Aaron Klein's nonfiction book Striking Back, like Steven Spielberg's film Munich, is about the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre of Israeli athletes by Fatah's Black September, the Palestinian terrorist group. Whereas the film is character-driven, dramatizing the ways in which five men tapped to avenge Jewish deaths become assassins, the book is a history of counterterrorism by the Mossad.
Reading it, one sees the current American struggle with counterterrorism is nothing new. Both Israel and the United States were taken completely by surprise by terrorists. In response to Munich, Israel developed an Overseas Terrorism agency, conducted public trials, and, after soul-searching at the highest level of government, developed the top secret group Cesaerea to bring justice to the victims of Munich through an assassination campaign. "A new response was needed," wrote Klein, "one that would imprint itself on the minds of conspirators everywhere, and be remembered by the free world." The Israeli lessons learned from Munich are echoed today in the American struggle to protect the public from another 9/11.
Striking Back chronicles over 30 years of bloody events between the PLO and Israel. Yet in between accounts of espionage and murder that span from the early 1970s until February 2005 (when Klein was granted access to archives about Munich), there are some surprises. Klein reveals that the Mossad was responsible for poisoning Dr. Wadi Haddad, the Palestinian man responsible for dozens of hijackings, whom many thought had died of a mysterious illness. He claims that during the hostage-taking in Munich, the German interior minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, repeatedly asked the terrorists to take him in place of the athletes. And he also states that Shmuel Lalkin, head of the Israeli Olympic delegation, had expressed his unease with the security prior to the massacre, only to be ignored.
Klein, Time magazine's military and intelligence affairs correspondent from the Jerusalem Bureau, skillfully shows how the media can play an independent hand in history. In 1971, the PLO's goal was to gain prominence, and the media blitz at Munich provided just that. Conversely, the intense secrecy of Golda Meir and subsequent Israeli prime ministers' directives to assassinate was essential for fighting terror. The way Klein describes the role of publicity is relevant in America as we debate intelligence gathering and privacy in our own war on terror.
The book's themes of Palestinian homelessness, the eerie shedding of Jewish blood on German soil 30 years after the Holocaust, and the complacency of the international community during years of war between Arabs and Jews are disturbing. Perhaps that is why both Klein and Spielberg include Hebrew adages in their work to help explain the Jewish angle. Klein quotes The Ethics of the Fathers: "If I am not for myself, who am I? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when? The battle can not be fought, nor the victory won, by another."
Both the Munich massacre and 9/11 brought out the basest human urge for revenge. The challenge to both Israel then, as to the United States now, is to use the highest level of human intelligence to prevent or deter more terrorism.
When I heard that Courtney Love's mother had written an autobiography so upsetting that Love was considering taking legal action against her, I expected a juicy bit of entertainment trash. What I got from Her Mother's Daughter was about as scandalous as the Red Cross Blood Drive.
Carroll writes in the stylized fashion of an adept creative nonfiction author. Her story is lovingly told with a great emphasis on detailed events, most of which have absolutely nothing to do with Courtney Love. The first 100 pages are devoted to Carroll's life growing up as an adopted child with a sexually abusive father and emotionally volatile mother. While this pulls a certain amount of emotion from the reader, much of Carroll's statements within her book are restrained to the past. She toys with emotional heavy events just to keep the book interesting, which is somewhat leading.
Carroll's story becomes more intriguing when she begins to document her time as a mother. Covering Courtney, she shows a side the grunge rock star hates to reveal. Courtney, who has only spoken of her mother's abandonment, never bothered to share the full story of an open home, a loving family, and the years of disciplinary issues she plagued her family with. While Love's story fits more with a rocker, Carroll's sounds more like the truth, especially since the woman constantly blames herself in a sad motherly fashion for many of Courtney's issues.
The book attempts to delve into family roots, the interesting investigation of what makes a family work or fail, and how much of one's future is influenced by one's family life. Carroll has a companionable tone, and she draws us in through a look at her marriages to progressively more decent men.
She starts with a horrific marriage into which (no surprise) Courtney was born. Her husband at the time was pals with Jerry Garcia, and for some odd reason, Carroll digresses into an acid trip story that has no relevance. Then, she marries a garbage man who gives her two more kids. Her third marriage takes the entire family to New Zealand, which really powers the book. In New Zealand, Carroll and her family sought to create a farm in the wilderness and live by true hippie ideals. Their eventual failure is the very soul of the book. Here, Carroll allows the reader an honest look at her life, and offers a close-up of how Courtney was left behind. From Courtney's constant expulsion from schools, to the loss of a child, the dissolution of a marriage and the abandonment of a child she herself had adopted, Carroll opens herself up to the world's criticism to reveal just how hard parenting can be. She shows how a mother can give a child up to a facility when she has four at home to raise. She certainly cleans her slate and does it in such a way that it's hard for the reader to doubt her motive. She's simply trying to get her side heard.
When the book nears the end, one senses that Carroll panics -- in life and in writing -- to fill the pages. The search for her own birth mother and the truncated segments on Courtney's rise to fame, her marriage to Cobain, the birth of their daughter and the death of Kurt all seem far too rushed. Perhaps Love might have a suit if Carroll had gone further into her daughter's private life. But she glazes over it, allowing anecdotes and minor scenes to fill in what must have been a major part of a mother's life.
Striking Back: The 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre and Israel's Deadly ResponseBy Aaron Klein (Random House, 254 pages, $24.95)
Her Mother's Daughter: A Memoir of the Mother I Never Knew and of My Daughter, Courtney LoveBy Linda Carroll (Doubleday, 303 pages, $24.95)