Nearly every review
of the Steven Spielberg film "Munich," especially those
that are sympathetic to the film's "stop the cycle of violence"
message, describes the movie as a story about Israeli "revenge"
for the Palestinian murder of the Israeli athletes at the 1972
In so doing they reveal
their instinctive ambivalence, if not antagonism, toward what
Israel did: sending out a hit team to kill those involved in the
So let's deal with
this whole question of revenge and the widespread assumption --
from the secular Left to the religious Right -- that revenge is
by definition morally wrong.
Revenge is defined
by the Cambridge University dictionary as "harm done to someone
as a punishment for harm that they have done to you." Now,
in general, especially in personal life, this is not a good policy.
If someone steps on your toe, it is not wise or good to do the
same to him.
However, the desire
to see identical harm inflicted on the evildoer is not only not
wrong, it is at the essence of an empathetic, moral and just heart
and conscience. What sort of person reads what a torturer did
to an innocent victim and doesn't want to see that torturer suffer?
Those who have no desire to see such people suffer commensurate
with the evil they have inflicted have blunted the natural human
desire for justice.
And talking about
justice, what sort of justice would it have been for Israel not
to seek the death of the murderers of their athletes? Would the
world be a finer, kinder, let alone more just, place if all those
murderers had been allowed to live?
That argument is never
advanced in the screenplay of "Munich." Instead, all
the arguments put into the mouths of the Israeli hit team are
about "Jewish blood is not cheap" and other nationalistic
-- as opposed to moral -- defenses. This is because the chief
writer, Tony Kushner, is a man of the Left; and the Left has lost
its hatred of evil, its ability to recognize evil and, most of
all, any desire to wage war against it.
That's why the movie
is a paean to "stop the cycle of violence." Its leftist
writers and well-intentioned but naive director reduce wars against
perpetrators of evil to "seeking revenge" or becoming
"no better than their enemies," and other cliches that
literally demoralize wars fought by good societies. The same arguments
are given by the same people against executing murderers: "When
we kill murderers, we are no better than them." As if killing
Timothy McVeigh was morally equivalent to his murder of innocents
in Oklahoma City.
Of course, none of
this means that all revenge is moral. When revenge is unjust --
if, for example, the Israelis had murdered a group of Palestinian
athletes -- it is immoral.
But what could be
more just, more moral, than Israel targeting only the murderers
for death? Though the film attempts to portray the Israeli response
as morally useless -- with "cycle of violence" and "it
accomplishes nothing since they just substitute a new terrorist
for the one last killed" arguments -- the film is nevertheless
a tremendous compliment to the Israelis.
First, it shows how
careful the Israelis were to kill only the murderers (though the
Israeli hit team did in fact kill one innocent Moroccan in Norway,
which is not shown in the film).
Second, while the
Israelis are constantly asking themselves if they are doing what
is right, there is not a hint of moral self-inquiry among the
Palestinians. For good reason.
So while the film
is dedicated to the proposition that men involved in killing murderers
become themselves morally inferior beings and therefore pay a
great personal price for their war on evil, the facts of the film,
as opposed to the made-up dialogue, suggest quite the opposite:
That the world is a better place when revenge and justice are
2005 Creators Syndicate