By BERNIE BELLAN
The recent Winnipeg screening of the film Follow Me – the story of Yoni Netanyahu, along with the number of awards heaped on Homeland, Argo and Zero Dark Thirty – all Hollywood productions centering around the subject of terrorism, raise in my mind the question: What ingredients do we look for in modern-day heroes?
On a superficial level, it certainly doesn’t hurt to be very good looking: As I noted in my story about “Follow Me”, Yoni Netanyahu had movie star good looks – as did his younger brother Binyamin (at least when he was younger).
Similarly, Ben Affleck playing the part of CIA agent Tony Mendez in Argo, Jessica Chastain as Maya in Zero Dark Thirty, or Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison in Homeland, certainly lend credence to the notion that it doesn’t hurt to be attractive when it comes to labeling someone a “hero”.
If we live in a superficial age when politicians seem to attract attention more for their physical appearance than for what they have to say, it should come as no surprise that we tend to equate heroic qualities with people who are attractive.
By the same token, however, we tend to give a pass to someone such as Binyamin Netanyahu, not only because he is so telegenic, but because he seems to be more comfortable behaving like an American politician than he does an Israeli one. Isn’t it ironic that Netanyahu has become the dominant force in Israeli politics when, for years, he was looked down upon in Israel as an American wanna-be?
Frankly this relatively superficial treatment of heroes does a disservice to the true notion of heroism. In the documentary about Yoni Netanyahu we are offered glimpses of some of the conflicting emotions that seethed within him. Although he did feel a tremendous sense of obligation to serve the State of Israel, he found that he could not, at the same time, devote equal devotion to the woman who was his first wife.
One wonders, moreover, about the psychological make-up of an individual who is compelled to demonstrate an unflinching bravery on the battlefield.
Some years back a National Football League player by the name of Pat Tillman, who was also extremely good looking, volunteered to serve in Afghanistan shortly after 9-11. Tillman was killed there, evidently by friendly fire, but not before his decision to abandon a glamorous pro football career to serve his country was held up as a model of selflessness and bravery – and, no doubt, an inspirationl for thousands of other young Americans. Yet Tillman was also quite naïve about what America’s mission in Afghanistan was all about. His gung-ho attitude, which seems to have been simply an extension of that cowboy President, George W. Bush, was hopelessly inappropriate to the murky world of counter-terrorism.
In the compelling and award-winning TV show Homeland, however, we are offered a glimpse of the dark undercurrents that might torment a modern-day hero. Carrie Matheson, as played brilliantly by Claire Danes (who has won two Golden Globes as best actress in a TV drama for both the first and second years of that TV series, which, by the way, can be seen on Shaw Video on Demand if you’ve never seen it), is bi-polar and given to occasional emotional outbursts.
Although she, too, exhibits magnificent courage – both physical and mental – in her pursuit of terrorists, Carrie Matheson is also clearly tormented by inner demons.
Where is this all leading?
I have two thoughts on the subject of modern-day heroism: One is that our modern-day society is obsessed with finding heroes – which is one of the reasons that professional sports have been elevated to an unprecedented level of adulation. (Frankly, and with all due respect to Winnipeg Jets fans – paying hockey players average salaries well over $1 million is obscene. At least in the Canadian Football League we know that not much separates typical players’ salaries from the average working person.)
The second thought is that true heroes work in the dark – likely never to be revealed. In a day and age when warfare has evolved into cyber warfare in so many respects, it is the individuals who were able to plant the Stuxnet virus within Iran’s nuclear program, for instance that deserve our admiration. Perhaps years from now we may find out who they were, but for the time being, we should content ourselves with the knowledge that Israel is at the forefront of the most dangerous form of modern warfare. In fact, just recently the Shin Bet revealed that it, too, has created a new unit devoted to fending off cyber attacks from Iran – made up of some of Israel’s brightest young minds.
In their book Start-Up Nation, authors Dan Senor and Saul Singer also write extensively about the contributions made by individuals whose experience in an elite Israeli army unit known simply as “8200” led to a host of technological innovations that became key to the success of companies such as Paypal, for instance.
That army unit, made up of the best and the brightest young Israelis that the army can find, is responsible for maintaining Israel’s security more than any other part of the army, but it labours in almost complete anonymity, especially in comparison with the more traditional units, such as Sayeret Matkal (which was the unit headed by Yoni Netanyahu during the raid on Entebbe in 1976).
So, if it’s brains or brawn, I’ll take brains any time. Sure – at times you need the toughest S.O.B’s available to carry out a mission, such as rescuing the hostages at Entebbe, or killing Osama Bin Laden, but those days are going to become increasingly rare.
All this leads me to wonder what is going to happen with BB Netanyahu’s obsession with Iran’s nuclear program once the Israeli election is over. More than one commentator has noted that this current election has been remarkably void of any discussion of real problems confronting Israel: No talk of engaging the Palestinians in real peace discussions; no talk of Israel’s ballooning deficit; not even any discussion about the widening gap between rich and poor in Israel. Instead, the only question seems to be: Who will better protect Israel’s security? (By the time this is printed, we will have an answer, but the only question is not whether right-wing parties will dominate Israel’s political scene, but by how much.)
Still, if a hardened warrior such as Yoni Netanyahu could find solace in reading poetry – something that “Follow Me” revealed, one wonders whether BB Netanyahu might also be able to take inspiration from some other such artistic medium. To start with, and since this piece has made repeated references to Hollywood productions, I would suggest that Prime Minister Netanyahu watch Lincoln (if he hasn’t yet). He might learn a thing or two about the art of compromise – something that he seems incapable of doing with the Palestinians. As for what to do with Iran, Lincoln shows that by not humiliating your enemies into an embarrassing submission viz. Rober E. Lee’s graceful surrender at Appotomax, where he was treated as an equal by his Union counterparts, you achieve more results than by demanding a complete and total comedown.
True heroism can be far more complex than simple physical bravery. It is, at its heart, something that comes from the mind – and the heart. Thus, Yitzhak Rabin was a true hero whereas BB Netanyahu is not.