Olympic Opening Ceremony moment of silence would be chance to celebrate similarities

July 26, 2012

Chelsey Sterling is a spokesperson and the public relations coordinator for the Munich Initiative, an independent initiative of students at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. The group has partnered with the families of the 11 athletes slain during the Munich Olympic Games in 1972 to formally petition the International Olympic Committee for one minute of silence during Friday’s Opening Ceremony in London to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Munich attacks.

As a young person asking the International Olympic Committee to commemorate the lives of 11 athletes massacred in Munich in 1972, I have been asked why I care to fight for the world to remember an event that has been repeatedly ignored by the IOC and, until recently, by the rest of the world. My fellow students and I from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., have joined with the family members of the 11 slain Israeli athletes to formally petition the IOC for a minute’s silence at Friday’s Opening Ceremony to remember both the slain athletes and to work toward peace.

The athletes killed at Munich were victims of ideological violence at a global celebration of unity, the same kind of violence against which the entire modern world is currently fighting both with weapons and with diplomacy. This kind of violence has — if the effect of violence can ever be called “simple” — the simple and innate function of separating people into two opposing sides of an issue: those who are subscribe to an ideology and those who do not.

The Olympics are a call for unity in spite of national ideological differences to celebrate the common qualities that make us intrinsically human: triumph, disappointment, perseverance and struggle.

Ideological violence, however, focuses on differences that divide. Thus, to heal the rupture caused by such emphasis on divisions, we need to collectively memorialize the impact of such violence in a way that brings us all together by focusing on our shared human reality.


A member of the Palestinian terrorist group who seized members of the Israeli Olympic team at their quarters in the Munich Olympic Village appears with a hood over his face on the balcony of the village building where the hostages were held in this Sept. 5, 1972 file photo. (AP Photo) (AP)

This is why I and my fellow Catholic University students are asking for a one-minute memorial to commemorate the deaths of the 11 athletes killed in Munich at Friday’s Opening Ceremony — to remember, 40 years later, the effect of violence, and to remember it when everyone from around the world is gathered to celebrate human similarities.

I believe that if violence is to be successfully renounced, that renouncement needs to begin with the world’s youth. Young people are the bearers of the present’s legacy to the future. If young people fail to remember Munich, the events of 1972 will slip quietly out of public consciousness. To forget this kind of tragedy would be to let down our guard, and that, I think, would be a bigger tragedy than Munich itself – to sit back and let such an event happen twice when we could have prevented it.

I am a member of the “9/11 generation.” My generation has only experienced the high-security, terror-conscious world that followed both 9/11 and 7/7. Because of that, we understand the 1972 tragedy in a special way. True, we have only second-hand knowledge, but we have first-hand experience of living with fragmentation caused by violence. Our generation woke up one September morning to hear that the Twin Towers had fallen and that everything our country had known about world security was being questioned.

By calling for a minute of silence, we are hoping to bring the knowledge of the generation who experienced Munich to the generation who experienced 9/11 and to engage both generations in dialogue. Both generations have important insights into terror and tragedy that need to be brought into the public consciousness.

The first generation started the movement; the second needs to carry it forward. The 11 athletes killed in Munich were more than just Israelis; they were members of the Olympic family and deserve to be remembered as such.

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