Waltz With Bashir: A Lebanon War Story by Ari Folman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
As the current ('14) conflict rages on in Gaza, I am reminded that, in this war, there are only victims. This is also true of the Lebanon conflict of the early '80s, which is the subject of this graphic novel. Yes, there are aggressors, mostly politicians who already enjoy power, goading on the common men and women who actually fight the wars. But on the ground level, where the fighting itself is taking place, there are only victims, regardless of who "wins" the conflict. That's not to take away responsibility for those who commit atrocities like the slaughter of unarmed, innocent Lebanese civilians by "Christian" forces loyal to the then-recently-assassinated Bashir Jumayel, President of Lebanon. Of course, justice must be served against killers. There is no excuse for their actions. But that doesn't mean that when the executioner's axe rightfully falls on them, if it ever did or ever will, that they weren't also victims of those in power over them.
And what of the Israeli soldiers who witnessed the massacre? Are they not to blame for not having stopped the slaughter earlier? Of course. But, as Waltz With Bashir makes apparent, even they are partially punished by the haunting nightmares, the psychological damage of having witnessed what they witnessed and not having done what was necessary to stop it. Perhaps your idea of justice is that these soldiers should swing from the noose for holding off when they could have intervened. But if they had intervened, in a time of war, against orders, they would likely have swung from a noose anyway, for being traitors to the aims of those in power over them. Would that have further satisfied your sense of justice? Would it? Really?
Perhaps. Perhaps not. Each person has to decide for him or herself what is "just" and who to blame for such terrible things. Should political leaders hang for decisions that lead to such slaughter? How exactly does one pin the blame for such things? Who gets to decide? Who is the judge? Is it enough to suffer psychological trauma for the sins one has committed, or must lives be paid for at the cost of more lives?
The lines between who is good and who is evil are muddled by the fog of war. The only thing that is certain is that everyone pays the price of aggression. Everyone who is in an area of violence, whether belligerent or innocent, is, in some sense, a victim.
There are no easy answers.
But if you want to explore the questions posed above, Waltz With Bashir is a good place to start. It's not likely to change your mind about anything in regards to the ongoing conflict between Israel and its neighbors, but it will cause you to pause and think. And maybe that pause will be long enough to stop and at least consider the consequences and gravity of such conflicts, to consider the effect on *everyone* involved. Maybe a minute or two, within which peace can get a toehold, if nothing else.
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