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Terror finds Sports: The Munich Massacre, 1972

Editor's Pick 16 Dec 2012, 10:30 IST

MUNICH, GERMANY – SEPTEMBER 05: Flags are flown at half-mast in front of the old tower during a memorial service commemorating the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Munich Olympics terrorist attack at the airport on September 5, 2012 in Fuerstenfeldbruck, Germany. Political leaders, Jewish representatives, diplomats and family members from Israel were among guests who arrived to remember the 11 Israeli athletes and one German policeman killed in the 1972 hostage-taking and its aftermath by members of the Black September Palestinian terrorist organization. Most of the victims, as well as five terrorists, were killed after an attempt by German police to intervene went wrong at Fuerstenfeldbruck airport.

So there you have it. Yet another tragedy involving your average American psychopath and an assault rifle. This time it’s a school, supposedly the safest place for a child away from home. After a hundred rounds of terror and chaos, twenty-six had fallen. Twenty of them hadn’t lived to be a decade-old. Those who survived may be traumatized for the rest of their lives. What you gonna do?

You watch it in the evening news, you read the headlines and sometimes you even get to experience such incidents from close quarters. The first thing you do is seek a motive for the horror, and irrespective of whether you find one or not, you question your own morality, and the set of codes both written and unwritten that seem to hold us within a social skeleton.

Law enforcement is yet to find a motive for the Sandy Hook shootings, and it’s highly unlikely they ever will, for these were the machinations of a madman. Had there been one, this would have been classified as an act of terror. Had the shooter been anyone but one of their own, America would probably have declared war on the country of his origin.

The world is no stranger to massacres of this nature. People have been dispatched in droves to ‘send messages’, accomplish state-sponsored agenda, for retribution or for the simple reason of them being at the wrong place at the wrong time. The victims of Sandy Hook fall in the latter category, and so do those who perished in what has come to be known as the Munich Massacre that occurred during the 1972 Summer Olympics in erstwhile West Germany.

The members of the Israeli contingent that died in the terror-attack that shook a generation

Sports had never known terrorism until then. The early 70′s was a decade of global economic decadence, a highly-combustible Middle-Eastern landscape and nations getting suspicious of each other in general. The ’72 Games had been designed to defuse tensions between a disturbingly long list of nations, and the only security measure in place at the Games Village was a chain-link fence that would at most keep out cattle. ‘Carefree Games’ was the motto, and the organizers were very serious about being lax.

On September 4, two weeks into the Games, eight track-suit clad members of the then nascent Palestinian terrorist organization called Black September climbed over the aforementioned fence, carrying grenades and assault rifles. They tore through to the Israeli contingent’s lodgings, and rounded up the occupants of two apartments. Resistance proved futile, and in the scuffle that followed, a wrestling coach and his protégé were killed, while nine others were taken hostage. It was 4:30 a.m. The nightmare had only just begun.

A member of the Black September group that stormed the Games Village. The hostage-crisis lasted for over 18 hours

The terrorists wanted 234 prisoners released from Israeli prisons by 9 a.m. The world media was already present on deck, so all the action was being fed live to every corner of the globe. Negotiators were kicked into business, and they stretched the deadline by three hours, then four and then to twelve whole hours. At 5 p.m., the tension on both sides had tipped, and demands weren’t being met. The terrorists made a new one for an airplane and safe passage.

Germany was in a fix. It had been decked up to host the Olympics, not counter-terrorism operations. An attempt to storm the apartment was foiled by a television set that streamed live news to the captors’ den. Following which, a plan was hatched to use snipers to ambush the terrorists as they made their way to their whole ‘safe-passage’ deal. A plan that failed miserably and led to the outbreak of sheer insanity.

Carnage occurred at the Fürstenfeldbruck airport with German snipers and terrorists trading fire, and when the latter realized this wasn’t going to end well for them, they managed to kill off each of the nine hostages. These were people who had come a long way from home to represent their country on the field; a bullet or two was all that was needed to end years of toil and training and perseverance.

Jim McKay, the guy in charge of covering the Olympics that year for the US of A, put it this way when the smoke cleared and bodies were sorted into bags:

We just got the final word … you know, when I was a kid, my father used to say ‘Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized.’ Our worst fears have been realized tonight. They’ve now said that there were eleven hostages. Two were killed in their rooms yesterday morning, nine were killed at the airport tonight. They’re all gone.”

The repercussions of the Munich Massacre spawned a critically-acclaimed motion picture in 2005 that brought the issue back to round-tables and conferences.

Needless to say, the Games were suspended for the first time in history. Then there were the usual black ribbons and flags-flown-at-half-mast and international condemnations and all that. Israel bombed half of Lebanon to hell after Mossad spies tracked down and killed every single perpetrator, conspiracy theories rose and fell and decades later, Steven Spielberg made an Academy Award-nominated movie out of it.

The International Olympic Committee chose to ignore an overwhelming number of calls for a memorial service during the opening ceremony of London 2012, which coincided with the 40th anniversary of its predecessor in Munich. Remembering 11 dead athletes was secondary to avoid controversy on an “international incident that was still being heatedly debated upon”.

Well, what you gonna do?

ABC News Munich Massacre coverage

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