The Banality of Goodness: Operation Finale
I just finished watching a powerful movie. It’s suspenseful, well-crafted, and gripping. Unlike most films that match that description, it’s also profoundly moral. I’m speaking of the new release Operation Finale. It tells the hidden story of the brave Israeli agents who infiltrated pro-Nazi Argentina in 1960 to extract the Nazi bureaucrat Adolf Eichmann. They captured him and brought him to Israel. To face something which none of his Jewish victims ever did. A fair trial in open court, conducted according to the principles of justice and mercy which the Jews gave to the West, for which they have been rarely thanked.
We should thank the filmmakers first for their great wisdom in casting. They selected mostly unknowns for the Israelis and Argentines. The only “name” actor in the picture is the extraordinary Ben Kingsley. He took on the challenging task of portraying Adolf Eichmann. And that was fitting. All the more so since the trial of Adolf Eichmann gave rise to one of the worst clichés of modern times. Remember the “banality of evil”? For all her brilliant writing on the rise of totalitarian thought, Hannah Arendt erred gravely in coining this phrase to speak of Eichmann in her reporting on his trial. Perhaps in a play for originality, she got things exactly backwards. And her error speaks directly to our politics today.
Justice Is Banal. Genocide Is Extra-Ordinary.
There was nothing outrageous, as Operation Finale shows us, in Jews seeking justice. In men and women who’d seen their innocent, helpless family members murdered by a deranged and wicked regime looking for the normal, sober corrective of courtrooms, juries, and judges. That is the norm, that’s what we expect, that’s the background of ordinary decency.
What was extraordinary, bizarre, and monstrous? The ideologies that erupted among and tortured hundreds of millions of people in the course of the 20th century. And it was ideologues like Eichmann, and Hitler, and Stalin, and Mao, who inflicted their fever dreams on the shopkeepers, pawnbrokers, farmers and teachers whom they murdered. (The film highlights the bizarre and twisted ideology Eichmann shared. Watch normal-looking Argentines chant along with exiled Nazis for Jews to be made “into soap!”)
The Party of the Sane People
Likewise, the politics of one of America’s parties are banal, fairly uninspiring, and perfectly ordinary. It seeks the common good of the people who voted it in. It makes no crass distinctions between one race or another. It confronts wicked regimes that keep millions in concentration camps (like North Korea). And renounces sweetheart deals with apocalyptic dictatorships (like the Islamic Republic of Iran) that promise genocide against their neighbors. It pushes back when totalitarian governments steal our technological secrets by gaming the trade agreements we offered in good faith (like the People’s Republic of China).
I’m voting on November 6 for my local Republican congressman, to avoid a show-trial impeachment.
And yet, to some people drunk on abstract ideologies, this government seems repulsive. Its president is banal, some real estate magnate from Queens. No matter that under his tenure, the economy has exploded. No matter that he has finally moved America’s embassy to Israel’s sacred capital, Jerusalem. Don’t notice the fact that this government conquered ISIS. Or has hunted down a key Nazi war criminal and sent him back for justice.
No, that’s all so boring. It’s so banal. As banal as the love that the commandos in Operation Finale had for their loved ones, lost in the Shoah. Just as straightforward and plain as the little picture the lead Israeli in Operation Finale carried in his pocket, of the sister and nephew he lost to the Einsatzgruppen. As ordinary and day-to-day as the long, intellectual conversations that Jews used to have in cafes from Paris to Vienna, from Warsaw to Riga, before the men with wild ideas got the masses behind them and came to power. And silenced them, forever.
The Madmen Among Us
When universities are terrorized by gangs in masks who demand that some speakers be denied a platform. … That isn’t banal. And intellectuals can get jobs at the New York Times after viciously denouncing one group or another because of its race. … That’s not business as usual. When one political party responds to the loss of a single election by inventing an elaborate, “knife-in-the-back” conspiracy theory that paralyzes a nation. … None of this is ordinary. And it isn’t safe.
Not for those who speak out of turn. Nor for those who belong to groups that attract unjust resentment. Not to anyone who loves what America always had been and always should be. And that’s why I’m glad to offend the “extraordinary” people with “radical” ideas who tell us that President Trump is a monster who must be stopped. … Even as they consort with wild-eyed activists who apologize for terrorists, seek sanctions and divestment against democratic Israel, who make excuses for thugs from Venezuela to Syria. Who would stand beside Louis Farrakhan and Jesse Jackson, without a smidgen of shame.
I want an ordinary country where good people can work hard and prosper. Maybe that makes me banal. It also makes me a conservative, and a backer of President Trump. And it’s why I’m voting on November 6 for my local Republican congressman, to avoid a show-trial impeachment. And to keep the angry ideologues, the race-baiters and radicals backed by the men in hoods and masks, far from the levers of power.
John Zmirak is co-author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Immigration.