Steven Spielberg, Tony Kushner, Eric Roth and George Jonas, 2005
After the "Black September" terrorists murder eleven Israelis at
the 1972 Olympics in Munich, the Israeli government sends a team of
assassins to kill various Arabs who, the government claims, had a
hand in the attack. At first the revenge is cathartic but gradually
the assassins begin to wonder whether they're doing the right thing,
either morally or, considering that every man they assassinate is
replaced by someone worse, pragmatically.
I dunno. As a movie, I didn't find it all that compelling —
it took me three sittings to get through it. As a political allegory,
I agree with it, but I imagine that anyone intelligent enough to
understand the implications of the final shot has already devoted some
thought to the Bush Administration's approach to terrorism and developed
an opinion on it that isn't likely to be overthrown by an evocation of
The basic argument of Munich is that the murder of the Israeli
athletes at the 1972 Olympics was so heinous that the government could
not let it pass by without a response — especially after Germany,
which bungled the crisis in the first place, caved to the terrorists
weeks afterward and released the surviving perpetrators of Munich in
response to a hijacking — but that Israel's revenge (a) was
counterproductive, as the Israeli agents' targets were simply replaced
by even nastier characters; (b) may well not have even been directed
at those responsible for Munich; and (c) destroyed the lives of those
involved as they became scared of their own shadows, and perhaps justifiably
so. The corollary is that the same points hold true for the US thirty
years later. The movie also asks to what extent a nation can compromise
its principles in order to protect itself. Not enough, of course, and it
can be destroyed from without (especially true for a tiny country like
Israel); too much, and it is thereby destroyed from within, in fact if
not in name.
But I found myself thinking along different lines after watching
Munich. Again, let's look at that last point. Israel is very
different from its neighbors. Surrounded by Third World dictatorships
and medieval atavisms where women can't drive, can't vote, can't even
show their hair, the Israelis have built a flourishing, modern First World
democracy that outpaced the rest of the world in establishing equality
for women. But the back-and-forth between Israel and its enemies —
you blow up a bus and kill our civilians, we strafe a building from a
helicopter and kill your children, you kidnap and kill our settlers, we
kill your rock-throwing teenagers, you murder our Olympic athletes, we
assassinate your patrons — has the effect of making them look the
same. They're not, but eventually people throw up their hands and say,
"Oh, just let them kill each other — one's just as bad as the other."
"One's just as bad as the other" is a pretty accurate summation of how
I felt during the 2000 election season. And while I know that that's
not true — Democratic control of the government would have meant
no plutocratic tax shift, no outrageous deficit, no disastrous war in
Iraq, no Roberts, no Alito — the Democrats have done seemingly
everything in their power to reinforce this notion. In 2000 they chose
a censorious collaborationist as VP; in 2002 they boldly trotted out
the message that "we're just like the Republicans, except we would also
like a prescription drug benefit"; in 2004 they nominated one of the
foremost anti-war activists of the Vietnam era and organized his
campaign around the notion that he'd been all wrong and that the
Vietnam War had in fact been a heroic enterprise. They also charted
out their future by inviting Barack Obama to give a big speech about
how there are no differences between blue and red America —
you know, the same guy who's now clucking about liberals and their
silly wall between church and state. (Now that Bush's poll numbers
are down the Democrats have been slightly more aggressive, accusing
the Administration of incompetence. Some commentators have pointed
out that "incompetence" is the wrong charge entirely: things like the
non-response to Katrina weren't failures but rather very successful
implementations of the governing philosophy of Grover Norquist and
company. Similarly, those who point to the way Democrats get
destroyed in election after election and accuse them of incompetence
may be missing the point — perhaps they're not good at opposing
because they're just not all that opposed.)
There are a couple of entities that have stepped into the void and
provided some semblance of opposition to both the Republican Party
and the right-wing media machine that encompasses Fox News, talk
radio, Regnery Publishing, and the like. One is The Daily Show,
quite possibly the most important program ever to appear on television:
despite billing itself as a comedy program serving up "fake news," it's
such an incisive corrective to the bullshit foisted upon the public by
the government and the rest of the media that I find it almost miraculous
that it hasn't been hounded out of existence. Not only does it do what
no other mass-media outlet dares and point out that the emperor has no
clothes, it invariably has archival footage of him swinging by the
sweatshop to pick up his imaginary pants.
And then there are the political blogs.
At their best, they do a lot of the same work The Daily Show
does. But more often, checking in on the blog world leaves me feeling
the same way I do after reading the latest news from Washington or Gaza.
Some columnist for the Washington Post or The New Republic
or someplace will write something inane. A liberal blog replies with a
link and a line or two of childish name-calling and/or childish in-jokes.
Commenters take a break from typing "frist! hehe" into open threads and
send hate mail to the inane pundit. The inane pundit harrumphs about
these vulgar, puerile upstarts. The other blogs, having had a chance to
compose a considered reply to the original inane article, pile on with
unfunny replies vaguely along the lines of "fuck you, clown, fuck you."
Then they all post congratulatory links to each other's unfunny articles.
I know that a few jeers of "wanker" and "whiny ass titty baby" can't be
condemned as strongly as the eliminationist hate speech and that comes
from the right — just as I know that Mossad's crimes, committed in
an effort to save Israel, can't be condemned as strongly as the terrorists'
crimes, committed in an effort to destroy it. I know that intellectually.
But it's getting increasingly hard to read the insults flying back and
forth between the liberal "blogosphere" and its chosen enemies without
thinking, "Enh, one's as bad as the other."
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