Terror of Judgment: "The Path to 9/11"

Firefighter memorial, Upper East Side, NYC

I decided to see for myself. So, I watched the first part of The Path to 9/11, which aired last night on BBC2. I am not sure whether or in how far this version differs from the one that aired, a few hours later, on ABC in the US; and aside from the word “Pathetic” hissed by John O’Neill (Harvel Keitel) in response to anti-terror efforts of the Clinton administration, I found little that smacked of partisan fingerpointing. This fictional documentary strikes me as far more significant, thought-provoking and accomplished than Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center, the subdued disaster movie I saw on its opening night in New York City and wrote about in the first of a series of Gotham impressions that is herewith coming to an end.

As I remarked previously, Oliver Stone’s film was exasperatingly a-political, reducing a world-historical event to an intimate portrait of personal suffering. It had more pathos than Path, which, in its first instalment, went astray only once, namely with the emotional outburst of the pseudonymous (and hence factually suspicious) CIA analyst “Patricia.” Otherwise, I commend the forgers of Path, whether they forged history or not, for driving home that the collapse of the Twin Towers was not a senseless tragedy but a hostile response to the west that had been long in the planning.

AOL Tower, NYC

To be sure, what a visual dramatizations like The Path to 9/11 cannot but fall short of showing is the ideological/theological conflict underlying the series of attacks in which we now find ourselves. A clash of ideologies is portrayed as a clashing of minds, and masterminds are made flesh so that they can be tracked, trapped, and presumably rendered innocuous. Fanaticism is far more hazardous than “The Most Dangerous Game.” However comforting the thought, however rewarding the execution, the terror it begets won’t end in the capture of a few ruthless misleaders, just as fascism—to which we still surrender many of our democratic ideals today—did not perish with Hitler in his bunker.

I am not about to reduce this anniversary of the attacks known as 9/11 to another opportunity to advocate sound (or radio) plays as the drama of ideas, even though we might do well to pay more attention to words the articulation of powerful ideas than absorb images of their physical manifestations. New York City is in need of visual reminders of its past. Too often, gleaming surfaces (like the façade of the post-9/11 AOL Tower, shown right) smooth over the scars that document the city’s path and its pathology.

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