an hour, the passengers and crew reached a unanimous consensus that they should confront the hijackers and attempt to regain control of the flight.  The passengers and crew were victorious, and brought down the plane in a field near the small town of Shanksville in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, about eighty miles southeast of Pittsburgh.  It is not known with absolute certainty where the terrorists intended to fly the plane, but many suspect they would have tried to fly it into either the White House or the United States Capitol Building in Washington, DC.

Our knowledge of their bravery is based on cockpit voice recordings and phone calls made by passengers and crew shortly before the plane crash, while they were debating whether to engage with the hijackers, and during the engagement itself.  One of the passengers, Todd Beamer, has become famous for his statement, “Let’s roll,” before the men and women stormed into the cockpit and overpowered the hijackers.  We have no way of knowing how many more lives would have been lost that day if these brave individuals had not thus intervened in the hijackers’ plans to fly the plane into their targeted building.

The story attests to the human capacity for courage and compassion, in this case the courage and compassion of the passengers and crew who fought and were successful in averting a greater disaster, even though they all lost their lives.  If they had not regained control of the flight, they were doomed, but their actions suggest the possibility of compassion that extended beyond self-interest.  Sandy Dahl, the wife of Flight 93’s Captain Jason Dahl, called their actions a “selfless sacrifice.”  The story plays a substantial role in demonstrating how ordinary people can rise to the level of achieving an important success in a larger battle, even at the cost of their lives.

A national memorial has been constructed near the area where the plane went down.  The family members of the passengers and crew, as well as emergency first responders, community members who lived nearby the crash site, and other concerned Americans have left tens of thousands of personal tributes at this location.  These items include pictures, flowers, hats, patches, stickers, poems, medals, and other memorabilia.  A film tribute was released in 2006, called United 93, which is a fact-based historical drama that relates the events that took place that fateful day on Flight 93.  Books have also been written on the subject, including Jere Longman’s Among the Heroes: United Flight 93 and the Passengers and Crew Who Fought Back.

Looking back on this event, I wonder how many Americans believe they would have behaved with the same vigor and valor as did the heroes of Flight 93.  Surely no one on the plane that day entertained the illusion that they would emerge from the situation alive if they made no attempt to gain control of the flight.  In the interest of possibly saving their own lives as well as others’, they had to take action.

But it requires a good deal of strength to confront terrorists who are willing to die for their cause.  As it turned out, the passengers and crew were willing to risk death for their own cause.  Although that risk became a reality, and everyone aboard the plane died, the hijackers’ targeted Americans in DC were saved.  Who among us would have done the same?  Perhaps anyone who has learned the story of Flight 93 should consider how he or she would have behaved if they had been on Flight 93 that day.


Contributions have been made in the honor of those who lost their lives in the Flight 93 battle.  This has been done through various funds and other memorials, including the Captain Jason Dahl Scholarship Fund and LeRoy Homer Foundation, which provide scholarships to students interested in pursuing careers in aviation.  There also exists a peer support network called the September 11th Families’ Association.  This organization unites the families of 9/11 victims through newsletters, events, tours, and volunteer work.

– Nat Hershey

20th Century Man

October 31, 2011

Flight 93: Acknowledging Diversity

by eviev

[Nat’s article on this topic: Flight 93: American Heroes ]

Several years after the September 11th attacks, I visited the national memorial for Flight 93.  I found the story of the passengers’ and crew’s resistance against the hijackers touching, but I could not identify with the patriotism that was reflected in many of the tributes left at the memorial.  It seemed to me to be a disservice to the bravery of those women and men whose resistance spared many lives in Washington, DC to label their actions as American heroism, as if they had only done it because they were Americans or because they were saving Americans.  This was human heroism, plain and simple.  As mentioned in Nat’s piece on the subject of Flight 93, two of the passengers were not even American: they were Toshiya Kuge, a twenty-year-old Japanese student, and Christian Adams, a thirty-seven-year-old German businessman.  (Additionally, there were others who had strong ties with or had been born in other countries, even if they had since become Americans.)  It is believed, based on phone calls and cockpit voice recordings, that all the passengers and crew, including these two, agreed that attempting to regain control of the flight was the best possible course of action.  So, applauding the remarkable courage that day of the collective group as an American achievement is disrespectful to these two individuals’ contributions.

Two women, Debbie and Kristen, who met Toshiya Kuge, Flight 93’s Japanese passenger, during a rafting trip in the Canadian Rockies, ten days before the flight’s crash, mention that “not many Americans are talking about the non-U.S. people who were killed.  Toshiya’s death was tragic and no less grievous than any others” ( ).

Furthermore, in the tribute film United 93 (released in 2006), German passenger Christian Adams is portrayed as something of a traitor, suggesting to the other passengers and the crew that they do not follow through with plans to regain control of the flight, and should instead obey the hijackers’ orders ( ).  Friends knew him as a cautious individual, but there is no evidence pointing toward his making such a suggestion.  This film that is supposed to be a fact-based historical drama may be more just a historical drama.  Additionally, a generally cautious personality should not be equated with foolishness.  The passengers and crew learned of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon via phone calls; it was clear that everyone aboard the planes in those situations had died, and that Flight 93 was headed toward a similar fate.  Surely Adams did not presume that quiet obedience to the terrorists would allow for his survival or, for that matter, do anyone any good?  Interestingly enough, as mentioned in the Guardian article linked to above, “Adams’ widow, Silke Adams, is believed to have refused to cooperate on the film . . .  This has left the film open to charges that Adams has been set up as the story’s fall guy, the token cowardly German amid a band of brave Americans.”

If I were to leave a tribute at the memorial, it would not be red, white, and blue.  It would not be patriotic or nationalistic.  I would honor every passenger and crew member aboard that plane with a symbol of human courage and a gratitude in my heart that reaches across all borders.  And if I had many millions of dollars to spend in their honor, I would not contribute it, as has been done thus far by the government and many citizens, largely to the construction of the memorial.  I would instead offer it as support to the families of those who died as heroes, not just on Flight 93, but everywhere.  No matter how sophisticated or beautiful the memorial may become, it is just a symbol, while the intense feelings of loss and grief in these families are ongoing and deserve to be comforted by offerings from their communities.  Organizations like 93 Cents for Flight 93 and Friends of Flight 93 are throwing the bulk of their resources into the symbol and ignoring the greater problem at hand.  Will we stand and salute a multi-million-dollar memorial and meanwhile allow bereaved families to struggle to pay their bills and sign for loans for their children’s education?  We should not forget to honor the dead, but our first duty is to the living.

In response to Nat’s question at the conclusion of his piece, I have contemplated what I would have done if I had been a passenger on Flight 93 that day.  I think I would have stood in solidarity with the others in determining that we needed to fight back against the hijackers.  While I might have been too afraid to lead the charge and be the first to come into direct physical contact with the hijackers, I would have been in their midst, and prepared and willing to join the fight if necessary.  I would know that if we didn’t fight, not only would we die, but so would hundreds or possibly thousands of other people.  It is a frightening situation to consider, but there comes a point for everyone where survival instincts and common sense must override fear.  I can only speculate how much of my motivation to fight back would be based on my own desire to survive and how much on the desire to save others.  What I can say for sure is that I would not just sit back and let the hijackers have their way with all of us.

– Evie Varisanmya

Guest 21st Century Woman

October 3, 2011

Obama: “Peacemaker” at Harvard Law School Basketball Courts

by Nathan Hershey

[Alicia’s article on this topic: Peacemaking: Consensus or Submission?]

One of the things that caught my eye when first reading about Barack Obama was a story about how Obama behaved when he was a student at Harvard Law School.  The story, published when Obama was candidate for president, in the HLS newspaper, The Harvard Law Record, said that he was a “peacemaker” at the basketball courts there. 

I was and am interested in this trait Obama has for several reasons.  I have followed politics closely since my youth and have run in at least one primary.  Today, my interests in the Democratic Party, in particular, continue, as I hold a position on the board of the 14th Ward Democratic Club of Pittsburgh.  I also have a perspective on Obama’s on-court “peacemaking” from the basketball end.  When I was a student at Harvard Law School in the early 50s, I was quite active in basketball, both in the intramurals and in pickup games.  I am proud to say that my team, in my first year, reached the finals, where we lost; in my third year, I put together a team that won the intramural championships. 

What I read indicated that Obama was a skilled basketball player at Harvard Law School and was, from all accounts, far superior to me at my best, in addition to being noted as a peacemaker on the court.  Many people know that there is a considerable amount of physical contact in the playing of basketball games, particularly when there’s no official.  If a couple of people were “duking it out,” Obama was active in bringing hostilities to a close.

I have no opposition to bringing pushing, shoving, punching to a close on the basketball court but at the same time, I know that some of it is friction that develops from physical contact during a play and that the disputes that arise rarely last long or become dangerous.  It struck me that I couldn’t picture any of the people I knew at Harvard playing such a peacemaker role as has been depicted in descriptions of President Obama as a student there.

 It occurred to me that Obama, then still only a candidate for the presidency, might not have the capacity to be as tough or decisive on matters in the political sphere.  Frankly, I would have preferred Hillary Clinton to have been nominated because many voters acknowledge her ability to deal with problems in her personal life and see her as scrappy.  I can’t picture Barrack Obama being much of a scrapper, from what I have learned about him. 

I think that other presidents, such as Harry Truman and Franklin Roosevelt, among other famous Democratic politicians, have been scrappers.  While President Roosevelt couldn’t be a physical scrapper, he certainly knew when to scrap, and how to fight politically for his agenda.  Certainly, Harry Truman had built a reputation as being feisty.  He cast a bigger shadow over the political world than he was expected to do when he was elected in 1948, after having succeeded Franklin D. Roosevelt as vice president.  In fact, in the 1948 campaign, it was a four-way contest for the presidency but there were only two serious candidates – Truman among them, opposite the Republican Dewey.

When I was at Harvard Law School, the idea of being scrappy was accepted as part of the atmosphere.  I see President Obama, the “peacemaker,” not scrapping on many political issues that he should act on more seriously as President.  He has given greater sway or acceptance to some of the Republicans with whom he has been contesting on matters since he was elected and to a much greater extent since the Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives in the 2010 election.  As the Democrats and Republicans are gearing up for the 2012 election, we see the Republicans making a very aggressive push to make Obama a one-term president and seeming to interfere with or block almost anything that Obama seeks.  I believe they will oppose him on any issue just because they want to drive him from the White House.  There is only a little more than a year until the 2012 presidential election and the potential Republican candidates have already surfaced, while it is the expectation that Obama will be the Democratic presidential candidate.

My personal view is that it would be better for the Democrats to substitute an individual with an evident fighting spirit.  While I can’t say very much about Joe Biden, it strikes me that he has a background that makes him appear scrappier than many other Democrats who might be considered as potential substitutes for Obama.  Perhaps it would be good for the president to say, “I will be a one-term president and I will hold the party together while Joe Biden and two or three other people seek the presidential nomination from the Democratic Party.”  I am curious as to how many Democrats feel as I do, wanting to have a fighting president rather than a “peacemaker” who appears to yield to and cooperate with the opposition in order to end contention.

In raising this issue, there may be many Democratic operatives whom I may not be pleasing, but I am sure I am not alone in my sentiment.  When Truman attacked the Republicans, people in the audience used to say, “Give ‘em hell, Harry!”  I think “Give ‘em hell, Barack!” does not have the same ring, but we should be using that language anyway.

– Nat Hershey

20th Century Man

October 3, 2011

Peacemaking: Consensus or Submission?

by Alicia Ni'Tracy

[Nat’s article on this topic: “Obama: ‘Peacemaker’ at Harvard Law School Basketball Courts“]

The 2008 Presidential Election was the first national and presidential election in which I voted.  I remember that, when Barack Obama’s victory was announced, I was filled with painful emotions.  On one hand, I was glad about what it said about the public in regard to George Bush Jr’s performance: I believe it said the public was not pleased and needed a break from being under a Republican administration.  On the other hand, I also knew that much of the population saw Barack Obama as their saving grace – salvation from being a warring nation, from being a racist nation, from having a failing economy slumping further down the global ladder of national success.  And I knew, in the sense that I believed it as fact, that Obama was none of these things.  I knew he was another American president – another well-to-do man from an upper economic and social class who would not fight for the needs of the general populace.

Throughout the past three years, I have not been surprised.  The sadness and dread and heartbreak I felt that night, feeling the weight of what my vote had contributed to, have numbed somewhat but have grown into an acceptance that Obama represents the trained American desire for the McDonald’s version of a hamburger, for the “banana flavored” candy instead of the banana, for the thoroughly marketed and manufactured version of the real thing.

Obama is said to have been a peacemaker on the Harvard Law School basketball courts.  I see parallels between that history and his political behavior.  He regularly attempts to appease the absurd demands of the Republican political class.  He compromises the success of his initiatives to satisfy politicians who desire to maintain the power of the economic oligarchy.  He does not appear to fight for the needs of the general populace, let alone for what he believes their needs to be.

I feel somewhat divided about his efforts toward diplomacy.  I am a big advocate of consent: personal consent, physical consent, social consent.  Consent on a larger scale translates to consensus – if everyone’s consent is to be respected, we must reach and maintain consensus.  Consensus is not everybody being of one mind, consensus must be formed through discussion, it is an idea that all members of a group develop together and which all members can accept without blocking it.  Yet I see Obama achieving no success in mutual development of a health system that the Republican politicians would tolerate, which is just one area in which this failure seems evident.  Consensus does not appear to be occurring in this United States government.  I’m kicking myself for resenting Obama’s unsuccessful attempts to reach consensus between the Democrat and Republican parties, because as much as I prefer consensus, he’s being too submissive and the result isn’t getting the populace it’s comprehensive healthcare.

Even while Barack Obama is submissive in U.S. internal politics, he contributes to the continuation of war overseas even though, in his campaign for the presidency, he presented himself as desiring the end to the war in Iraq.  The war in Iraq is not over, having lasted eight years as of March 20, 2011.  Additionally, U.S. troops have been pushed into other Middle-Eastern countries such as Afghanistan and Iran, under “police actions” during Obama’s presidency.

How far does Obama’s peacemaking extend ?  I believe it does not extend past his attempts to cooperate with the Republicans, or past the desires of America’s oligarchs to maintain a globalized industrial economy – not past that to the rights of those native to the lands we draw oil from in the Middle-East, or to the lives of those Americans sent to fight to prolong that exploitation.  It looks to me as though his peacemaking does not extend past his ego, his need to be seen as a cooperative politician.  Obama does not appear to fight for the needs of the vast majority of the American public.

I would like to have leaders who seek consensus when it’s actually possible, yet know when to alter that tactic because some jerks are throwing temper tantrums and aren’t actually cooperating with the consensus process.

– Alicia Bryan

21st Century Woman