The Right Coast

December 26, 2005
The Real Munich
By Mike Rappaport

Although I am concered that I will hate Spielberg's new movie, I am planning to see it anyway. His movies are good enough and the subject is compelling enough to make it worthwhile. Nonetheless, I already know enough about the movie's motivations and theme to recognize that I will certainly have some problems with it. Spielberg seems to think that a response to a terrorist attack leads to a Hatfields and McCoys situation -- a cycle of violence, if you will -- and so it may. But that does not change the fact that the side that engages in the initial attack, especially when it constitutes terrorism, is the wrong one. Moreover, while the responder may have to expect a further retaliation, if he fails to respond, he can expect an even stronger attack in the future. Sadly, terrorists typically perceive restraint as weakness rather than as principle and an opportunity for peace.

What really frustrates me about Hollywood movies concerning historical events is their tendency to play fast and loose with the facts. It is bad enough when liberal scholarship portrays history through a distorted lens; but Hollywood adds to that the intentional myopia of artistic license.

But forewarned is forearmed. So take a look at this Slate piece correcting what it sees as the movie's mistatements of the record:

The assassins in Munich are presented as quintessential everyday guys—patriots who want to defend their country and who gradually grow disillusioned, guilt-ridden, and paranoid. The Mossad teams did draw from the ordinary Israeli population, but they were well-trained professionals intent on their missions. In the movie, a Mossad agent gingerly asks a target if he "knows why we are here?" That's farfetched. In interviewing more than 50 veterans of the Mossad and military intelligence, I found not a single trace of remorse. On the contrary, Mossad combatants thought they were doing holy work.

The Munich Massacre triggered a fundamental change in Israel's approach to terrorism—a "Munich Revolution" (the phrase was used by the Mossad) that endures as a mindset and an operational protocol today. Finding and killing the perpetrators of the Munich Massacre was a part of that campaign only insofar as the men involved were deemed likely to act again. Revenge was the atmosphere—but preventing future attacks by networks that Israel saw as threatening its citizens was the goal.

But Spielberg has bought into one of the myths of the Mossad—that after Munich they staged a revenge operation to hunt down and assassinate everyone responsible. Israelis, too, bought into this myth (myself included, at one time) which a shocked public demanded—but that doesn't make it true.