A 9 minute gap in world history
Where was our leader in that 9 minutes of frozen time. What was he thinking?
In Fahrenheit 9/11, the television footage of Bush on the morning of 9/11 is shown in full. Bush is sitting in front of a classroom of 1st graders in Florida, when Andrew Card comes to tell him about the second plane hitting the second tower.
This scene of the movie is an important part of world history that seems to never have been mentioned or shown before, for obvious reasons. Two reasons why it's so important: because that 9 minute gap had mostly been a secret until Fahrenheit came out, and because it clearly shows one man's approach to the leadership role. That approach involves glaring angrily and suspiciously at a classroom of 1st graders.
Watching the scene itself changed history, for me at least. Based on dozens of news accounts I had seen or read since 9/11, I had always assumed the scene in that Florida classroom went like this: Andrew Card tells Bush about the first plane hitting the first tower. Bush stays in the classroom. Then about 1/2 hour later Card tells Bush about the second plane hitting, at which point Bush addresses the classroom, saying there's been a national emergency, and heads away from the east coast as fast as possible.
This year I first heard criticism about Bush staying in the classroom while a national emergency was unfolding, and then the Bush defense that he was trying to project a strong image of resolve in the face of terror, to the assembled children. I heard this, assuming the criticism and defense was referring to the time in between the first and second planes hitting the towers--about a 1/2 hour gap, 17 minutes plus about 10 until Card came in and told Bush.
But after watching the movie, I see that the criticism was more directed at the 9 minutes when time stood still--when George Bush grabbed a children's book off a shelf and just tried to forget everything.
It's right to criticize Bush for sitting there after he was informed about the first plane hitting the first tower. As a president, he should have stood up and excused himself, saying there's been a national emergency, and consult with advisers, check CNN, etc...
It's not right to criticize him for that 9 minute escape from the world stage. The video footage of that 9 minutes was never meant to be viewed by the public, but rather was meant to be analyzed by a criminal psychologist. Maybe it's a stretch, but that 9 minutes may be used against him in future trials or tribunals.
Gross criminal negligence is the best phrase to describe it. That's what makes Fahrenheit 9/11 such a good movie. Just like tv shows that show criminals "caught in the act" the movie shows the genesis of so many of our country's current problems. It's not so much one man, but the abscence of one man, that has been so devastating to us.
The 9 minute gap was buried in world events. On the morning of 9/11, one of the major stories besides the attacks themselves was the sudden disappearance of executive leadership. One was taken underground, and remained there for quite awhile. Bush headed for the Midwest, with a short stopover in Louisiana. Many argue that this was a cowardly retreat, if not criminal negligence.
I was watching CBS and Peter Jennings that day, and at some point in the afternoon, he wondered aloud, "Where is the president in this time of crisis? Shouldn't we be able to see him? Shouldn't he be playing a leadership role at this point?" (paraphrasing) These questions were never answered correctly, but simply forgotten in the overall crisis.
One defense that might have been used is that these were simply Cold War procedures for protecting the executive branch in the case of Soviet missile attack. Strangely though, everybody knew these were kamikaze-style attacks, and with all planes grounded, the chances of another attack with a plane were pretty slim. NYC would have been the safest place in the world for Bush to go, aside from the noxious fumes coming from Ground Zero.
Still, the notion that these were Cold War procedures is somewhat believable. When the fighter jets were "scrambled" on the east coast, they too were looking for a Soviet missile attack, since that was all they had ever trained for.
Smuggling Bush to the Midwest and Cheney underground was definitely a spectacle, and might have been played up for added effect. This is a conclusion that never got much attention, but making the case for invading Iraq might have started in that Florida classroom, PR stunts and all.
The 9 minute gap was not Cold War procedure, however. It was the moment when the cogs and gears inside Bush's head came to a slow halt. Better yet, it was the moment when the hamster in the spinning wheel inside Bush's head stopped running, went to a corner of the cage, and died.
In conclusion, here's a suggestion of what Bush was thinking, as he picked up that children's book, that useless prop, and glared angrily and suspiciously at a group of 1st graders:
"Maybe if I just pretend to disappear, maybe I WILL disappear, then people won't keep tellin' me stupid shit....what the fuck am I supposed to do? Stupid fucking kids. I wish I was a long, long way from here."
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