- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 8, 2005

Four years after World War II ended, Hollywood had already produced such movies as the John Wayne classic “The Sands of Iwo Jima,” director William Wellman’s classic re-enactment of the Battle of the Bulge, “Battleground,” and “Twelve O’Clock High,” a taut study of U.S. bomber pilots under stress starring Gregory Peck.

A generation’s worth of movies was still to come.

In contrast, a curious cinematic silence has enveloped September 11 and the global war on terrorism it provoked.

There are a couple reasons for this, one innocent, the other less so.

The first is our unusually detailed collective memory. The images of the day — the second plane, the hand-holding pairs of suicides, the faces and streets covered in dusty debris — are forever engraved on the back of our eyelids. This creates a problem for filmmakers who would take on September 11. Namely: Who needs them?

If the September 11 attack had happened, say, 30 years ago, it may have been worthwhile for a Ridley Scott or Steven Spielberg to stage a big-budget reconstruction of the day’s events, in all their spectacular horror. Today, the idea seems redundant, not to mention offensive.

In short, we don’t need movies to give material shape to our memories of September 11. During World War II, civilians knew little if anything of the grisly fighting in North Africa, at Normandy and on Iwo Jima; September 11, in contrast, was an attack on civilians timed for maximum media exposure.

Gradually, though, filmmakers are finding ways to make themselves useful. Their tack is to try to throw light into the few crevices where 24-hour cable television couldn’t penetrate on September 11.

Director Paul Greengrass (“The Bourne Supremacy”), for example, is slated to helm “Flight 93” for Universal Pictures. It’s an excellent, if obvious, early choice for a September 11 feature: The revelations found in the 9/11 Commission’s report made the details of the passenger revolt aboard the United Airlines flight that crashed into the Pennsylvania countryside only more dramatically tantalizing.

Conspiracy-minded Oliver Stone plans to shoot an apparently — and uncharacteristically — apolitical movie starring Nicolas Cage based on the true story of Port Authority police officers trapped in the rubble of the Twin Towers. And Columbia Pictures has reportedly optioned Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn’s book “102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers.”

While it’s obviously too soon to pass judgment on the merits of these movies, it’s not unreasonable to assume they were greenlighted because of their perspective: a tight, high-resolution focus on stories of individual courage in the face of grave danger makes it easier to dodge ultimate questions of political morality.

This is well and good. But is that all there is to say about September 11? Isn’t there, say, an enemy to confront?

Here we arrive at the second — and more suspect — reason for Hollywood’s reticence: political correctness.

Yup, that hoary hobgoblin again — but with a new wrinkle.

Political correctness began as a well-intentioned if hypersensitive impulse to protect the feelings of minorities and victim groups. In its post-September 11 phase, political correctness has mutated into its opposite: a shelter for predators. We’re fighting an enemy — radical Islamists — whose name Hollywood dares not speak.

In the immediate aftermath of September 11, Hollywood bowed in deference to Muslim sensibilities. It recast, absurdly, the Islamic fundamentalist terrorists of Tom Clancy’s novel “The Sum of All Fears” into well-heeled neo-Nazis for the 2002 movie adaptation.

Four years on, filmmakers have dithered; they’ve failed completely, for instance, to make good on early promises to help with propaganda efforts in the war on terrorism. (Remember — how quaint it sounds — the White House’s “Arts and Entertainment Task Force”?)

Wouldn’t it be fascinating if cutting-edge filmmakers such as Gus Van Sant or Steven Soderbergh made a movie depicting the magnetism of a terrorist cell for young Muslim men?

Why not a biopic about the intellectual evolution of September 11 mastermind Mohammed Atta?

Why not an adaptation of John Updike’s gripping short story for the Atlantic, in which the author contemplated the psychopathology of the September 11 terrorists who frequented a Florida strip club before carrying out their mission?

The forthcoming “The War Within,” about the “crisis of conscience” experienced by a Pakistani man planning a suicide attack in New York City, is yet another manifestation of political correctness run amok. In its hand-wringing “objectivity,” the movie seeks to humanize an enemy that is already human and explain a mystery that is not mysterious.

It needs to be said: Jihadists are typically not at all conflicted about murdering Jews, Americans and other infidels. They consider it their moral duty and expect an eternity of bliss for their trouble.

There is no “crisis of conscience” here. Rather, there is a crisis of certainty — of brainwashed young men who soak up anti-Semitic, anti-Western canards as part of their daily media diet (check out the Middle East Media Research Institute’s TV Monitor Project to see what’s on Arab TV these days) and are egged on by radical clergy to turn themselves into martyrs for an embattled faith.

Pierre Rehov is a provocative French documentarian who interviewed several failed suicide bombers for his forthcoming movie “Suicide Killers.” “You’re not talking to monsters — you’re talking to human beings,” he explains. “If they were raised under American values, they wouldn’t be bad guys. The problem is that their line of good and evil is drawn on the wrong side.”

Why, then, are filmmakers so loath to confront this reality?

Because, Mr. Rehov says, filmmakers tend to be intellectuals — and intellectuals favor economic explanations for violence and societal dysfunction, which inevitably means that the West is responsible for incubating its enemies.

The generation of Hollywood filmmakers who crystallized World War II for American audiences in films ringing with moral passion and clarity understood something many of today’s director’s don’t: Sometimes the root cause of evil is the failure of good people to confront it.


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