It’s no secret that the various Israeli secret services are quite effective.
Ronen Bergman’s doorstopper of a book, Rise and Kill First: The Inside Story and Secret Operations of Israel’s Assassination Program, concentrates, obviously, on the enemies of the Jewish State who are chosen for assassination.
Bergman chronicles the awkward birth pangs of the intelligence services in pre-state Israel to the high-tech machinery that is now in motion.
One of the most illuminating episodes is the bombing of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear facility, June 7, 1981. When it was discovered that the butcher of Baghdad was—with French blueprints and technology—going nuclear, there was a debate among the Israeli security, political and military classes about whether to strike the facility or not.
Those opposed argued that “bombing the Iraqi nuclear reactor would have dire international consequences, that it would take years before the reactor would produce enough fuel for a bomb, and that destroying it would push Saddam to take an alternate, more secretive approach.”
Of course, Prime Minister Begin made the right call and turned Saddam’s nuclear reactor to glass.
We now hear the exact same arguments from the exact same chattering classes against bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities. Planet leftie was and is wrong. Of course, they never learn from their mistakes—the definition of insanity.
We all want to know the story behind the story.
And the story behind beloved movies is, quite frequently, more interesting, more revealing of time, place and culture, than the movie itself. Such a film, at least for me, is Giant. Its faults are legion: it is too long, a tushy-numbing 3 hours and 21 minutes, covers too many years thus sapping the narrative of narrative momentum; it is tediously preachy, and the aging makeup on Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean is laughable. Last but certainly not least, James Dean’s scene-chewing performance is grotesque.
But the making of Giant, as detailed by author Don Graham in Giant: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Edna Ferber and the Making of a Legendary American Film, is absolutely fascinating. We learn that Elizabeth Taylor viewed director George Stevens as a particularly important influence on her growth as a serious actress. And the hatred between the unpretentious Rock Hudson and James Dean, a manipulative little narcissist, makes the feud between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis seem mild.
Most revealing, and disappointing, is a brief digression about George Stevens and Eisenhower. Keep in mind that Stevens was witness to the horror of the German concentration camps. According to all his friends the experience changed him forever. And yet, in Algiers, with Stevens present, a POW German General asked to speak to Eisenhower. The Supreme Commander refused, saying: “I’m here to kill Germans not to talk to them.” According to Graham, Stevens was livid with fury. From that moment on Stevens hated Eisenhower.
Writes Graham: “Disliking Eisenhower was de rigueur among Hollywood liberals. Edna Ferber and Mercedes McCambridge both campaigned for Adlai Stevenson in his two runs—both unsuccessful—against Ike. America had twice elected a great man to be president, and Hollywood liberals couldn’t see it. They preferred a man who gave eloquent speeches to a man who had shepherded the Allies to victory over the Nazis.”
It is the 1960s in a sleepy suburb north of London when Paul, 19, is paired in tennis with forty-eight year old Susan Macleod, the mother of two nearly adult daughters, charmingly ironic and confident.
Not surprisingly, Susan is trapped in a loveless marriage with an abusive brute. Looking back decades later, Paul examines his tragic love for the older woman, and how this improbable relationship has affected every turn of his life ever since.
The Only Story, by Julian Barnes, examines the terrible intricacies of the human heart, the puzzle of memory, how we all yearn for the only story that really matters. This is a lovely book, slim, simple, and profoundly moving.