“From the blood drenched history of the Jewish nation, we learn that violence which begins with the murder of Jews, ends with the spread of violence and danger to all people, in all nations. We have no choice but to strike at terrorist organizations wherever we can reach them. That is our obligation to ourselves and to peace.” Golda Meir, 1972 (Klein, 1)

In the wake of Black September’s horrific display of violence during the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, Israeli officials began organizing what would be known as one of the world’s most elaborate counterterrorism efforts. Known as “Committee X,” this organization would be responsible for the deliberate assassination of dozens of conspirators supposedly allied with Black September and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) (Reeve, 160). George Jonas’s book, Vengeance, traces the committee’s actions with overwhelming accuracy. His book garnered enough legitimacy and praise that Steven Spielberg transformed Jonas’s book, into the 2005 film, Munich. The movie dealt with some of the most pertinent religious, political, and ethical questions surrounding the counterterrorist organization. Spielberg’s close friend and screenwriter for the movie, Tony Kushner, stated in an interview with Time magazine that, “The conflict between national security and ethics raised deep questions. I was surprised to discover how much the story had to do with questions about being in conflict with somebody else over a territory that seems home to both people” (Schickel, 67). Kushner’s statement begs the question, “What were the filmmakers’ goals in producing such a controversial film?”
Spielberg stated that without first sitting down and rationally plotting out how to portray the events, “I would have been making a Charles Bronson movie–good guys vs. bad guys and Jews killing Arabs without any context. And I was never going to make that picture” (Schickel, 66).  Spielberg’s commitment to objectivity is clearly demonstrated throughout the film. The movie is meant to educate, not coerce. In this sense, Spielberg’s film was constructed in the same fashion as Paul Greengrass’s dramatic documentary, Bloody Sunday. Through comparing the similarities of these films, it becomes apparent that neither Greengrass nor Spielberg sought to instill fear within their audiences. Nor did they assist the terrorist cause in generating publicity for the organizations portrayed within the films. Rather, Bloody Sunday and Munich accomplish much more.
Both films depict historically accurate, captivating events committed to preserving the authenticity of the respective incidents they cover. Bloody Sunday demonstrates the religio-political violence of Northern Ireland during the time of the Troubles. The film avoids paying tribute to either loyalists or republicans. Instead, human rights served as the focus of the documentary. A discourse was set forth that clearly articulated the devastating effects of religious and political animosity. Similarly, Munich framed, with overwhelming accuracy, the illogicality behind ideological retaliation. The movie’s main character, “Avner,” exemplifies this point perfectly through his transformation from a loyal, law-abiding Sabra to a humanistic family man who ultimately becomes inured with the ideologies of the Israeli nation-state. Avner’s ultimate rejection of Israel’s military policy comes at the end of the movie as a result of his actions, which he believed, posed no real solution.
Although some of Avner’s actions are fictionalized during Munich, Spielberg maintained a tremendous level of factual integrity throughout the course of the film. Simon Reeve writes in his book, One Day in September, that General Aharon Yariv instructed Avner’s team, on behalf of Prime Minister Golda Meir, that the Israeli forces should “put the fear of God into the Palestinians” (Reeve, 160). Reeve goes on to state, “Those targeted for assassination were not just to be killed, they were to be hit dramatically” (Reeve, 160).  Reeve’s description of Israel’s counterterrorist sentiment is consistent with the representation of the Israeli nation state depicted in Munich. Spielberg stated, “I’m always in favor of Israel responding strongly when it’s threatened. At the same time, a response to a response doesn’t really solve anything…” (Schickel, 66). Indeed, Spielberg’s sentiment can be seen throughout the course of the film. His overall depiction of historic events does not portray Israel’s actions in a positive light. Rather, Spielberg goes on to say, “There’s been a quagmire of blood for blood for many decades in that region. Where does it end? How can it end?” (Schickel, 66). Although Spielberg’s statement can be construed as fatalistic in nature, it merely illustrates the problems that currently plague Israel and Palestine. In this sense, the movie can be considered a form of info-tainment; both thought provoking and attention grabbing. Through the dualistic nature of the film, the audience becomes aware of the self-defeating policies of violence justifying further violence.
Additionally, Bloody Sunday effectively demonstrated the atrocities of violence much in the same way that Munich attempted to show the illogicality behind aggressive retribution. Leaving their audiences “fear struck” was not the intent that either Spielberg or Greengrass had. Rather, both directors sought to accomplish something greater than pure entertainment. In the words of Greengrass, “I wanted [Bloody Sunday] to defy all stereotypes” (Curiel, 1). Greengrass, much like Spielberg, wanted to educate his audience. Although violent portrayals of these historic events were present within each film, the directors sought to inform their audiences using violence as a communicative force. Sociologist Austin Turk states in his article, “Sociology of Terrorism,” that, “Violence signals that something is amiss, terrorism has been analyzed as a communication through violence that problems exist” (Turk, 275). In understanding Turk’s point, it becomes clear why Spielberg and Greengrass directed Munich and Bloody Sunday in an overwhelmingly realistic manner: to communicate to the audience that “problems exist.” Through the objective portrayal these films offer, the audience becomes open to new perspectives regarding extremely controversial topics. In her book, Packaging Terrorism, Susan D. Moeller acknowledges the difficulty in re-educating individuals about controversial topics due to the biased nature of media outlets. In the case of terrorism coverage and the media, “Once a connection has been made—once an idea has been implanted in people’s minds, it can be difficult to dislodge” (Moeller, 127). This is particularly true for films such as Bloody Sunday and Munich. Both movies represent organisms, which are both alive/dead at the same time. The directors, editors, producers, cast and crew are not available to defend their film after a viewer is through watching. Thus, the participant is only able to accept, at face value, the images, dialogue, and actions presented.
This is not only a detriment to the discourse that takes place post-viewing, but also the ideas implanted within the viewer’s impressionable mind. But to what extent can the director’s maintain a certain level of objective integrity? In the instance of Bloody Sunday, Greengrass claims that he wanted to defy all stereotypes in the hopes of establishing unbiased dialogue concerning the movie’s central themes. Greengrass chose to focus on the film’s protagonist, Ivan Cooper, in an effort to humanize the film’s subject matter. The active viewer leaves the film with a greater understanding of the “human” side of conflict, hence the film’s focus towards the crucial importance of human rights. Munich attempts something similar. In the words of Spielberg, “It was very important to me to show Avner struggling to keep his soul intact” (Schickel, 66). Avner’s fight to maintain not only his sanity, but also his humanity is clearly exemplified at the film’s end when the nightmarish memories of the Munich attacks are juxtaposed with Avner’s act of sexual intercourse with his wife. Something, which should ordinarily be considered beautiful (sex between a husband and wife), now comes to be regarded as barbaric and violent. What did Spielberg wish to convey through this scene? Precisely that nothing is sacred in the context of violence.
However, the audience must ask itself whether or not Munich and Bloody Sunday actually present objective portrayals of the respective incidents they cover. To what degree is Munich simply an entertaining film? How close was Greengrass in creating a perfectly unbiased motion picture? These questions pose no immediate answer. Only through reflective contemplation of these crises will individuals arrive at the possibility of a definite conclusion. In the interim, entertainment and historic events must be combined not only to promote awareness, but also to promote interest. Without Greengrass and Spielberg, a vast majority of the population would still be in the dark about issues surrounding Northern Ireland and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Although each director had his own inherent bias (specifically Spielberg who is Jewish and has stated that he is pro-Palestine), their films do not make overtly political claims. Rather, the overarching theme present within both Bloody Sunday and Munich is the emphasis placed on the desire to maintain humanity in the face of violence.
In understanding this, it can be argued that neither Spielberg nor Greengrass sought to instill fear within their audiences. Rather, the directors created historical fictions in order to promote awareness surrounding some of the current era’s most salient and controversial issues. “In the case of Munich, violence leads to the reality of the Israel/Palestine conflict, in which each side points to the violence of the other as justification for its own violence. There is no end to it” (Lerner, 10). Although an end might not be in sight for either the Israeli/Palestinian conflict or the troubles plaguing Northern Ireland, films such as Bloody Sunday and Munich generate the necessary discourse that might bring about radical change. Only through media that raises the citizenry’s awareness to the most pertinent problems, in such a way that generates mutually beneficial conversation and understanding, will nation states be able to approach potential resolutions in a thoughtful, critical manner. The world is wrought with violence. Stability may not appear immediately tangible. However, “any movie that subtly yet insistently reminds us of this blunt truth about the world we have inherited is worth seeing. And pondering” (Schickel, 68).

Works Cited

Barnett, Brooke, and Amy Reynolds. Terrorism and the Press: An Uneasy Relationship. Vol. 1. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 2009. Print.
Curiel, Jonathan. “‘Bloody Sunday’ from all sides / Director aimed for balanced look at massacre of Irish protesters.” San Francisco Chronicle Online 11 10 2002: n. pag. Web. 16 Feb 2010. http://articles.sfgate.com/2002-10-11/entertainment/17564440_1_greengrass-british-irish-don-mullan-british-troops.
Klein, Aaron J. Striking Back: The 1972 Munich Massacre and Israel’s Deadly Response. New York: Random House. 2005. Print.
Lerner, Michael. “Violence for Peace?.” Tikkun 21.2 (2006): 9-12. Web. 3 Mar 2010. http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/ehost/detail?vid=1&hid=11&sid=ffef3401-004c-4b3d-82e2-430dc8270c72%40sessionmgr4&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=aph&AN=19994467#db=aph&AN=19994467
Moeller, Susan D. Packaging Terrorism: Co-opting the News for Politics and Profit. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, A John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., Publication. 2009. Print.
Reeve, Simon. One Day in September. New York: Arcade Publishing, Inc. 2000. Print
Schickel, Richard. “Spielberg Takes on Terror.” Time 12/12/2005: 64-68. Web. 3 Mar 2010.http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/ehost/detail?vid=1&hid=11&sid=5cf15bdf-755a-40c2-af5a 9e424caec583%40sessionmgr13&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=aph&AN=19047094#db=aph&AN=19047094#db=aph&AN=19047094
Turk, Austin. “Sociology of Terrorism.” Annual Review of Sociology. 30. (2004): 271-286. Print.