Col. Gibli, He Dead. (Dirty business lives on.)

Gershom Gorenberg

Col. Binyamin Gibli took his secrets with him to the next world when he died this week – unless, as historian Tom Segev forlornly hopes, the old spookmaster left instructions to publish the ghost-written manuscript of his autobiograhy, and it explains what really happened in the Dirty Business of the 1950s. The hope is forlorn because it presumes that we would have reason to trust Gibli’s version.

Gibli was the head of Military Intelligence back in 1954, when MI recruited a handful of Egyptian Jews to bomb American and British cultural centers and other places frequented by foreigners in Egypt. (Yes, you read that correctly.) The idea was that the attacks would look like Egyptian fury against the West, and would derail any improvement in relations between Western governments and Cairo.

Read moreCol. Gibli, He Dead. (Dirty business lives on.)

Waltz With Unbearable Memory

Following Haim’s recommendation, I went to see Ari Folman’s documentary, “Waltz With Bashir,” on the 1982 Lebanon War and the Sabra and Shatilla massacre.

Haim is right that every Israeli should see “Waltz.” But so should anyone elsewhere whose country has marched thoughtlessly into war, or for that matter, anyone interested in the art of film. My article about the movie is now up at the American Prospect. Snippets:

Virtually the entire film is presented in film-noir animation. Folman thereby bends the boundaries of his genre (even more than the recent, partially animated “Chicago 10” did). “Waltz” may be to the documentary what Art Spiegelman’s Maus was to the novel. Strangely, animation makes the film less fictional. Not restricted to old footage, Folman can portray scenes that no one photographed, just as a historian can recreate the past with the written word…

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Ari Folman’s “Waltz with Bashir” (2) — War Ethics in a War Zone (3)

Waltz With Bashir
Haim Watzman

Waltz With Bashir directly addresses the philosophical question we’ve been discussing here. Ari Folman, the film’s director, served as an Israeli soldier on the perimeter of the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut at the time of the massacre committed there by Lebanese Phalangist militiamen in mid-September 1982. Folman clearly feels guilt, and feels that he abetted an act that was comparable to the Nazis’ massacres of Jews in Europe—his parents are Holocaust survivors. To what extent is he, an individual soldier, morally culpable. Should he have acted otherwise than he did?

There can be little doubt that Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, Chief of Staff Rafael (Raful) Eitan, and the top army command knew very well what would happen if the Phalangists were given a free hand in the refugee camps. The Phalangist forces had a long history of murder, mutilation, and destruction, committed not just against Palestinians and Muslims but also against rival Christian forces in Lebanon.

Read moreAri Folman’s “Waltz with Bashir” (2) — War Ethics in a War Zone (3)

Ari Folman’s “Waltz with Bashir” (1) – A National Nightmare on Film

Haim Watzman

Just after seeing Waltz With Bashir at the Semadar Cinema in the German Colony, Ilana and I ran into our 17-year old son, Niot, with two friends. They had been at the pool, at their twice-weekly get-in-shape-for-the-army swim class. “You’ve got to see this film,” I told them. “Every kid who is dying to be a soldier should see it. So should every Israeli who loves his country.”

In Waltz With Bashir, director Ari Folman conducts a personal journey to recover his lost time and lost memories of the first Lebanon War. He knows that in September 1982 he was an Israeli soldier in Beirut. He was there when Lebanese Christian Phalangist militiamen, outfitted in IDF uniforms, massacred Palestinians in Sabra and Shatila, two refugee camps that had become neighborhoods in the Lebanese capital. But, except for an odd vision of himself and two friends swimming naked in the sea at the time of the massacre, he can remember no details—what he was doing at the time, how he felt, who was really there with him.

Read moreAri Folman’s “Waltz with Bashir” (1) – A National Nightmare on Film

War Ethics: And When They Do Know the Consequences?

Haim, I agree that soldiers are often cogs in a machine, unable to evaluate the full consequences of their actions. That’s why Israelis are rightly angered by the “Sentry Syndrome” – the all-too-common outcome of investigations of military errors – ethical, tactical and strategic – in which lower ranks are blamed for the mistakes of their superiors.

Nonetheless, I think that in your last post you too easily placed Michael Walzer‘s Just and Unjust Wars in the category of the theoretical.

Read moreWar Ethics: And When They Do Know the Consequences?