Monday, December 26, 2005

Munich

munich.jpg

My wife and I were in Boston with friends on Saturday and we all decided to go see Munich . The movie had just been released the day before and a few of us were interested in seeing it, so the group of us, six in all, headed downtown to the theater. For me it was an interesting group to see the movie with, with 5 Iranians (all of whom have been living here for three or more years) and myself as the lone American.

The movie was an interesting one. This was not "War of the Worlds" or "ET", movies that on the whole are strictly focused on entertaining the audience. The movie depicts what occurred after the massacre of Israeli athletes at the '72 Olympic games in Munich. The exact details are not clear as to what Israel did, and the movie is not intended as an historical depiction of what occurred, but what we can get from this is that apparently Israel did send men out to kill as many of the Munich terrorists and those that supported them as possible. This movie is intended to make you think, and I believe it was successful with all of us. One friend felt the movie was Israeli propaganda, and another felt that Spielberg should have been more evenly balanced in his representation of both the Israeli and Palestinian positions. My feelings about
the movie were very different.

First, I don't think this was propaganda, in fact I believe that Spielberg is pointing a finger towards Israeli with this movie and asking, "Is this really the sort of thing you should be doing? Does this buttress your claim to being the 'righteous' people?" And on some level he points the same finger towards the United States, asking if how we're executing this war on terror, with it's eye for an eye Old Testament fervor, is the right way of going about trying to eliminate the problem. I think Spielberg is asking difficult questions of those who on the whole are seen as being in the right, or at least whose actions are rarely seen in the same light as those of the Palestinians for example. So, with the exception of one scene in the movie (where the agents go out of their way to avoid killing a young girl who's the daughter of their target), in my view of things this movie doesn't serve as a propaganda venue for Israel. There's no Palestinian side to show as Spielberg is criticizing Israel and indirectly the U.S., and the story of the Palestinians, for example, is somewhat besides the point - we know enough of what's going on to appreciate why the Palestinians feel aggrieved, and Spielberg to some degree even addresses the issue in the movie, but the intention is to put the spotlight on Israel and how it justifies what it did in this situation.

I think Spielberg makes a number of excellent points: 1. That violence begets violence. 2. That violence begins to de-humanize those who execute it. Of course it's entirely possible to get people to do this sort of thing who aren't entirely human to begin with, who won't suffer as some of the men in this movie do (the Daniel Craig character is an example of this), and there may be more of these men and women out there than many of us would care to think about - how many such men and women were in Germany during the Nazi era? How many Japanese were this way in Nanking? How many American soldiers roaming the American west killing Indians, or American southerners killing blacks? How many Turks killing Armenians? And the list goes on, and on, and on. 3. How can a country or a group of people take the title "righteous" when on the whole their actions are little better than those taken by those they seek to kill? 4. What purpose is served if the men you kill are replaced by killers who are worse? 5. How much "collateral damage", in the form of innocent bystanders, is acceptable?

With point number 3, how can you be righteous and do this sort of thing (for those not familiar with the Jewish claim to being the "righteous people" it may appear that the focus on righteousness may seem misplaced, but it very much fits here), one of the characters in the movie asks why aren't we arresting these men for what they did and hauling them back to Israel, like was done with Eichmann and Mengele? For those not familiar with these men, Mengele was the Auschwitz Angel of Death so named because of the horrible human experiments he performed on Auschwitz concentration camp prisoners, invariably Jews, and Eichmann was the head of the Nazi Department of Jewish Affairs and thereby directly responsible for the deportment and eventual killing of some 3 million Jews. There's not a Palestinian or Arab that has come close to doing the harm to Jews that Mengele and Eichmann inflicted, yet these two are dragged back to Israel from South America to stand trial. Of course there was a cathartic aspect to this, and on some level a need to put to the flesh these two exemplars of man's inhumanity to man, but how much more moral currency would the Israelis have gathered for themselves by capturing the terrorists and bringing them to Israel to stand trial, vice killing in the shadows, with the world nodding knowingly that it was the Israelis doing this but without proof that it was so, with these men considered to be heroes in Israel but without official recognition, or sanction for that matter, from their government.

This movie will cause you to think if you're the thinking type. But I'm more and more convinced that far too many of us aren't, or that many who are use convenient excuses to justify expedient or viscerally satisfying actions ("They'll know that they can't kick Jews around without the cost of their blood.", "We'll bomb those bastards out of the hills of Bora Bora"), which don't go very far to eliminate the problem, and can often result in bigger problems than were originally intended to be corrected.

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