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Saturday, October 21, 2006

They were not sheep

STEVE PETRICK WRITES: They were not sheep.

Perhaps that is the most important thing that can be said about the passengers and crew of Flight #93.

I was not there. No one now living is numbered among that small group.

But much has been made of their "self-sacrifice" to save nameless others.

I think that makes too much of what they did. By all accounts that I have heard (including the made for TV movies and the big screen effort), it appears that the plane's passengers included at least one person who might have been able to pilot the plane when the decision was taken to fight. I do not believe that the passengers chose to fight for nameless others, but chose a course of action that gave them a chance at life. If they could retake the plane, the passenger-pilot might bring it safely to earth.

The record shows that they did not succeed.

It also shows that they tried, that they were not sheep.

But they were not deliberately sacrificing themselves for others, they were grasping at a chance for life. Would any of us do less?

They were no different than the passengers of the other three aircraft except in one thing. They were warned.

The hijackers made a mistake. Perhaps simply an error in timing. Perhaps they did not take the plane soon enough, so there was enough time for the word to get out about the other crashes. Perhaps they did not think the news of what had happened at the World Trade Center or the Pentagon would be disseminated as quickly as it was. Perhaps they simply believed that even if the passengers of their aircraft knew what was happening that they would do nothing, but simply cower in the back of the aircraft hoping that theirs was not the same fate, that their aircraft would be held hostage as had happened before.

But the passengers were not sheep.

And perhaps that was the fatal mistake in the hijacker's plan. Perhaps they believed that Americans were soft, and would take no action even in the face of imminent death to save themselves. Perhaps they counted on the passengers to remain cowed by their fierce demeanor and the terror of the hapless flight crew by apparently by having their throats cut. Perhaps they believed that Americans were so ingrained with the "take no provocative actions" drill we had all been fed as the standard if our aircraft is highjacked that no action would be possible.

But the passengers were not sheep.

We are told that when advised by those they called on their cell phones what had happened, the passengers "voted" to fight. Some reports say the vote was done only by the male passengers. We do not know for certain. We do not know how any individual passenger, or flight attendant, voted. We only know that a majority chose to fight. And I believe they chose to fight for a chance at life.

But perhaps they chose to fight even knowing that they would die because in doing they would save others. That is what most of us, it seems, would like to believe. We do not know. The record is silent on why they chose their course of action. But choose it they did.

They were not sheep.

We are never going to know if they were all brave, or if some minority clung to a futile hope that their aircraft would not be flown into a building, and voted against the rash move by others to try to retake the plane. We grant all of them, in the silence of death, the mantle of hero. There is no way to differentiate them now. No way to know if the effort to retake the plane was in fact initiated by a small minority, or by the collective whole. And that is how it should be. That they chose to take action, to fight for their lives, has of its own earned them the right to the mantle of hero.

We are left only with the incomplete record, a record that can never be completed. And with the images of their faces, and memories by others still living of who the people on Flight 93 were.

And an important message for future terrorists to remember.

Americans are not sheep to be slaughtered. If they know there is a choice between going to a slaughter house and fighting, they will fight, as has been repeatedly demonstrated when threats have arisen on passenger planes since that fateful day.

WE are not sheep.