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Munich Syndrome

Are George Jonas's "Vengeance" and Steven Spielberg's "Munich" really soft on terrorism?

11:00 PM, Jan 5, 2006 • By SONNY BUNCH
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The film has its problems. As has been pointed out elsewhere, its devotion to reality is sorely lacking. While not a docudrama (the film opens by claiming only to be inspired by real events, not to be an actual portrayal of real events), some scenes are pure inventions of Spielberg and writer Tony Kushner. Yet, issues of factual fidelity aside, it is a misunderstanding of Munich to view the film as a work of moral equivalence.

For instance, much has been made of a scene near the beginning of the film in which photos of the Palestinian terrorists being targeted by the Mossad, and images of the dead Israeli athletes are juxtaposed. Some have suggested that this is a clear case of moral equivocation, that Spielberg is trying to imply that there is no difference between the two groups of "victims." But if anything, it seems as though Spielberg is trying to help the audience understand the motivations of the Israeli government. In actuality, he seems to be highlighting the fact that the murders at Munich forced Israel to pursue these terrorists.

On the whole, Munich is a finely-wrought character study of the effects of war on those who have to fight it--not an apologia for terrorism. By the movie's end Avner--gaunt, pale, and aged--is sleeping in a closet because he is afraid of retribution from Palestinian operatives. His fellow agents have been killed one by one and he now lives in fear, both for himself and his family.

Again, this may or may not be factually accurate. For his part, Klein says that of the 50 officers he spoke with "nobody knows some kind of figure who had remorse. And it's a close circle of people. The people who were actually involved are not a lot." One place where Klein and Spielberg would agree, however, is that, unlike the Palestinian terrorists, the Israelis took extreme lengths to ensure that innocents were not injured in their strikes. In the film, the team risks missing a target and blowing its cover to save the life of a little girl. Compare this to the Palestinian terrorists who have no problem with turning AK-47s on hogtied hostages. And then there is the deeper question of humanity: Avner understand the justness of his mission, but still struggles with the taking of life. The terrorists show no such qualms.

So even if it's inaccurate, Spielberg's characterization of a conflicted Avner is, in its own way, flattering to the Israelis. Indeed, it says more good than bad about the quality of the Israeli men who accepted the job of protecting their country by hunting down the terrorists who would do it harm. We should not want those tasked with defending us to be as remorseless as the sociopath terrorists who are so evil that they take delight in murder.

Sonny Bunch is an assistant editor at The Weekly Standard.