A Remembrance of September 11th 2001.
A recurring theme that runs across films, books and television is the portrayal of large-scale disasters. Destruction on a grand scale is a well-worn trope for many creators. From rogue asteroids to nuclear war to earthquakes to undead hordes, the obliteration of cities and civilizations is quite common in our fictions.
Why do writers and film-makers show us scenes of massive devastation? One reason is to show us how their characters react to the ruin within the confines of the tale. And how do the characters in these sorts of stories react? While not consistent across all disaster fiction, many times the author will depict people in their stories as panic-driven, cruel, venal and selfish. During the destruction in these stories, it is not uncommon to see the absolute worst of human behavior. If all you knew about human behavior came from depictions of people during fictional catastrophes, you’d think that men and women in real calamities were little more than barely-tamed animals.
On September 11th 2001, the people on the hijacked planes and in the buildings had many incentives to act with callous indifference towards their fellow Americans. Instead, what we witnessed on that terrible day contradicted what many of us have seen in our make-believe worlds. How many people knowingly sacrificed their lives trying to save others on 9/11? The numbers are staggering.
During the worst attack on American soil in our history, the heroes of Washington DC, New York City and Shanksville, Pennsylvania defied the expectations borne from our fictions–and by extension, many of our expectations for the real world. September 11th showed us the reality of terrorism. The attacks on America was the full flowering of evil. But that monstrous villainy didn’t come from us. When America found itself under attack, our fellow citizens didn’t embrace the darkness. By and large, we lived up to our highest ideals on that terrible day. For that, we can take great pride in being Americans.