Steven Spielberg's film about the aftermath of the murder of Jewish athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics opens in Germany this week, taking a new perspective on the actions of the German and Israeli governments.
Spielberg's political thriller relives 1972 hostage drama
The subtext of the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich was the “games of peace and joy.” They aimed to show the world that post-war Germany had nothing to do with the Nazi Germany of Adolf Hitler.
But a week after the opening of the games, on September 5th, 1972, members of the Palestinian terrorist organisation
Black September broke into the Olympic village, killed two Israeli athletes, and took nine others hostage. Less than 24 hours later, the nine were dead, along with a German policeman and five of the eight kidnappers.
Afterward, many criticized the German government for bungling the rescue attempt.
"Certainly, the German handling was fairly inept," said Simon Reeve, a British journalist who wrote a book on the incident, "One Day in September," which became the basis for an Oscar-winning documentary. "I don’t think anything else could have gone wrong, it was almost farcical in its nature. The most obvious example is that there were only five snipers to tackle eight Palestinians and rescue nine athletes and they didn't even have real equipment."
Terrorism in its infancy
German police captured three of the terrorists. But in October 1972, the men were released to Libya after hijackers of a German plane demanded their liberation. German authorities were also criticized for the release but Reeve says it is important to remember that terrorism was in its infancy then.
Spielberg says his film is intended to provoke
Meanwhile, the Israeli secret service, Mossad, launched a campaign to hunt down and assassinate those responsible for planning the Israeli kidnappings -- which is the main focus of Stephen Spielberg’s film, "Munich."
In it, Spielberg highlights the moral and psychological toll of the Israeli reprisals. He also wanted with the film to reclaim the debate about the moral costs of the struggle against terror from "extremists" and engage moderate forces in the West and the Middle East.
"I wanted to use the medium of film to make the audience have a very intimate confrontation with a subject that they generally only know about in an abstract way, or only see in a one-sided way," he told newsmagazine Der Spiegel.
Critics say film is not factual
Reeve, like many of the film’s critics, has problems with the way Spielberg plays fast and loose with the facts, even though the film is billed as "inspired by real events" and doesn't pretend to portray the incident with historical accuracy.
"Some are fabricated, some are factual, but there are no differentials," he said. "Yet Spielberg, because of his power, will come to define this event of enormous significance in European history."
Critics say the film soft-pedals the incident
Others blasted "Munich" saying the film equates the Israeli assassins with the Palestinian militants and tries to excuse the actions of the terrorists.
Spielberg dismissed the charges as "nonsense."
"These critics are acting as if we were all missing a moral compass," he told Der Spiegel. "Of course, it is a horrible, abominable crime when people are taken hostage and killed like in Munich. But it does not excuse the act when you ask what the motives of the perpetrators were and show that they were also individuals with families and a history.... Understanding does not mean forgiving. Understanding does not mean being soft, it is a courageous and strong stance."