Dachokie's Reviews > Munich 1972: Tragedy, Terror, and Triumph at the Olympic Games

Munich 1972 by David Clay Large
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Aug 08, 12

bookshelves: crime
Read from July 17 to August 05, 2012

Outstanding Account of a Tragic, Yet Fascinating, Historical Event …


The 1972 Munich Olympics will forever be identified with the massacre of eleven members of the Israeli team by members of the Black September terrorist group. It is, understandably, the most logical icon of those Games. In fact, other than a few images or video clips of Mark Spitz, Olga Korbut or the masked Black September gunman on the dormitory balcony, there really isn’t enough information available for anything else to be associated with the Munich Olympics. Thankfully, with MUNICH 1972, David Large fills that void with zeal and offers the complete story of the “most beautiful Olympics ever to have been wrecked” .

Considering the author was actually in Munich during those Olympic Games (as a grad student working on a dissertation, not as a spectator), there is a sense that this book was written to satisfy his own quest for understanding the tragic event that unfolded down the road from him; as he is so thorough in his approach to the subject matter. Covering every imaginable facet of the 72 Olympics, from the controversy of Munich being awarded host-city status to the immediate and long-term aftermath of the Games and everything in-between, Large makes a case that Munich may arguably be the most important Olympics of the modern era. Rather than focusing solely on the obvious (the massacre), Large reminds us that up until the tragic event, the Games provided some astounding athletic performances that seemed destined to make Munich one of the most successful Olympics ever. This detailed, balanced and rather unbiased overview of the entire 72 Olympics proved to be a fascinating and educational read. We get the good, the bad and the very ugly facts behind this tragic event.

Large dedicates the first third of the book to the build-up to the Games. Starting with the controversial decision to award host city status to the birthplace of the Nazi Party, readers are reminded of the last time Germany hosted an Olympics, under Hitler. Large details the painstaking efforts of West Germany and Munich took to prove to the world that a new Germany had arisen from the ashes of its destructive past … the Munich Games were to be a showcase of this rebirth. Paralleling this story of Munich’s herculean attempt to rebrand itself (and Germany) is the rumbling of the global political violence that existed at the time (including trouble from its estranged brother-country, East Germany). It is clear that the planners knew the likelihood of the Munich Olympics being targeted for a violent political statement was high to almost certain. I was astonished to read that months before the Games started, a security advisor pretty much laid-out a potential Palestinian terrorist attack (“scenario 21”) in the exact manner in which it actually happened. And while security was important in theory it was superseded by the effort to soften reminders of Germany’s Nazi past (pastel jackets and baseball hats in lieu of anything remotely militant-looking). In other words, the door was left wide open for anyone with ill intentions.

The remaining two-thirds of the book are dedicated to the two weeks the Games played out. What is sometimes difficult to remember is that the athletic performances at Munich were quite stellar. Rather than a glossing overview of the athletics, Large opts to provide intimate and colorful details of a variety of events, their participants and eventual outcomes. An excellent overview that is full of interesting obscure stories and controversies. I felt that the author’s thorough attention to sports at the Munich Games was integral in making the book balanced and complete. Following the the first week of events, comes the chapter dedicated to the day of the Black September attack. Again, the author provides explicit detail that puts readers at the horrific scene and takes us through the tragedy, step-by-step, from the hostage-taking to the disastrous “rescue attempt” at a nearby airfield. Reading this chapter confirms that the security for entire Munich Games was nothing more than a house-of-cards and that most of the organizers were simply crossing their fingers, hoping to ride the good fortune of the first week all the way to the closing ceremony. The West German response to the crisis is characterized as being inept and helpless. Large does hand out a heap of blame to virtually everyone … even Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir is shown to have callously conceded the hostages’ lives rather than accommodating the terrorists’ demands. If there is one source of obvious bias exhibited by the author throughout the book, it is his obvious distaste for IOC President Avery Brundage, who infamously insisted the Games continue following the massacre. The final week of competition has a few bright moments, but readers will sense the Olympic spirit as being long gone as the controversy of continuing the games elicits a myriad of reactions from those athletes whose events were scheduled for that second week, after the massacre.

Thorough, informational and entertaining … a totally absorbing read. Quite simply, MUNICH 1972 left me with no unanswered questions regarding the Munich Games, but a strong desire to share the fine details with others. I believe David Large has done a magnificent job documenting an event that, for 40 years, has been steeped in darkness and mystery. This book should appeal to anyone interested in sports and/or history. Reading it as the London Olympics are playing out gave the book more special meaning and certainly puts things in perspective.
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