It can never be overstated the fallacy of making important decisions following tragic circumstances. In most cases, when one has been dealt a great blow, particularly on a national level, coming up with a swift and practical response can result in hasty decisions that fail to address the heart of the issue.
One obvious example is the U.S. Patriot Act. In 2001, it was simple. Before one crumb of dust could land on its cover as it lay on the floor of the Senate, the bill was passed into law. It was approved by every member of the senate except for Wisconsin Democratic Russ Feingold, who summed up his reservations perfectly by saying at the time, “I don’t want to hear again from the attorney general or anyone on this floor that this government has shown it can be trusted to use the power we give it with restraint and care.”
In other words: can we trust our government to respond with sound and impartial judgment to a tragedy such as Sept. 11, when the nation is looking for vengeance?
And knowing that something had to be done, the senate approved the Patriot Act soundly. Among the provisions in the 2001 version: roving wiretaps, allowing officials to conduct surveillance on suspected terrorists from any phone or computer they use, and the immediate disclosure of “suspected terrorists” customer records to law enforcement officials to head off immediate threats. If all that fails, I suppose they’ll grab a copy of George Orwell’s “1984” and pass it into law.
Eventually, when it came time to reinstate act, free from the immediacy of the
circumstances that led to its passage mind you, many people finally began to question its merits, particularly because the law’s effectiveness could not be proven.
Supporters of the act will argue that in four years we haven’t had a terrorist attack and that thousands of terrorists have been caught and potential attacks thwarted.
In response, it should be noted that:
Since we can obtain no evidence of any specific attacks prevented the third claim cannot be proven.
Many people have been arrested, whether they’re terrorists or not either is equally un-provable.
And wasn’t it President Clinton in 1992 who actually captured, tried and convicted theperpetrators behind the World Trade Center with no Patriot Act in sight?
It’s hard to trust one’s government at times of tragedy when they make decisions that could effect their constitutes lives in various negative ways.
Steven Spielberg’s excellent film Munich, released late last year is an example of such government responses.
The film chronicles the aftermath of the 1972 Munich Olympics, where 11 Israeli athletes were kidnapped and eventually murdered by Palestinian terrorists. The film focuses on the formation of a special revenge squad by the Israeli government to find and kill each of the 11 men responsible for the attack.
Eric Bana plays Avner, who was once a bodyguard to Prime Minister Golda Meir (here played by Lynn Cohen), who’s responsible for leading the squad.
He and his phalanx of “freedom fighters” are paid, assembled and subsequently told of their lack of “official existence” by Ephraim (Geoffrey Rush) who always seems to know more about the mission and the risks involved than any of the men putting their lives in jeopardy.
The thing that makes Munich so effective is the way it molds elements of thriller and political commentary. It manages to excite and make its discoveries about terrorists factions without resorting to preachy histrionics and easy solutions. It’s worth mentioning the fact that the group generally uses bombs rather than bullets to eliminate the men on the list because as Steve, (Daniel Craig) the trigger man on Bana’s squad says: “Bombs send a message, they get attention, people will know that we are not weak.”
One of the best scenes in the movie is where the group has planted a bomb in a
telephone of a terrorist leader. They are unprepared to discover that his young daughter comes home early and picks up the phone when it rings.
Does she die? I will not say, but the scene does make clear the cost of the waging a war on terrorism and those caught in the middle.
In the end though, Munich’s real power comes from its ability to ask important questions of our elected officials while looking objectively at the pros and cons of the terrorist’s beliefs, as well as the governments. The most pressing would apply to the Munich attacks, the Patriot Act and the War in Iraq in equal measure.
The most alarming discovery is toward the end of the film when Bana begins to question his go-between (Rush) about the identity of the men he killed in the name of revenge. Where they even terrorists or where they enemies of a state that couldn’t do their own dirty work? And what is the point of killing terrorist leaders if they will only be replaced by more ruthless leaders?
And there in lies the problem. Indeed, it’s like cutting weeds: they always grow back?