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 historical parallels.

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."

Return to the Calendar page!