Saturday, October 8, 2011

Munich and a state’s prosecution of violence

I remember the film Munich and wish to see it again soon. I first saw it in January 2006 and at the time it affected me greatly while reaffirming my personal perspectives about the cunning ways a sophisticated nation-state could exercise violence in support of national policies, in the face of unconventional and rather cunning enemies.

The film follows a member of Israel’s Mossad who participated in Operation Wrath of God, a methodical series of missions to kill the Black September movement members thought responsible for the murder of eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. Later, I read George Jonas’ book, Vengeance upon which Tony Kushner and Eric Roth based their script for director Steven Spielberg. This film receives scant mention these days, as does the Mossad or Black September.

I believe we will never go back to this time of secrecy, not because we can’t but rather because as Americans we were never there to begin with in any serious way. We have our share of secret special operations in our history, but what we lack is consistency and skill. We lack the resolve. We possess an inherent urge to reveal; for what we comfortably call transparency. We are skillfully adept at operations employing overwhelming firepower. We kill individuals with precision guided missiles and then broadcast the “battle damage assessment” (BDA), complete with DNA proof of death, with bombastic and proud pronouncement from presidential podiums. Impressive? To whom? You?

I’ve never been impressed with overwhelming firepower. I learned to respect it, but I also learned that when it comes to hunting an enemy, one must do it with care, quietly, in order to sustain the ability to do so on a long term basis. Overwhelming firepower, even harkening back to the use of atomic weapons on Japan, has consequences. Killing civilians, with nation-state armed forces should not be tolerated in my planning notebook. But over the last two decades, we’ve grown accustomed to overwhelming firepower, the ease of it, and we no longer as a nation care about killing innocent, unengaged-in-the-struggle civilians. We have exercised overwhelming force because we could. Who was there to stop us? Why bother with cunning, patience, time, precision, and secrecy?

I think our enemies know that we overwhelm as a matter of doctrine which makes them a bit more flexible in the cunning and secrecy department. I sense as individuals, most of our current enemies do not see themselves, as individuals, as special. Our American military forces, equipped with the highest quality sophisticated weaponry, equipment, and technologies are impressive. Yet I believe we’re incapable of confronting movements, insurgencies, unconventional small forces with conventional overwhelming tactics and journalistic HD-quality transparency.

We have invaded and occupied but we will depart. We have overwhelmed, and in so doing, served to underwhelm and encouraged our enemies to fight on with even greater will and resolve. We have flaunted our power and become rather arrogant about its use.

I am currently re-reading a book called “The Arrogance of Power” by J. William Fulbright (1967), a book Mr. Clemens assigned to us in political science class in high school, a set of ideas that I am happy have stuck with me. Munich stuck with me as well.

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