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The Olympics, Terrorism and Steven Spielberg

Raymond J. Keating

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On the Church and Society
February 6, 2006

Raymond J. KeatingHollywood, the Olympics and terrorism have come to an intersection. Predictably, however, the movies get fuzzy on wrongdoing and justice.

Late last month, director Steven Spielberg's "Munich" garnered Oscar nominations for best picture and best director. The film looks at the terrorist attack on the 1972 Munich Olympics, and Israel's response. Meanwhile, the Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy, run from February 10 through February 26.

Since the 9-11 attacks, anti-terrorism efforts obviously have been beefed up, including at major events. As the Associated Press reported, Italy has assigned more than 9,000 police officers to protect the Turin Olympics.

But nearly three decades before 9-11, the Munich Olympics served as a high-profile venue for terrorism. Palestinian terrorists butchered eleven Israeli athletes. As a result, Israel launched a counter-terrorism effort that included killing many of those responsible for the Munich attacks, as well as a broader assault on terrorists.

The film "Munich" turns out to be Steven Spielberg's impression of Oliver Stone. Stone has proven to be a skillful, but confused and manipulative filmmaker, who shows no regard for truth when making movies about historical topics. "Munich" is Spielberg at his most confused and manipulative.

Spielberg's "Munich" asserts moral equivalence between Palestinian terrorists, who kill innocent civilians, and Israel's response to terrorist attacks. This is done in various ways in the film. For example, the murders of Israeli athletes are chopped up and interspersed over the entire film, so the movie watcher sees a deadly and, as presented, questionable Israeli response before seeing the entirety of the terrorist acts. In addition, the Israeli effort to track down and kill those responsible for terrorism at Munich is portrayed as inept, morally suspect, and ultimately ineffective.

By the end of this uneven film, the lead assassin comes to doubt the legitimacy of Israel's efforts. Spielberg offers nothing to counter this, but instead reinforces the suspicion throughout the movie. And as the former assassin and his case officer go their separate ways in New York, looming in the background is the World Trade Center. If anyone other than Spielberg made this film, it would have drawn the anti-Semitic label.

Fortunately, a new book offers a much-needed antidote to Spielberg's mess. "Striking Back: The 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre and Israel's Deadly Response" by Aaron J. Klein, Time magazine's military and intelligence affairs correspondent in the Jerusalem Bureau, is a straightforward report on the Munich attack and Israel's reaction. The topic, lots of new information, Israeli successes and mistakes, solid writing, and a balanced treatment make for a compelling and valuable read.

Klein reports that Palestinian terrorism at the Munich Games was later justified by one plotter as a way to put the Palestinians on the world stage, to get Palestinians released from Israeli jails, and to gain media attention. Klein also cites the reasons why a state, like Israel, chooses assassination. It is done to prevent more attacks by the terrorists targeted, to deter further terrorism in general, and as revenge or punishment, which also has terrorists "constantly looking over their shoulder in fear for their lives," and therefore, "less preoccupied with executing terror."

Spielberg misses the glaring moral difference. So, with no basis in historical fact, the director rather shamefully has Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir say in the movie that "every civilization finds it necessary to negotiate compromises with its own values." Shouldn't a nation carry out justice and protect its citizens?

This, of course, is not just a question for Jews in Israel, but for people of all faiths. Christians, for example, should note what St. Paul wrote about governing authorities: "But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer." (Romans 13:4)

The just-war theory basically requires that war should be defensive, be a last resort, and secure justice or protect the innocent. Understanding the failings that come with every human endeavor, it is hard to see how Israel's response does not meet that test. And the same goes for the U.S. response to 9-11.

Raymond J. Keating, also a columnist with Newsday, can be reached at ChurchandSociety@aol.com.

Copyright Raymond J. Keating

Posted: 09-Feb-06

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