Gallery of art and thoughts

The cartoons and contemplations of a twentysomething copy editor.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Munich, 1972

Steven Spielberg has come out with a movie about the Israeli response to the 1972 murders of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. Based on David Brooks' review in the New York Times, the film seems flawed, reflecting Hollywood pieties on tolerance at the cost of reality.

First, some background. Members of the Palestinian terror group Black September attacked the Olympic compound housing members of the Israeli team in 1972. The attackers killed two Olympians in the attack and took nine more hostage. During a clumsy German attempt to free the hostages, all of them died. So did five terrorists (out of eight) and one German policeman. The Olympics continued after a day of mourning, but International Olympic Committee president Avery Brundage did not mention the slain Israeli athletes during a speech on the first day that the Games resumed. Thanks to Arab protests, the United Nations did not pass a US-sponsored resolution condemning the terrorism. Reprisal attempts by the Israeli government killed Palestinian terror leaders, but whether or not these leaders were all involved in the Munich attack is questionable.

Now, Spielberg's film. It seems to show an interesting evolution in the man's career. In 1989, he portrayed Muslims as suicidal foils to Indiana Jones. Here, he generally absents them from "Munich" and lets ambivalent Israeli secret agents question whether all the violence is necessary. Spielberg says, "A response to a response doesn't really solve anything. It just creates a perpetual motion machine ... There's been a quagmire of blood for blood for many decades in that region. Where does it end?
"The only thing that's going to solve this is rational minds, a lot of sitting down and talking until you're blue in the gills."
Sounds like a sequel to Kingdom of Heaven, albeit almost 800 years later. In that film, too, Hollywood attempted to sell moviegoers the notion that the Middle East is a battle between two groups of people who, if they would only be persuaded to sit down in the same room, could solve their differences. Rubbish. Saladin wanted the Franks out of the Middle East, just as Hamas wants Israel out of historical Palestine, and just as many Israelis want Palestinians to be deported to Jordan. As long as Israelis and Palestinians cling to their conceptions of themselves, there will be no peace, and cold war will be the best possible outcome.

Why is the man behind Schindler's List -- a film that, more than any other, awakened the public to the magnitude of the Jews' suffering -- now coming out with a film that diminishes the Munich tragedy? In Hollywood today, both principles are holy writ: the Holocaust is bad, and Israel's treatment of the Palestinians is bad. To question either statement would be tantamount to questioning Josef Stalin during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.

Perhaps Spielberg simply knows his audience. The people who will see this film will do so after hearing about it on NPR and reading about it in the New York Times (although the Gray Lady deserves credit for running Brooks' piece). Or perhaps Spielberg believes what he is saying. It's easy to do so when you live far from the actual conflict. Yes, by all means, let's put both sides in a room and talk our problems over ... unless the other side is Republican.

I will see this movie and add further comments once I have done so.


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