Monday, May 08, 2006

Your Civic Duty: Go To The Movies


It is a strange era we live in when we are told that it is our "civic duty" to see a movie. Perhaps the stranger part is hearing that argument from George Will, who would presumably have heaped scorn upon somebody who made a similar assertion about Fahrenheit 911. (Beyond how they relate to Will's political philosophies, I neither mean to compare the two films nor to gloss over the various portions of Fahrenheit 911 which were in my opinion deliberately misleading).

George Will adheres to a philosophy that "you should not rely upon your government", but scorns the notion that you shouldn't trust your government:
After an astonishing 56 months without a second terrorist attack, this nation perhaps has become dangerously immune to astonishment. The movie may quicken our appreciation of the measures and successes - many of which must remain secret - that have kept would-be killers at bay.
Who cares that there is no evidence to support his faith in secret successes (based on secret measures). The important thing is to believe.His adoration for a commencement address given by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. further evidences his adherence to this version of "faith". Holmes wrote:
But in the midst of doubt, in the collapse of creeds, there is one thing I do not doubt, that no man who lives in the same world with most of us can doubt, and that is that the faith is true and adorable which leads a soldier to throw away his life in obedience to a blindly accepted duty, in a cause which he little understands, in a plan of campaign of which he has little notion, under tactics of which he does not see the use.
(A quarter-century before Holmes spoke, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, expressed a similar sentiment.) As we all could be "potential soldiers" in this war in which "the front can be anywhere", in Will's view we apparently all owe the government a soldier's trust in his superior officers and unquestioning obedience to its orders. (Unless, of course, Clinton is the President, in which case a bombing attack directed at Al Qaeda is meant "to distract attention from legal difficulties arising from his glandular life".)

The civics lesson, though, of United 93 can't be to have blind trust in the government. There were many points at which the government could have detected and prevented the 9/11 hijackings. (The question as to whether it would have been reasonable to expect them to put together the pieces in time to prevent the hijackings is subject to debate. The fact that various government actors held the information which, if pieced together, could have been used to prevent the attacks is not.) Will asks us to draw a different lesson:
The hinge on which the movie turns are 13 words that a passenger speaks, without histrionics, as he and others prepare to rush the cockpit, shortly before the plane plunges into a Pennsylvania field. The words are: "No one is going to help us. We've got to do it ourselves." Those words not only summarize this nation's situation in today's war but also express a citizen's general responsibilities in a free society.
That's great, George. The next time I fly I'll be sure to get the passenger manifest in advance, and screen it for suspected criminals and terrorists myself.

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