Angel Patriots

Angel Patriots: The Crash of United Flight 93 and the Myth of America

Alexander T. Riley
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Angel Patriots
    Book Description:

    When United Flight 93, the fourth plane hijacked in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the gash it left in the ground became a national site of mourning. The flight's 40 passengers became a media obsession, and countless books, movies, and articles told the tale of their heroic fight to band together and sacrifice their lives to stop Flight 93 from becoming a weapon of terror. InAngel Patriots, Alexander Riley argues that by memorializing these individuals as patriots, we have woven them into much larger story of our nation-an existing web of narratives, values, dramatic frameworks, and cultural characters about what it means to be truly American.

    Riley examines the symbolic impact and role of the Flight 93 disaster in the nation's collective consciousness, delving into the spontaneous memorial efforts that blossomed in Shanksville immediately after the news of the crash spread; the ad-hoc sites honoring the victims that in time emerged, such as a Parks Department-maintained memorial close to the crash site and a Flight 93 Chapel created by a local Catholic priest; and finally, the creation of an official, permanent crash monument in Shanksville like those built for past American wars. Riley also analyzes the cultural narratives that evolved in films and in books around the events on the day of the crash and the lives and deaths of its "angel patriot" passengers, uncovering how these representations of the event reflect the myth of the authentic American nation-one that Americans believed was gravely threatened in the September 11 attacks. A profound and thought-provoking study,Angel Patriotsunveils how, in the wake of 9/11, America mourned much more than the loss of life.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-0940-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 Flight 93 and 9/11: American Mythology in the Making
    (pp. 1-34)

    It is something of a cliché to say that things as awful as the 9/11 attacks are beyond description. One book on the topic puts it this way: “September 11 is precisely the kind of event that defies representation.”¹ In the moment, this certainly seemed to be so for many who fully understood the reaction of CNN reporter Aaron Brown on witnessing the collapse of the North Tower of the World Trade Center: “Good Lord … [six-second pause, which, on live air, seemed an eternity] there are no words.” And yet it is not so. There are always words, and...

  5. 2 Death, Horror, and Culture: Making Sense of the Senseless in Memorials
    (pp. 35-67)

    Death is, considered in its most basic elements, a simple phenomenon. An organism comes into being, it consumes and grows, and then, after a time, its growth is halted by its consumption by some other organism, or by the inevitable return of its living matter to the inert according to the second law of thermodynamics. Life could not be what it is without death (and vice versa) and the two make up the basic conceptual pair in the consideration of sentient matter. The overwhelming majority of the universe is made up of lifeless matter, and death is the destination of...

  6. 3 The Sacralization of Shanksville: The Emergence of the Temporary Memorial Site
    (pp. 68-110)

    Shanksville is situated in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, near the Allegheny Mountains in the southwestern part of the state. It is approximately an hour’s drive from Pittsburgh, two miles north of the Pennsylvania Turnpike/Interstate 76/70, and just under 20 miles north of the Maryland border. Somewhere in the vicinity of about 250 people live in this tiny community of a few streets, a post office, and a general store. In the language of Pennsylvania state governmental administration, it is a borough, the rough equivalent as a form of municipality to what many other American states call towns, too small to be...

  7. 4 Flag Bodies: Commemoration in the Flight 93 Memorial Chapel
    (pp. 111-155)

    About eight miles from the site at which Flight 93 struck ground, along a stretch of a sparsely populated country road dominated by farmland and woods, sits a small chapel dedicated to the passengers of Flight 93. It is eight miles, that is, if one is following the serpentine local roads, but only about half that as the crow flies. If however you are not possessed of the power of flight, leaving the crash site toward the chapel, you retrace your steps out to Lambertsville Road and head back through Shanksville. At the post office, you turn right on to...

  8. 5 The Permanent Memorial: Symbolic Work and Conflict in the “Bowl of Embrace”
    (pp. 156-191)

    Notwithstanding the energy and passion put into the construction of the temporary memorial, planning for the permanent memorial commemorating Flight 93 began almost immediately after the crash. Joanne Hanley and Barbara Black of the National Park Service were centrally involved in the permanent memorial design competition and preparation from the first, and they provided me with a detailed insider history of the trajectory from the first thoughts on the memorial to its currently ongoing construction. Their accounts, together with written records of the process, provide important insights into the cultural narratives and processes that informed the conception of the Flight...

  9. 6 The Cultural Narratives of the Books on Flight 93
    (pp. 192-218)

    If the concentrated work of making myth of Flight 93 is mostly done within a few miles of the crash site, another “site” of such cultural labor is to be found beyond Shanksville, in a “location” both far away and yet imminently nearby. In a society like ours, the mass media is the central conduit of most information about most events that are of public note. For the vast majority of Americans not physically present in the locations where the hijacked planes struck, 9/11 is a narrative unimaginable without the news media’s real time coverage of the attacks in New...

  10. 7 The Cultural Narratives of the Films on Flight 93
    (pp. 219-257)

    Much has been said about the cinematic nature of the events of September 11, 2001, at least of the part of those events that unfolded in Manhattan. Norman Mailer described the phenomenal level of terror the attacks produced in the American citizenry as rooted in their close resemblance to cinematic nightmares we had already viewed dozens of times: “Our movies came off the screen and chased us down the canyons of the city.”¹ But if the events of that day struck many as movie-like in their larger-than-life, mythological nature, film played a perhaps even more important roleafterthat day...

  11. 8 Myth in Practice: Visitors at the Temporary Memorial Site
    (pp. 258-280)

    During the summer and fall of 2009, I conducted interviews at the temporary memorial site in order to get a sense of how the various elements of the Flight 93 narrative and memorialization process were understood by those who visited the site. As I have indicated elsewhere, in order to mean anything, it is not enough that signs beproduced; they must also beconsumed. I wanted therefore to gather some understanding as to how the signs at the temporary memorial were actually interpreted by those who came there.

    The fruits of interviewing are frequently invaluable to an understanding of...

  12. 9 What Flight 93 Tells Us about America
    (pp. 281-288)

    In a certain sense, the construction of the mythology surrounding the crash of Flight 93 tells us little about the American people, American society, or American culture that fully distinguishes them from other peoples, societies, and cultures. There is perhaps nothing completely unique in the things people in Shanksville and elsewhere have done since the plane struck ground more than a decade ago to produce a commemorative narrative about the fact, and I have endeavored to show some of the common patterns in ritualization and memory-making around events of mass death that are exemplified by aspects of Flight 93 memorialization....

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 289-304)
    (pp. 305-310)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 311-316)
    (pp. 317-317)