what i'm watching: waltz with bashir

We watched the excellent movie "Waltz with Bashir" last night. If you have not seen it, please do. Although most peace activists I know have seen it, I don't know if it reached wider audiences.

In the specific sense, Waltz with Bashir is about the 1982 Lebanon War and the massacre of Palestinians by Lebanese Phalangists, supported and enabled by Israeli government and troops. But in a much broader and more profound sense, the movie is about war, and memory, and as one character says, "the consequences of our fear". It's about the price soldiers pay when they commit - or aid in the commission of - atrocities, the piece of themselves that is lost. It could have been about any of the many examples of a powerful invading army destroying a weaker population. It could be about any war.

I don't want to give too many details, as the unfolding of the movie is very powerful and compelling. Just a few notes.

  • In two separate incidents that echo each other, men are brought to their memories by incidents of cruelty to animals. In the midst of unspeakable violence against humans, these incidents haunt them. The animals are emblematic of innocent suffering. The terrible violence done to them reaches the soldiers in a way that the human suffering does not. It's not that the soldiers don't care about human suffering. It's more that witnessing the animals' suffering allows them to feel, allows them to not be soldiers or automatons, but to be human.
  • If there's a more tragic, more terrible irony in the world than Israeli Jews acting like Nazis - and North American Jews supporting their actions - I have not seen it. For this to exist only a few generations removed from Treblinka and Auschwitz is stunning.

    There's a thread of Jewish culture that feels shame and self-loathing over the Holocaust, that imagines the world asking, "Why did European Jews allow this to happen to them?" and "Why were the Jews passively led to slaughter, why didn't they fight back?" Never mind the untold stories of resistance, never mind the gradual process by which the victims' means of fighting back were stripped away. This isn't about facts. It's about the guilt, shame and self-blame that is intrinsic to victimhood.

    This perception of the Holocaust Jew as passively accepting victimhood ties into the stereotype of the Jewish male as the antithesis of macho. Think of the stereotype of the Jewish accountant, the uber-geek, the man who is all brains and no brawn, all intellect and no muscle. For many Jewish people, the cry of "Never Again" is not about humanity's collective responsibility to prevent genocide. It means "never again will Jews be victims". And for some, that means Jews will be the strong ones. The real men. The aggressors. That in the new version of world events, others will grovel. Jews will wear the jackboots.

    For many Jewish people, this is part of the strange legacy of the Holocaust.

    I'm not implying that Israel's aggression and imperialism can be fully explained in these terms. This is not an answer. But I do think it's a theme.
  • My final thought about this movie is about war resisters - not only the men and in women in Canada who I write about all the time, the people who refused to participate in the slaughter in Iraq, but military resisters of all wars at all times.

    Military resisters are the very vanguard of human social and moral evolution. They are the people who say no to war with their bodies and souls. It is my privilege and my honour - perhaps my duty - to support them.
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