Monday, January 02, 2006


There was an op-ed piece in yesterday's Los Angeles Times by Judea Pearl in response to the new Steven Spielberg movie, "Munich." Pearl is the father of the New York Times journalist, Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped last year and pitilessly murdered by Muslim extremists in Pakistan, and he condemned what he saw to be the "moral relativism" of the movie's take on the Munich hostage-taking and murder of those eleven Israeli Olympians, and the Israelis' subsequent pursuit and assassination of the Palestinian perpetrators of that dreadful deed. The piece was called "Justice must be done."

Well, Bush, I saw the film last week and saw things differently from Pearl. Admittedly, I don't have the same unenviable personal stake as he in the matter of kidnapping and murder, and I have nothing but respect for the unimaginable pain he assuredly continues to suffer in his life as a result of his son's death. He has a perspective on these things that few of us can share. I did, however, feel moved to respond to his essay in the form of a letter to the Times. Who knows if they'll publish it, so I'll include it here:

With the greatest respect for Judea Pearl's views on Steven Spielberg's film, "Munich," and the value he assigns to the need for justice, I disagree with his understanding that the movie's hero suffered merely from "a crisis of conscience." What I saw was a man whose soul was gradually and inevitably destroyed by the actions he was required to take in the name of justice. By the same token, I believe that our society risks detroying its collective soul a little more every time it puts a man or woman to death. "Justice", it seems to me, too often stands in for its Old Testament cousin: "Vengeance." I always feel deep sympathy for those whose families have been victimized by senseless brutality, and ask myself whether in their place I would be demanding the death of the perpetrator. I do come back, however, to the belief that justice does not necessarily demand more violence. Spielberg's movie was an eloquent plea for an end to the cycles of violence that destroy our souls.

You likely won't agree with me on this topic, Bush. We have talked about the death penalty a couple of times before in these pages--mostly recently in reference to the execution of Tookie Williams. But it goes much further than the death penalty, of course, and much wider than the assassination of the Munich terrorists. It goes also to the cycle of violence that we--and those we have "liberated"--are perpetuating in Iraq, with no end in sight. I know there will be those who think me simple-minded, but it's a simple, proven truth that violence serves only to beget violence; which, in turn, begets more violence. There are ways to pursue justice that do not involve more killing as their primary goal.

Whether you agree with me on this or not, "Munich" remains a terrific, powerful film, truly tragic in its portrayal of a young man losing his soul in service to his country, and to what he at first believes is a noble cause. Spielberg's strength, as Ellie pointed out as we left the theater, has always been as a story-teller, and he has told another spell-binding story here. His earliest movies stand as evidence of that gift: even when they were frothy and sentimental, they always grabbed the audience and held the attention as only a good story can. No more sentimentality or froth in this picture, though. This is tough, gritty stuff, with issues deep and complex enough to warrant both Pearl's and my own points of view. And, I'm sure, many others. Have you see it yet, Bush? Something for the White House screening room, I hope...

1 comment:

PK said...

While I have not seen the movie, I can remember exactly what I saw on the TV. I must admit, I cried then. My heart sank when Pearl died. Later, as feelings become more thoughts, I never thought of more death to compensate. It isn't rational to me. To know someone is cooped up in a cell, with nowhere to go the rest of their lives, with only thoughts for companions, is more to my cup of tea. At first it will be all about, "I showed them!", and later when the deep dark knowledge of where they are, and will be till they die, kicks in, that's where I want them to be. Their thoughts will eventually turn to what they did, and there isn't a Holy Book around that doesn't condemn them, I don't have to. They will do it all on their own. It is only my opinion, but that is where they need to be, not killed in some gas chamber, by noose or firing squad.