One morning in mid October of 2001 three people sat down at the Tavern on the Green restaurant in New York City’s Central Park for brunch. If events the previous month had happened just a little differently, none of the three would have been there.
The three people were my wife Kathy, her old friend Donna and myself.
Donna had worked on one of the highest floors of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. A diabetic, she was at her doctor’s office when the two planes flew into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. Had she been in her office, she probably would not have survived.
My wife, Army Major General (P) Kathy Frost, was serving as Adjutant General of the Army on Sept. 11. She didn’t have an office in the Pentagon (her office was in the Hoffman Building several miles away) but she reported to Lt. Gen. Timothy J. Maude and usually was in his office at the Pentagon several times a week.
Kathy was not in Gen. Maude’s office that morning, having sent two of her staff members to a meeting there. Gen. Maude’s office was the point of impact for the plane that flew into the Pentagon. Gen. Maude and Kathy’s two staff members died instantly.
That morning I was attending a meeting in House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt’s office in the Capitol Building with a number of leading Democrats. Shortly after 9:30 a.m., one of Gephardt’s top aides came into the room to tell us about the two planes that had crashed into the World Trade Center. We all sat transfixed at the television screen watching the coverage.
Shortly before 10 a.m., Gephardt’s secretary Sharon burst into the office and said in a loud voice, “You guys should get out of here.” With that, we immediately left. The fourth plane, United 93-- which many believe was heading to the Capitol Building-- crashed into a field in Pennsylvania at 10:03 a.m.
This weekend, I went to see the new movie “United 93.” Kathy refused to see it, so I went alone to the movie theater next to her old office building.
I have some thoughts about the movie and about our relations with the Arab world.
First, some people have said that it was too soon to make a movie about 9/11 (it’s been four and half years). I disagree. This is a part of our nation’s history and the movie was very tastefully done.
We all understand that the movie was not an exact recreation of the events…we don’t know everything that happened on the plane. However, we do know that a brave group of passengers resisted the terrorists and that their actions helped avert a tragedy in Washington, D.C.
Secondly, there are some lessons to be learned from the events of that day. We know that the chain of command didn’t work very well and that the order to shoot down the plane if it got close to Washington was given late. Fortunately, American fighter jets did not have to fire on a civilian aircraft, but we all understand that such an action might be necessary in the future if all else fails.
Third, the movie underscored the fact that in addition to the bravery of the passengers, there was also an element of luck in preventing this fourth plane from reaching its target. The early part of the movie reminded the audience that the plane was 30 minutes late in taking off from Newark, which gave the passengers time to learn about the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon from cell phone calls to family and friends.
We can’t always rely on luck to prevent a tragedy.
Now to our relations with Arab nations in the Middle East. This movie should not be used as a rationale for what we ultimately did in Iraq or what we may be considering doing in Iran. The terrorists who attacked our country on 9/11 were recruited by Al Qaeda, which was based in Afghanistan. True revenge should have been to capture or kill Usama bin Laden in Afghanistan where he was hiding.
Even the Bush administration now acknowledges that Saddam Hussein was not a part of 9/11 and our attack on Iraq must stand on its own merits rather than being a response to what happened on 9/11. The Bush administration must make its case for its action in Iraq on other grounds.
Our relationship with Iran is more complicated. There is a legitimate fear that should Iran actually build a nuclear bomb, that it might make such a weapon available to terrorists for any future attack on the United States. The movie reminds viewers that there are fanatics who wish our nation great harm.
United 93 is just a movie…it’s not a documentary. And our future foreign policy in the Middle East must be grounded first in tough diplomatic action to convince Iran to stop developing a nuclear weapon. Any confrontation we have with Iran will not be scripted by Hollywood. And let’s hope the next movie will have a happier ending.
Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel and is a scholar in residence at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.