It Don’t Worry Me–Robert Altman’s “Nashville” 30 Years Later

Haim Watzman

Robert Altman’s Nashville was my favorite movie when I was a college student. I saw it time after time and dragged many friends to it as well. So when my daughter, a film school student, brought it home on the recommendation of one of her teachers, I was curious to see what my reaction at middle age would be.

At the age of 19 I was very much a political animal, and I was also an aspiring dramatist. So, not surprisingly, my favorite politicians were ones that offered dramatic verve and complexity and my favorite playwrights were those who addressed politics and ideas—Shaw, Brecht, and Stoppard. For my part, I was working on a verse tragedy about Alexander Dubcek and a slaptstick comedy about Isabel Peron (this was before I’d ever heard of the asinine Lloyd-Weber hit Evita, I should stress).

In other words, Nashville was made for me. In 1975, when it came out, I’d just lived through a lot of history. A disastrous war pursued by a president who was a truly great man in nearly everything else he’d accomplished had been ended disastrously by another president whose paranoia and megalomania had come dangerously close to destroying American democracy. At Duke University, my friends on the right didn’t seem to understand what had been wrong with the war and with Watergate, while many of my friends on the left seemed to have lost their minds to totalitarian Marxist delusion. Others were simply apathetic. North Carolina had recently sent a right-wing racist demagogue to the Senate. Things did not look good.

Read moreIt Don’t Worry Me–Robert Altman’s “Nashville” 30 Years Later

This Convert Walks Into a Bar, See…

Gershom Gorenberg

Yisrael Campbell is a tall guy with a receding hairline who wears a black hat, black jacket and sidecurls. The name on his passport, actually, is Christopher Campbell, and he has been circumcised three times. If you do not yet see the humor in this, you have not seen “Circumcise Me.” You should. Feel very guilty if you have not.

For a while now, ads for Campbell’s stand-up routine about his conversion from lapsed Catholic and ex-substance abuser to frum Jew have decorated Jerusalem’s public notice boards. What’s quite amazing about “Circumcise Me” is that journalists and first-time producers Matthew Kalman and David Blumenfeld successfully turned a spiel for microphone and small hall into a film.

Now in the interests of full disclosure I should tell you that Campbell is married to a woman who used to babysit my kids, and Matt Kalman belongs to my synagogue, and his daughter goes to school with mine, and he and I once covered the same antiquities trial, which was not the least bit funny except that the defendant claimed that he hadn’t forged the ancient ossuary, it looked fake because his mother had insisted on cleaning it.

Read moreThis Convert Walks Into a Bar, See…

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

Who’s In the Way Here? On War Ethics and Mahsom Watch

Gershom Gorenberg

In your last post, Haim, you mention the soldier who is outraged by Machsom Watch volunteers at checkpoints in the West Bank. Much as I understand him, I think he’s got it backwards.

Read moreWho’s In the Way Here? On War Ethics and Mahsom Watch

Watzman on Jewish Literature

Haim Watzman

What should Jewish literature try to achieve? My essay in the current issue of The Jewish Chronicle of London offers some thoughts on the subject:

A wistful passage from the final chapter of the Mishnah’s Sotah tractate states, in poetic Hebrew: Nifteru ziknei Yerushalayim ve-halchu lahen. In more prosaic English, it might be rendered: “The elders of Jerusalem got up and left.” The departure of the elders of Jerusalem, when examined in the context of this hauntingly literary tractate, signifies the relationship to past, present, and future that I seek in Jewish literature.

A nation with a past as rich and traumatic as ours, and with a present as complicated and diverse, offers the Jewish writer a plethora of material. And we have many talented and imaginative writers. Why is it, then, that I often feel something important is missing when I pick up the latest Holocaust fiction (say Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated) or novel of contemporary Tel Aviv (say Yael Hedaya’s Accidents)? What is the thing I seek but do not find in most Jewish memoirs (say Lucette Lagnado’s The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit), in the tales of Israeli encounters with Arabs, in the soldiers’ memoirs and war stories (say Yossi Cedar’s film Beaufort, based on Ron Leshem’s novel)?

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War Ethics In A War Zone (2)

Haim Watzman

In response to your last post, Gershom, we don’t disagree about most of the big issues. Of course soldiers, like national leaders and citizens, must make moral judgments, and must make them frequently. My point my previous post was that people in all these categories inevitably make these decisions with imperfect—often woefully imperfect—information. I admire Walzer’s effort to establish practical guidelines for how to conduct war and conflict justly and I largely agree with him.

But I think he is at times overly sanguine about people’s ability to make educated judgments in real time in situations of conflict. Indeed, he acknowledges the difficulty. At the beginning of Chapter 19 of Just and Unjust Wars (p. 304 in my paperback of the 4th edition), he writes:

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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?

South Jerusalem, Globalized

Despite my doubts about globalization and the leveling of culture, it seems that South Jerusalem franchises are popping up worldwide. Rather than suffering deep moral qualms, I’ve decided to relabel this phenomenon as “exporting the revolution.”

So – if you wanted to read my article on Israel in 2028, were it only available in Polish, you can do so here:

W Izraelu, w roku 2028, na rynku literackim króluje Ibrahim Abdullah Hapalit. Jego pierwsza powieść, “Synaj”, oparta jest na doświadczeniu z dzieciństwa – ucieczce z Darfuru, przez Egipt i synajską pustynię do ziemi obiecanej…

If, on the other hand, you’d like to see the Spanish version of my post on the mad Islamophobes who thought Dunkin’ Donuts was supporting international jihad, there’s a piece of it here:

Por lo tanto, [Daniel] Pipes, Michelle Malkin, [Pam] Geller y demás, presten atención:

Read moreSouth Jerusalem, Globalized

War Ethics In A War Zone

When I told my soldier son last weekend that I was preparing to lead a book club discussion on Michael Walzer‘s book Just and Unjust Wars, he shrugged. “What’s there to talk about?” he asked. “When you are protecting your country you do whatever you need to do to protect it.”

That may sound cynical and uncaring, but it accurately reflects the feeling of many soldiers who consider themselves to be moral, thinking, and caring human beings. From their perspective, they have a job to do: most immediately, to protect themselves and their buddies; beyond that to protect their families and country. They possess very little information about the big picture and, in action, must make split-second decisions with life-and-death implications based on their limited knowledge. Therefore, their default position must be to trust the decisions made by their commanders and superior officers.

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Our New Look — Bear With Us

We’ve been incredibly gratified by the response to our South Jerusalem blog since we launched it in March. We’re pleased by both the numbers of regular readers we’ve gained and by the quality of the comments and responses we’re getting. When we began, Gershom and I agreed that after three months we’d evaluate the blog … Read more Our New Look — Bear With Us

Missing the Point: Mohammed Kacimi’s “Holy Land” at the Khan

Haim Watzman

“On both sides of a war, unity is reflexive, not intentional or premeditated. To disobey is to breach that elemental accord, to claim a moral separateness (or moral superiority), to challenge one’s fellows, perhaps even to intensify the dangers they face,” Michael Walzer writes in his seminal Just and Unjust Wars. Walzer refers in this passage to the moral dilemma faced by the enlisted man, but the same dilemma is not foreign to civilians. Wanting to be part of our society and in discourse with it is not only elemental but also commendable. Being moral alone on a desert island is no great accomplishment. We admire those who seek and succeed in living an ethical life in human company.

The new production of the Algerian-born French playwright Mohammed Kacimi’s Holy Land (Terre Sainte) at South Jerusalem’s Khan Theater brings us face to face with this dilemma. Unfortunately, while director Nola Chilton’s production is powerful and unflagging, and the five actors passionate, the play itself disappoints. In addressing the dilemma of war in art, it is facile to do no more than to say that war is hell. A writer taking up the subject needs to delve into the complex and difficult questions that war raises.

Read moreMissing the Point: Mohammed Kacimi’s “Holy Land” at the Khan