March 4, 2006
The Movie Spielberg Didn't MakeBy Rick Richman
Sunday evening, as clips are shown of the films nominated for 'Best Picture,' we will probably see —— along with a worldwide audience —— Golda Meir pondering the decision to assassinate the Palestinians behind the 1972 Munich atrocity.
The audience will hear her say words she never actually said
Most of the audience will not realize the words are false, or that important parts of the movie (including the supposedly conscience—stricken main character) are fiction.
Munich is not likely to win the Oscar (TM), which will probably go to Brokeback Mountain —— a haunting, beautifully—crafted story of loneliness and loss that is 'about' gay cowboys only in the sense that Moby Dick is 'about' a whale. But showing the Munich clip to a huge primetime audience, throughout the world, will further disseminate the film's misinformation.
We know what Munich is 'about' —— because Spielberg has told us. The message is that
and leads not to peace but to perpetual violence, which morally tarnishes not only the bad guys but the good ones as well.
But the movie is actually about something more than that. In the final scene, the lead character, no longer convinced of the morality of Israel's counter—terrorist campaign, turns his back on his Israeli case officer and heads 'home' —— back to his new residence in Brooklyn, where he can live as a Jew rather than as a compromised Israeli. As the camera pulls back, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center occupy the center of the screen.
The message of that final scene is either that Israel's counter—violence in the Middle East produced an escalating series of 'responses' that culminated in 9/11, or perhaps that 9/11 was itself America's 'Munich,' with Israel's story a cautionary tale of how a forceful response produces only more violence, resulting in war rather than peace.
If that were not clear enough, Spielberg's screenwriter, Tony Kushner, has written that the point of the movie is that, when terrorism occurs, the proper response is to 'struggle to comprehend' it and to ask ourselves 'Why did that happen?' —— an obvious distinction to the Israeli approach in 1972.
The film's connection of Israel to America's current circumstances is thus unmistakable, and Spielberg said in an interview about the film that he is 'critical of [the Bush] administration.' The image of the main character going 'home' to Brooklyn —— abandoning a foreign war to return to his values —— in fact recalls and combines the slogans of the anti—war campaigns of both George McGovern ('Come home, America') and John Kerry ('Let America be America again').
Munich is thus ultimately not 'about' the post—Munich assassination squad (an old story), nor the moral hazards of war (an old and clich�d story), but rather a much larger, more current issue, with an admittedly political point.
It is about the war we are currently in.
Ironically, there was another 9/11 movie that Spielberg might have made. In July 2004, Ron Rosenbaum —— the editor of the landmark collection of essays entitled 'Those Who Forget the Past: The Question of Anti—Semitism' —— stayed up all night reading the galleys of Philip Roth's then—upcoming novel —— The Plot Against America. Writing in the New York Observer, Rosenbaum reported the novel had 'the makings of a thrilling, suspenseful and profound movie.' He suggested that Steven Spielberg make it.
Roth's novel is a work of counter—history about America and World War II —— an imagination of what might have happened, but did not, which thus sheds light on what actually did. In the novel, Charles Lindbergh defeats FDR in 1940 and becomes president at a pivotal moment in history, when only Britain was still fighting Hitler and Churchill's resistance seemed doomed. Lindbergh seeks to keep America out of the war.
Roth appended to his novel the actual speech Lindbergh gave at an America First rally in Des Moines, Iowa on September 11, 1941. In that 9/11 speech, Lindbergh warned against three groups —— the British, the Jews, and the Roosevelt administration —— whom he accused of leading America by subterfuge and lies into a foreign war for their own purposes, against American values:
Lindbergh asserted the Roosevelt administration had used the war
He ended his speech by concluding that it was
It was not yet too late, in other words, to come home —— as George McGovern, John Kerry, or the main character in Munich might have put it —— to quit our participation in a morally compromised effort in the larger world, and to be America again.
As Rosenbaum noted, if America had followed Lindbergh's advice, Hitler might have in fact created his Thousand Year Reich.
Spielberg of course did not make a movie of Roth's novel. Instead he made a movie that connects Israel's counter—terrorism to September 11, suggesting the current American war is counterproductive and morally compromised, the result of an administration and its neocon supporters (and we all know who they are) who refuse to come home.
The ultimate irony is that America's most successful director —— a liberal, a Jew —— made a movie that Charles Lindbergh might have liked.
On Sunday night, as Spielberg is honored with the showing of a clip from his film, it would be good to recall what Golda Meir actually said in 1972, according to Striking Back (Aaron J. Klein's recent book on Munich and its aftermath):
It is a shame that Steven Spielberg did not make a movie about that.
Rick Richman is the proprietor of Jewish Current Issues.