I was alive during the 1972 Olympic Massacre, though I was rather young to have recognized the events as marking a fundamental shift in how the world functions.
Still, my own level of self-awareness notwithstanding, it was a turning point in that it made the nations of the world sit up and realize that Palestinian terrorist organizations had a very long reach, and that they weren’t going to go away on their own. One indirect result from this terrible act of mass murder was that the UN decided to grant legitimacy to the PLO a mere two years later, an attempt at appeasement that we’re still trying to deal with more than 3 decades later.
Steven Spielberg recently came out with a movie entitled Munich. In the film, a team of Israeli professionals are tasked to track down and assassinate the terrorists responsible for the Olympic murders. Although an undeniably well crafted film, Spielberg bends over backwards in an attempt to portray both sides of the conflict as being morally equal. This, in my opinion, is one flaw that simply cannot be overcome.
A review of the film can be found at Strategypage.com. The author manages to capture my objections perfectly.
The true events to which Steven Spielberg refers in Munich are the massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes by Black September in 1972, and the subsequent assassination of those responsible for planning the atrocity by Israeli agents. Spielberg takes considerable artistic license with his tale, and the result is both disappointing and profoundly dishonest.
What Spielberg seems to forget is that the 1970’s could very well be called The Decade of the Terrorist. Europe, as well as the rest of the world, was rocked by spectacular attacks, kidnappings and atrocities from terrorist organizations both home grown and international in scope. The reason that those organizations which existed then are largely gone today is due to the brave men and women who put their lives on the line and implacably hunted the guilty down, not on any effort at appeasement. But Spielberg’s film, with its attempt to find moral equivalence between terrorists and those who oppose them, is just such an effort.
15 thoughts on “Revising History”
Speaking of “hunted the guilty down”, we could use a bit more of that.
appeasement has never solved anything. Those being appeased see it as a sign that they are winning and that the appeasers are weak thus it is in their best interest to continue the fight.
I have not seen the film but I believe Spielberg is not so much as giving moral equivalency as showing the futility of an eye for an eye, a tactic that never ends. However, some agents of Mossad went public and said the aim of going after terrorists was to end t errorism, to show it did not work, rather than to “even the score.”
So if I get what you’re saying: you have problem with the film since you belive there is “good” violence (Israeli counter-terrorism) and “bad” violence (any “terrorist”). The “good” violence is allowed (and admired as well as encouraged!) if it stamps out “bad” violence, but the film did not make this distinction strongly enough for your liking. Is this correct?
But who’s to keep score? What if one’s grievances are real and legitimate or themselves have been imposed unjustifiably by asymmetric power relations or by “bad” violence itself? More than a few objective observers might suggest that what appears (in the eyes of some) to be apparent “bad” violence, could reasonably be inverted since those perpetrating the alledged “bad” violence did not initiate the violence, but were responding to an external aggression.
There are lots of credible and defensible reasons to abhor and disavow terrorism, but self-adjudicated moral superiority surely is not one of them.
So if I get what you’re saying: you have problem with the film since you belive there is “good” violence (Israeli counter-terrorism) and “bad” violence (any “terrorist”).
Not just in the film but also in reality. Terrorism deliberately targets innocent civilians, efforts to bring the terrorists to justice deliberately targets the terrorists.
What if one’s grievances are real and legitimate or themselves have been imposed unjustifiably by asymmetric power relations or by “bad” violence itself?
You’re constructing a straw man. There is no justification for terrorism because terrorists, like I said, deliberately target innocent civilians.
PS Why is it that people who hold abhorrent views always post with pseudonyms? They always claim that their stand is morally correct, so why not come forward and be counted?
History is written by the victors and so the inhabitants of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden, and Wounded Knee were all “enemy combatants”?!?!
You’re logic is compelling!
Hamas targeted Israeli non-combatants outside of Israel. That is the globalization of terrorl The examples of the losers not writing history is not much of an argument. After all, there are many of us winners who continue to deplore what we did to the American Indian and the ruthless fire bombing of Dresden and the use of A bombs agains civilian cities. Ps: if I am anon it is simply that I have been barred from posting at this site and so am using a proxy change in order to post. Let freedom ring!
It is my understanding that the film doesn’t even show the murder of the Olympians, yet spends the entire movie detailing the poor, poor terrorists being attacked by ruthless Mossad agents.
Thanks Steve, really, thanks a lot.
It is progress that we can look back, feel remorse, and know in our hearts what’s been done is wrong. Would you change it? Sitting in Truman’s seat, with your knowledge, would YOU let the fate of the emperor stand between Japan’s surrender and decision to slaughter hundreds of thousands innocents and civilians?
In the particular case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the vanquished of 1948 have lost the privilege of branding who is a terrorist. THAT is how the victors have written history and that is how American’s accept it. But by Mr Rummel’s definitions, and even with your clarification, the Stern’s were “Terrorists” and would be blacklisted by US laws today. And while I do not decry Mossad’s hunting down of “terrorists” outside of Israel, precisely for the reasons Mr. Rummel highlights, I would suggest there is strong hypocrisy in claiming moral superiority particularly since Israel was founded by “Terrorists” (not the pejorative – just the US textbook definition) and has a long record punctuated by Sabra and Shattila, and two decades of sadness and terror upon the innocent civilians of South Lebanon highlighted so poignantly by Fisk.
Contrary to Mr. Rummel’s ad hominem slurs, I make no claim as to the moral superiority of my views. I am just highlighting the logic vacuum he is using to assert the moral superiority of Israel & Mossad.
Finally, I respect Israel’s (and every sovereign state’s) right to defend itself. I pass no moral judgement upon extra-judicial assasinations or other such methods employed to combat terrorism deemed necessary in their defense. I do however, believe they should simply be honest about what it is and what it is for, though I understand such honesty would compromise financial support from the USA – even from Jews. It much easier for a man to kill “a terrorist” than it is for a man to kill another man, a freedom-fighter, or somone defending his home, family, children, however hapless and mis-guided his efforts and means may be.
. . . I would suggest there is strong hypocrisy in claiming moral superiority particularly since Israel was founded by “Terrorists” (not the pejorative – just the US textbook definition) and has a long record punctuated by Sabra and Shattila, and two decades of sadness and terror upon the innocent civilians of South Lebanon highlighted so poignantly by Fisk.
And the US govt put Japanese-Americans into concentration camps and used napalm in Vietnam, so who is Bush to claim moral superiority over Saddam Hussein. Your argument reeks of the moral confusion of someone who blaims the police rather than the kidnappers for the murder of a hostage during the rescue. Those poor innocent civilians of South Lebanon were victimized principally by Arafat and his thugs, who plundered the country and used it as a base for attacks on Israel. How dare those Israelis respond: they should have been satisfied to sleep in their bomb shelters (as, in northern Israel, they used to do before Israel invaded to put a stop to the constant attacks).
Damn right the Israelis were morally superior to the Munich killers. Are you saying there is something morally ambiguous about punishing killers? Only in your Fisk-world are the Jews tainted by original sin while those who murder Jews get the benefit of the doubt. Murder is wrong but not all killing is murder; not all violence is wrong. Violence in self-defense, to stop murderers from killing again, is a moral good. To allow murderers to escape because you think that violence is always wrong or that all violence is morally equivalent is evil.
Sitting in Truman’s seat, with your knowledge, would YOU let the fate of the emperor stand between Japan’s surrender and decision to slaughter hundreds of thousands innocents and civilians?
The most credible estimates that I’ve seen place the number of Japanese casualties from 5 million to 10 million dead if the Allies went ahead with Operation:Downfall and invaded the home islands. It seems to me that reducing the number of lives lost anywhere from 1/20th to 1/50th the actual number is a pretty compelling arguement in favor of using atomic weapons during the closing days of WWII.
The lobbying for terrorism is our times moral disease. To give moral equivalency to terrorists and their victims is a part of it.
A recent film, Paradise Now, is portraying two young Palestinien suicide killers as heroes. The film had a warm reception in festivals.
Some years ago, Ted Hondrich, a leftist philosopher, justified suicide killers in an intellectual pamphlet.
It seems that Spielberg now has joined this fashion.
A major reason for the success of those attempts to “understand” terrorism – in fact to justify terrorism – is hate of the West, in the West. Some people have romantic dreams of organic societies that live in a collective order. They see terrorism as a defense of that “natural” order against Western “degeneration” (individualism, liberalism, capitalism, counsumer society). These people read what is happening in the Middle East as a fight between this natural order against a destroying West (America and Jews). This is a misreading, to be sure, but one that has an enormous impact on Western intellectual understanding of the world as well as on the conflict between Israel and Palestiniens. Large parts of the West are tempted by this interpretation. The heroes of this story are the Palestiniens (they are, in fact, also a product of the interaction between locals and a Western “left”). The story itself, largely detached from the facts on the ground, is an important part of leftist political culture, in books and in films.
Mr. Speck you may be right with your detailed analysis and superior understanding (not that it has anything whatsoever to do with my seemingly contentious assertion that Israel no no claim to the moral high ground in a two-sided cycle of violence. Engaging recent historical context to better understand a conflict, is rather one should be willing to admit, different than romantizing terrorism and terrorists or ” having “romantic dreams of organic societies that live in a collective order”. You are articulate in what you say, but it is not germane to whether Israel can assert to have moral superiority when they themselves have been thsame using Mr. Rummel’s own definition.
Finally, Mt Rummel employs some 2nd grade math to justify the specific targetting of civilians – which by his definition is terrorism – in order to end the war with fewer US casualities. Unfortunately for these facile excuses for terrorism, most historians agree and admit that invasion was unecessary to end the war, and the only thing preventing such an end was agreement on the terms of surrender – particularly the fate of the emperor following surrender who the Americans demanded be tried as a war criminal. So the question really is: was the Emperor’s life worth thhe hundreds of thousands of innocent Japnese civialn lives NOT what the US would have lost in invasion.
Doing the right thing is a function of what you do, not of who you are or what your countrymen did in the past or even what you did in the past. Even if the Mossad agents who assassinated the Munich killers were somehow personally to blame for the acts of past Jewish terrorists (who did not found the State of Israel, BTW: they were bit players who were tolerated later in politics only because they stopped being terrorists), they would still have been justified — morally superior to the PLO murderers they assassinated.
You are still missing the point. The decisions to bomb Japanese civilians were based on the judgment — which, pace your 2nd-grade appeal to the authority of “most historians” (who?), seems quite reasonable to me — that doing so was the only practical alternative to an invasion that would have cost additional millions of lives. That is similar in principle to what Israel did in killing the Munich killers, and quite different from Palestinian terrorists, who kill as an end in itself because their goal is the destruction of a society. Of course the USA could have made peace with Japan on Japanese terms, as Israel could make peace with the PLO on the terrorists’ terms, but not everyone thinks there is anything morally virtuous about surrendering to the people who attacked you.
There is no cycle of violence. There are attackers and defenders, the morality of whose actions is a function of those actions. Violence by defenders imposes a price on attackers that, if it’s made to be high enough, stops further attacks. The Israelis who assassinated the Munich murderers were acting in defense against aggressors and had the moral high ground.
Often, moral equivalency is confused with causation and responsibility. Spielberg is not saying the Israelis and Palestinians are morally equivalent in their 1972 actions. Instead, he is simply exploring (heaven forbid) the theory we are seeing today in the Middle East — namely, that while Israel may be morally superior to its terrorist enemies, it’s summary, violent reprisals might play SOME role (causation/responsibility) in the conflict.
Violent reprisal against terrorism is always justified with an ends/means argument. But part of that analysis requires that the means result in the desired end. If we set aside the mess of Iraq now for history to catch up and partisanship to be swept away, I would argue that Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Northern Africa demonstrate that (perhaps) the desired ends are not falling into place as planned. I don’t hear much hooting any more about sowing the seeds of democracy in Lebanon anymore. The Orange Revolution? Ask Yuri Yekhanurov how well that’s going. Libya? Well, maybe.
Munich is not a score card or butcher’s bill, requiring an even accounting of each side’s moral standing. Only the truly intellectually bereft still doubt who is in the right here. Instead, the movie asks questions some of us don’t want to think about. Are our actions the most pragmatic way of dealing with an issue? Even if the answer is yes, there seems nothing wrong to me about pondering it.
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