Jewish World Review Jan. 3, 2006/ 3 Teves,
Turning Munich into a movie
Munich, 1938. Neville Chamberlain compromises with Hitler and
declares, in one of history's most breathtaking moments of naivete bordering
on simple-mindedness, that he has made "peace with honor." The Holocaust and
World War II promptly follow.
Munich, 1972. Germany hosts the Olympics for the first time since
Hitler presided over the 1936 games. The president of the Federal Republic
of Germany opens the Olympics as "a milestone on the road to a new way of
life, with the aim of realizing peaceful coexistence among peoples." Eight
Palestinian terrorists of the "Black September" terror cell burst into the
Israeli compound in Olympic Village and take hostages, of whom they will
eventually kill 11. Most of the terrorists (and planners) get away.
"Munich," 2005. Steven Spielberg, who made "Schindler's List,"
one of the best movies about the Holocaust, and "Saving Private Ryan," a
brutally realistic World War II movie, bases "Munich" on the aftermath of
the evil at the '72 games. Gone is the heroic spirit, the do-or-die
sensibility on behalf of fighting evil, the recognition of courage for doing
right no matter how high the price or how messy the execution. Instead, the
director describes "Munich" as a "prayer for peace." He renders the movie as
a politically correct piety that is the moral equivalent of Chamberlain's
prayer for "peace in our time." (Neither Chamberlain nor Spielberg
identifies the gullible deity prayed to.)
The movie's less than subtle subtext invokes the Iraq War,
suggesting that the violent American response to Islamist violence, like the
violence required of Israel to protect itself, can only beget a circle of
blood and death in which nobody wins.
The movie plot is simple. Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency,
gives orders to a squad of five "foot soldiers" to track down and kill the
members of Black September who got away. The aim is not revenge but to
prevent the terrorists from killing again, something the German hosts would
not or could not do. In the words of Prime Minister Golda Meir: "Every
civilization finds it necessary to negotiate compromises with its own
values." So far, fair enough.
The Israeli avengers start out as tough, cold warriors doing
what's right for their country. Like the American soldiers dispatched to
save Private Ryan, they can kill up close, looking their victims in the eye,
dispatching evil men who intend to kill again. As difficult as it is to
watch, we feel safer knowing the avengers are willing to do that.
But Mr. Spielberg can't resist bringing into admiring focus the
stereotypical guilt-ridden, agonizing Jew, willing to conspire in his own
destruction, the stereotype whom the Israelis long ago replaced. He turns
the resolute idealistic Israeli leader of the squad of avengers into a
vulnerable, hesitant, self-questioning Hamlet, suffering from what can only
be characterized in post-modern terms as "post (paranoid) traumatic stress
syndrome." In this scenario, which has no recognizable basis in actual fact,
the enemy morphs from the Palestinian terrorist into the Israeli government.
Mr. Spielberg insists he doesn't want to demonize anybody, so to
avoid doing that he demonizes the Israelis, ignoring the reality that
Palestinian terrorists started all this by bursting in on sleeping Jews.
Because we don't see much of the terrorists, except in brief cinematic
flashbacks, we don't hear about the murder of civilians, usually women and
children, in airports and markets over the years. The movie dispatches the
Mossad to operate without context, without precedent. There's no hint that
payback, dealt from strength, is meant to inhibit future terrorists.
Curiously, at the end, the camera pans the New York City skyline,
with the Twin Towers standing prominently tall. "Had to show them,"
Spielberg tells Time magazine. The terrorism that began in the Middle East
has come at last to our shore. Mr. Spielberg insists he didn't mean for the
pan to the Twin Towers to carry "resonance" with the murder of the Israeli
athletes. But why else would he put the scene there but to suggest, in a
heavy-handed way, that just as Israeli violence begets violence, the violent
American response to September 11 will only beget violence?
Mr. Spielberg's movie, which is entertainment after all, can
ignore the "clash of civilizations" and its deadly implications, but the
rest of us cannot. When warring with evil, the civilized world must be wary
of negotiating compromises with its cherished values. It's a matter of life
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© 2005, Suzanne Fields, Creators Syndicate