Friday, September 15, 2006

What's the Historical Value of Path to 9/11

After examining the "mainstream" debate during the run-up to the actual showing of Path to 9/11 (here and here), I have to wonder what historians think of it now that it has actually aired. Truth be told, I haven't seriously looked for--nor have I really run across in my daily blog travels--any post mortems on Path in the history blogosphere. Now that historians have had the opportunity to see it, they don't seem to have written about it anywhere near as much as they did when they hadn't seen it. Hm. Well, here's my take.

First, I believe that--in a very idealistic sense--Path to 9/11 was a missed opportunity. As I mentioned in a previous post, Dale Franks' observation that "Fake but Accurate" isn't good enough and that if the filmakers had simply "hew[ed] tightly to the 9/11 Commission's report, they could have stood their ground firmly on the basis of the film's historical accuracy." That being said, while it was indeed a docudrama and some characters were amalgamations and there was "time compression", the overall theme was accurate: government and the bureaucracies that compose it are ill-suited to "think outside of the box" and take action.

Path showed that our government was still fighting the last war (or not--post-Cold War, etc.). Terrorism was regarded as a legal problem and the solutions formulated to deal with it based on that philosophy proved to be unsatisfactory and ineffective. Within that framework, those in power--the members of the Clinton and Bush administrations--were simply not able to imagine the level to which Al Queda was willing and able to take their (at the time) one-sided war. The quick take away: bureaucracies don't change very fast or very well.

Whether or not Path can be used by historians in relation to its acute subject matter--does it have any historical value in explaining the path to 9/11--seems less important than how it can be used as an example in explaining a broader historical problem. Namely, no matter how accurate a document is in depicting actual events, historians (and everyone else) must be careful in how they criticize historical actors for decisions they made without the benefit of the hindsight that we posess in the here-and-now.

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