Part 1 of ABC’s The Path to 9/11 two-part docudrama aired last night, and reactions from political types were largely as expected.

This photo, supplied by ABC, shows Harvey Keitel who plays FBI counterterrorism expert John O'Neill, in a scene from ABC's miniseries'The Path to 9/11.' The two-part film is a dramatization of the events detailed in The 9/11 Commission Report and other sources which airs on Sunday. Sept. 10, and Monday, Sept. 11, 2006. Former Clinton administration officials criticized the miniseries, saying it distorts history so drastically that it should be corrected or shelved.(AP Photo/ABC, Peter Stranks)

Supporters of former president Bill Clinton complained about some scenes in advance copies of the program  (which were altered before airing, to reflect their concerns), some on the political right were disgusted by leftists’ calls for censorship and retaliation against ABC, and others on the right took what they apparently considered to be the high road, claiming that the film’s condensation of certain events into dramatic scenes was outrageous. The latter included Bill Bennett, Bill O’Reilly, John Podhoretz, and John Fund.

Fund, in his Opinion Journal article on the film, even goes so far as to say that it is fundamentally dishonorable to make docudramas: "Their rules simply aren’t good enough when dealing with events that are still fresh in the minds of so many. At worst, they can be used by ideological gunslingers like director Oliver Stone, who smeared the reputations of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon in paranoid fantasy films."

That seems to me to be a serious overreaction to this film, as indeed were the reactions of the Democrat opponents of the film. The rules for dramas are different from the rules for histories, and they should be.

It’s a movie, people.

Everyone involved seems to have no idea whatever of the purpose of a docudrama.

It is this: to tell a whacking good story through the use of historical events.

That is a very good thing to do, contra Mr. Fund. The telling of stories gives us insights into human nature and the world around us, in addition to helping us  understand the issues surrounding the matter at hand.

The main purpose of a docudrama is to tell an enlightening story. It is acceptable to condense the sequence of events, conflate several characters into one, and make other changes to the historical record in order to bring out the inherent drama of the central conflicts.

Shakespeare’s history plays and tragedies do this routinely, and no one but an ugly fool would suggest that the world would be better without them.

What is not right is to distort major events in a story so as to create an impression contrary to the facts or the greater truth behind the story.

All of this is basically a matter of degree: if the invented scenes do not distort the real-life story or characters significantly, there is nothing at all wrong with including them. Niggling about details, as the political critics of The Path to 9/11 have done, simply shows ignorance of literary history and is a blatant attempt to prevent people from seeing the greater truths a particular docudrama may present.

The Path to 9/11 is not Shakespeare by any means, but it is a compelling drama that gives us real insights into how the minds of its characters worked.

Does Bill Clinton come off as something of an ass when it came to dealing with terrorism? Yes. But he was something of an ass in that regard. His administration did indeed bungle the response to the challenge Bin Laden posed, and that did indeed lead to 9/11. And the Bush administration has made countless mistakes in its handling of the run-up to the tragedy and especially in the aftermath, which will reportedly be depicted in tonight’s concluding episode of The Path to 9/11.

The important thing for a docudrama, in being true to the events it depicts, is to get the characters’ motivations and reactions right.

The Path to 9/11 does this admirably. The real conflict in the film is the central problem we still face today in fighting terrorism: that the values our nation holds most dear  are the very things that prevent us from most effectively fighting terrorists. And terrorists astutely exploit this, as the film makes clear.

The Path to 9/11 depicts this conflict in numerous ways, weaving it throughout the story. We see FBI agents, for example, waiting until just a few hours before a planned December 31, 1999, terrorist attack because in America a person arrested must be charged with a crime within 24 hours or be released.

The need to wait until the very day of the planned attack poses an awful risk on innocent attendees of the New York City millennial New Year’s celebration, of which they are entirely unaware, but the film makes no evident comment on this. It is simply a fact of the way we do things here, and it is an important part of what makes America what is is.

In this way, The Path to 9/11 gets the important things very right, and if Sandy Berger comes off as perhaps a jot less reponsble and attractive than he may have been in real life (and I certainly do not know that to be so), that is surely an acceptable choice on the part of the filmmakers in telling the bigger story: that America’s greatest advantages are also its greatest vulnerabilities.