Never forget past Olympics

September 2, 2008 

Not long ago we had the opportunity to be thrilled by the performance of a number of gifted athletes at the Olympic Games in China. Michael Phelps certainly set a number of records that will be difficult to match.

The Fort Benning-based Army Marksmanship Unit certainly has reason to be proud of its members’ performance. There was a limited amount of controversy that served more to add color to the broadcasts. Overall the events seemed to run smoothly, at least as I could see on the television. Unfortunately, the Olympic Games have not always run so smoothly.

I’m a product of my youth, as most of us are. When I watch the Olympics and I see any sort of political drama affect the Games I always think about the 1972 Games in Munich. I remember watching the drama of the Palestinian terrorists’ kidnapping of Israeli athletes on television. That truly was a remarkable event to witness live. I also remember the sick feeling I had when the operation to free the hostages collapsed with the deaths of all of them at the airport. No doubt that was a nightmare for the families of those who died and for the people who were trying to free the hostages.

It seems hard to believe that this event was Sept. 5-6, 1972. That was 36 years ago, and we are still worried about Palestinian terrorists. I bet most of today’s suicide bombers, whether Palestinian or of some other nationality, were not even born then. Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains a major source of justification for Islamist fanatics to use to recruit members and to launch attacks against the United States and our allies. When we cannot get past old anger we cannot solve current disputes.

Before this Olympic event I heard several reports of the tens of thousands of security personnel that the Chinese government to deploy to keep the Games safe. A few days before the Games began, an Islamist extremist blew up himself and a number of Chinese police in western China. Even with all of the security, a Chinese man knifed an American and his wife, killing the husband. This was not an act of terrorism, but it shows that even with the massive effort by the Chinese government to make the Games safe, some level of risk always exists. One determined person is hard to stop.

Thankfully we did not see a repeat of 1972. That was a horror that no right-thinking person wants to see repeated. Nonetheless, I am relatively sure that there are a few people in the world who would be very pleased to repeat such an act.

We and our allies have enemies who are not rational, at least not by our standards. It’s hard to dissuade someone from doing something when you just cannot reason with them. I don’t want to dwell on such a sad event as the 1972 Games, but I hope we do not forget what happened. We need to remember it so that we never let it happen again and so that we work to resolve the underlying conflict that spawned two awful days.

John M. House is a retired Army colonel who lives in Midland, Ga. His e-mail is

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