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” ( http://www.unitedheroes.com/Toshiya-Kuge.html ).

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 ( http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2006/jun/07/news.xanbrooks ).  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

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