Munich: Not Quite a Massacre
Munich inherently attracts controversy. Its labeling by critics as a controversial movie is not due to any strange perspective chosen by its director, but rather its subject matter. It has been panned by liberals due to its brutality: likewise, conservatives detest the movie’s instances of leniency towards the enemies of Israel. Both sides have distaste in the movie’s questionable source.
Having read the source material (Vengeance by George Jonas and One Day in September by Simon Reeve) and being a ninja, you are better off listening to me.
It is time for a little history lesson: on September 5, 1972, 8 terrorists working for the Palestinian terrorist organization Black September stormed the Olympic apartment complex of the Israeli delegation and took 11 hostages. Two were killed in the early morning struggle. What happened next would go down as one of the biggest s.n.a.f.u.’s in history. The German’s incompetence at negotiations, their lack of expertise at anti-terrorism, and their refusal to allow Mossad to handle the situation amounted to a 21-hour debacle in which nothing was achieved. Finally, the German government decided to fly the hostages and terrorists in two helicopters to the nearby airport of Fürstenfeldbruck where a Boeing jet would await the terrorists and hostages. The plan was to disguise the German police as the airline’s crew, yet minutes before the arrival of the helicopters the police disengaged. Next, 5 snipers were distributed around the perimeter but none of them were actually snipers: they were simply members of a marksmen club. None of the snipers knew where the other ones were located. By the time the helicopters landed, all hell broke loose. In an act of desperation, the terrorists opened fire on the hostages and threw a grenade into one of the copters, burning the corpses of the athletes within. By 1:30 a.m. on the morning of September 6, all 11 hostages were killed and 3 of the terrorists were taken into custody.
The Olympic games were halted for one day, during which time the Olympic flag was flown at half-mast. Unsurprisingly, the Arab athletes demanded it be flown at full mast. The games resumed the next day and there would be no talk about them being cancelled altogether. Digusted by the insensitivity shown by the Olympic committee, the remaining Israelis flew back to Israel. The Philippine and Algerian teams also left, as did members of the Dutch and Norwegian teams. Marathon runner Kenny Moore quoted one of the Dutch athletes as saying, “You give a party, and someone is killed at the party, you don’t continue the party, you go home. That’s what I’m doing.”
On October 29, a German Lufthansa jet was hijacked and demands were made for the release of the three Black September members being held for trial. They were released.
According to Simon Reeve, when it became clear that the perpetrators would not face justice in Germany, Golda Meir and the Israeli Defense Committee made a decision secretly authorizing the Mossad to kill Black September and PFLP operatives. The Mossad established a team to locate and eliminate them, aided by the agency’s stations in Europe.
The Israeli revenge missions later became known as Operation Wrath of God. This is the story of Vengeance and, subsequently, Munich.
Munich is very true to the book. Contrary to a lot of conservative commentators, it is not this ninja’s opinion that Spielberg had a “pro Palestinian” agenda with this film or tried to equalize Palestians and Israelis. As in the book, the film devotes more screen time to the personal lives of the Mossad agents than it does to any of the targets being turned into chunks of meat. Much of the criticism focuses on the “sympathetic” portrayal of each target as normal people, though I do not think “sympathy” is quite the word for it: “human” is more appropriate. Think about it: Spielberg had to show both sides of the coin or else his movie would be little more than a Michael Bay action movie which would probably not amount to more than an hour of screen-time. Any director in this position would have two choices: portray your enemies as behaving as scum at all times or show that, suprisingly, wolves do hide behind sheep’s clothing (and are, at times, seen as sheep). In real life, do our enemies actually go out of their way to project themselves as antagonists? No. And that is what Spielberg aimed to do. He did not humanize terrorists so that we would sympathize with them, but rather to give the realistic view of how the world works. In matters of anti-terrorism and domestic policy, it is the human quality of the enemy that liberals fall back on when they try to preach peace or paint terrorists as “freedom fighters.” George Jonas, author of Vengeance, makes it quite clear that neither he nor the character of “Avner” would ever make that equation. Avner, in the epilogue, even says that while he detested taking the lives of these people, he has no regrets having ever done so. That is one crucial statement I wish they left in the movie. Mossad never kills innocents or civilians: that’s the major flaw in the logic of liberals who say that the war on terror is in and of itself terrorism. Terrorists aim to strike fear by showing that no one is safe. Espionage and military action, on the other hand, are designed to eliminate and minimize civilian casualties. This is explicitly demonstrated in the movie, as Palestinian terrorists don’t give a damn about who they kill whereas the Israelis just want to kill the people responsible for Munich.
The movie fails miserably, however, by minimalizing the importance of its most crucial plot segment: the Munich Massacre. You see it in small clips, but it doesn’t pack an emotional punch. It would be like making a film about the war on terror and only showing 10 seconds of 9-11 footage… it makes the whole war look stupid without something significant to fall back on. Ironically, the book Vengeance spends 1/4 of the book on the Munich Massacre before we are introduced to the main characters. It always has the massacre riding on its tail, consistenly reminding readers why Israel is doing what it does. We do not get that same feeling with Munich: flashbacks, when they appear, make us say “oh yeah, forgot about that.” Which is a shame, considering that Spielberg could have used this emotional point of history to redeem himself as a director.