Jacob Heilbrunn

Craven Silence on Munich at the Olympics

The Obama administration supports it. So does Mitt Romney. The "it" in question is a moment of silence for the Israeli victims of a Palestinian terrorist organization called Black September at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Eleven members of the Israeli team were murdered. An online petition calling for a minute of silence also exists.

But IOC president Jacques Rogge sees it differently. He's adamantly resisting a formal moment of silence at the opening ceremony of the London Games this Friday: "We feel that the opening ceremony is an atmosphere that is not fit to remember such a tragic incident." When it comes to the Jews, the IOC curls into a fetal ball—as the Boston Globe points out, it has not resisted ceremonies for Bosnia or the victims of 9/11. But Munich is taboo.

Fear of Arab pressure, even a boycott? The desire to maintain an upbeat tone rather than acknowledge the dark past? Whatever the motive, and nothing has ever been too craven for the IOC in the past, Rogge tried to pacify his critics with a minute-long ceremony at the Olympic Village on Monday a part of something called the Olympic Truce, which, as the Washington Post reports, is a United Nations initiative that calls upon everyone to lay down their arms around the world during the Olympics. (Is Bashar Assad listening?)

The Olympics has a moral obligation to do better. It more than blotted its escutcheon with the 1936 games in Berlin, which the Nazis exploited to present a friendlier face to the world. The head of the American Olympic Committee was Avery Brundage who later became head of the IOC. Brundage successfully opposed an American boycott. Here is what the Holocaust Museum has to say about Brundage's stance:

He wrote in the AOC's pamphlet "Fair Play for American Athletes" that American athletes should not become involved in the present "Jew-Nazi altercation." As the Olympics controversy heated up in 1935, Brundage alleged the existence of a "Jewish-Communist conspiracy" to keep the United States out of the Games.

He thought Hitler was a great fellow and that the 1936 Olympics one of the greatest ever. The Brundage mindset was on display in 1972 as well, his last as IOC president. The games were suspended for thirty-six hours. "The Games must go on," chairman Brundage declared. So they did.

So the Olympics doesn't have a lot to live up to. It has a lot to live down. This year, the IOC isn't doing a very good job of it. It want to remain silent, in other words, about the importance of silence.