“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.
Forty years ago, eleven members of the Israeli Olympic delegation were abducted and murdered, along with a West German police officer, by lawless thugs trying to make a political point. By now, it’s a familiar story—vainglorious vigilantes imposing their demands for a new world order with no regard for the rights, security, or well-being of anybody else. Terrorists—from Munich in 1972 to New York and Washington in 2001 to London in 2005—always claim their actions are political. They have political demands, grievances, supporters, and sympathizers, like any political actors. But whatever the merits of their purported causes, their victims were innocent people, and the murders are still tragedies that we should remember.
So let me say this clearly: murder is criminal and evil. If it is ever meant to be political, this point is only an ancillary consideration perhaps necessary for establishing premeditation in a court of law. Peace is not always pleasant. Our appreciation of the task of maintaining it ought to be as solemn as we are resolute. That International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge has some grasp of this is clear:
“I couldn’t speak here in front of the athletes and the national Olympic committees about peace and sport and about the Olympic Truce without remembering or reminding the people what happened 40 years ago and the disaster that also started in the Olympic Village in Munich, so it was fitting that I would say what I feel about that.”
What is not clear is why he expects anyone to believe “the opening ceremony is an atmosphere that is not fit to remember such a tragic incident.”
Perhaps my American values are clouding my grasp of international rules, but I have paused for many a moment of silence at a sporting event. Just last year, we had such a solemn moment before the BCS National Championship game in Arizona, played between Auburn and Oregon. That Gabrielle Giffords and her supporters were Democrats elicited no protest from Republicans, nor would such a thing be imaginable in the civilized world.
The longstanding vision of the Olympics as beyond politics is noble and laudable, in theory. But in practice, our silence speaks at least as loudly as our actions. The political decision that the commemoration of an Olympic tragedy is somehow unfit for an Olympic ceremony is a declaration of independence from peace and the difficult work of maintaining it. It is not remedied by perfunctory appearances at tiny gatherings largely beyond the public eye, or vague moments of remembrance “for all people in all countries.”
Sometimes, the world is cruel, terrible things happen to good people, and national leaders opt for political expedience over anything resembling ethics or humanity. But if we are unable or unwilling to look evil in the eye, even from forty years later, what value will our speeches “about peace and sport and about the Olympic Truce” have to a world devoid of moral integrity?
So do tell us, Mr. Rogge, what are we fit to remember at the Olympics?