On the afternoon of July 4 in Washington DC, a teenager with a knife boarded a crowded metro train and attacked a 24-year-old man, Kevin Joseph Sutherland, stabbing him 30 or 40 times and kicking his head repeatedly until he was dead. No one tried to stop him.
The Washington Post reports that “passengers trapped in the moving train huddled at both ends of the car and watched in horror” as the attack took place. There were about ten people on the car, but no one intervened. They just watched Sutherland get beaten and stabbed to death right in front of them.
OK, ghastly, and its easy to sit here in my suburban home and opine that the men on that train should have rallied. (FWIW, I did break up a subway scuffle in the late 80's, but it was between two unarmed women, and other passengers promptly stepped in alongside me.)
That said, I strenuously object to this:
This is essentially the opposite of the spirit of United Flight 93—the heroic selflessness that prompted a group of courageous passengers on 9/11 to attack their hijackers, forcing them to crash the plane in a Pennsylvania field. Once they heard about the attacks in New York and the Pentagon, and knew many more would die if they failed to act, they knew what they had to do—no matter what happened to them.
Well. I have the utmost respect for the heroism of the United 93 passengers. However, they were aware of the suicide attacks on the Pentagon and WTC, so I think they understood that they had to regain control of the plane in order to have any chance at all of survival. Understanding reality, overcoming denial, and moving ahead with a grim, improbable plan takes incredible courage. However, for the passengers in the Metro car, huddling in the back and engaging in denial and delay was a live option. Not an admirable one, but one that is easy to rationalize.