In an effort to commemorate the Munich Massacre during the Summer Olympics in 1972, Steven Spielberg directed Munich, a fictional account of the retaliation attacks performed by a secret Israeli organization. Though the media coverage shown during this crisis is minimal, the use of actual footage provides a fair account of the media during this time.  But the most profound effect is Spielberg’s call for peace, with the film focusing on the never-ending cycle of violence that occurs with terrorism and counterrorism.

The press does play a large role in relaying the events of Munich as well as the events that occur after the attacks, but the analysis of the press is somewhat one-dimensional. When the media is covering the Munich massacre, they are clearly removed from the situation, with little insight on what information is factual or not. They attempt to be informative for the rest of the world, but they prove to be detrimental to the rescue efforts of the Israelis; since the Black September organization is made aware of the Germans’ efforts by watching the news reports on television (a fact which is also reported by the news “the entire operation was being watched on a television set within the apartment.” By the end of the siege at the airport, the media loses much of its credibility by falsely reporting that all the Israeli athletes had survived “it is far worse when media wander off into speculation (…) far better to admit that the details are currently unknown” (Moeller 98). In particular, a [what appears to be] German news anchor reports, “Somehow, all the hostages are safe. And according to these reports, all Arab terrorists have died by German gunfire.” Other than this claim being false, it portrays the German army in a misleadingly heroic light for saving the Israelis from the terrorists.

Once the mission is underway with Avner and his team, there is constant news coverage about the attacks that occur in retaliation for their assassinations. The depiction of the press can be said to be accurate (if only for the fact that real news clips are used), but the groups’ reactions to the reports are left up to the imagination of Spielberg. At one point during their mission, their hopes are derailed when they learn from a TV report that the three surviving Munich terrorists have been released by the demands of the Lufthansa hijackers. After their release, rather than being deplored for the acts they committed, the media scrambles to interview them and hold press conferences to find out their side of the story. They have become, at Steve’s disgusted observance “movie stars.”

Interconnected with the framing of terrorism and press in the film are each sides’ perceptions of their own actions. After the Munich attacks occur, the Mossad is trying to decide how best to retaliate. Although there were previous attempts to fight back, none had gained the notoriety of Munich “no one notices what happens in the border countries (…) We have to focus the world’s attention.” The Arabs are aware of the power that their attack on the Olympics would have on the rest of the world, but for them it was a necessary evil “to instill fear in those who actually witness the act” (Barnett 97). Before his assassination, Mahmoud Hamshari notes the success of the attacks (ironically to Robert, dressed as a reporter) “we have made our voice heard by the universe who have not been hearing them before.” Although Mahmoud is initially critically wounded, Avner’s group knows that they achieved their main objective; even if there is a possibility that he is not dead “no one notices a shooter. Bombs achieve a double objective, they terrify terrorists.”

Although the viewpoint of the movie is from the Israelis, Spielberg remains objective about the Munich massacre by underlying the hopelessness that goes along with terrorism. Interestingly, Vengeance (the book that the movie is based on) is unabashedly for the mission that the Israelis undertook to eliminate the Black September organization. The movie allows the lines between terrorism and counterterrorism to blur. “Vengeance holds there is a difference between terrorism and counterterrorism; Munich suggests there isn’t. The book has no trouble telling an act of war from a war crime; the film finds it difficult” (Jonas 51). Part of the message that Spielberg hoped to convey with his film was that “a response to a response doesn’t resolve anything. It just creates a perpetual motion machine” (Waltzer 169). The group may have victories when it murders their targets, but their actions come back to haunt them when they are exposed to the retaliation that has been caused by them.

Other than Steve, as the mission continues, each member questions whether their actions are justified and if they are truly helping the Israelis cause through their mission. Constantly encountering the opposing side on a personal level is an especially effective method of tearing away at the group’s resolve. Robert’s “interview” with Mahmoud offers him insight into how the Arabs operate “we are the largest refugee population (…) Years and years of Palestinian blood spilled by the Israelis. And whom mourns for us?” He also brings up an attack that occurred on the borders, which resulted in more deaths than the Munich massacre, but garnered little attention. His opinions may not have changed the decision to assassinate him, but the group begins to show signs of guilt about the attacks.

What links the Arab and Israeli terrorists is the desire for a home, which is ultimately the motivation for the violence. “Munich deftly sidesteps coming down on one side and demonizing the other. Each people’s needs are given voice, and Spielberg apparently endorses a two-state solution by repeatedly referring in various contexts to the importance of a home” (Fox 37). Although neither group can understand each other when it comes to violence against them, they seem to display the same thought process for gaining homeland. Prime Minister Golda Meir justifies the undercover operation to assassinate Black September members because “every civilization finds it necessary to negotiate compromises with its own values” in order to ensure its survival. But each side fails to apply this philosophy to understand the motives of their enemies. Avner’s mother and PLO member, Ali express almost identical desires for a home. While Avner cannot understand why the Arabs continue their fight, Ali humanizes himself by understanding that his actions are wrong, but at the same time, justifying them. “You don’t know what it is not to have a home. (…) We want to be nations. Home is everything (…) The rest of the world will see what Israelis did to us. The world will see how they made us animals.” Their struggle for a home is not unlike the Jews’ struggle for Israel, as Avner mother makes clear with her take on the Israeli/Arab struggle:

We had to take it, because no one would ever give it to us. A place to be a Jew among Jews, subject to no one (…) Whatever it took, whatever it takes. A place on earth, we have a place on earth.”

Carl sides with the Israelis, but also knows that they are not free from the culpability of the ongoing struggle “how do you think we got control of the land? By being nice?” Robert also falls victim to his doubts about the mission, which leads to him leaving the group “Jews don’t do wrong because our enemies do wrong (…) I don’t think we ever were that decent. Suffering thousands of years of hatred doesn’t make you decent.” The mission eventually takes the ultimate toll: the deaths of Carl, Robert, and Hans “not a reluctant decision at all, but a rather deliberate attempt to suggest that all were equally victims” (Schoenfield 37). As the questions surrounding the mission begin to pile up, Avner must ultimately question whether all the suffering is worth his small victories. “Did we accomplish anything at all? Every man we killed has been replaced by worse (…) there is no peace at the end of this no matter what you believe.” As he has this final conversation with Ephraim, the screen cuts to the landscape of New York and the now fallen World Trade Center (already destroyed before the filming of the movie) and the film’s plea for peace rings out from the violence that continues to be committed in the name of “peace.”

Undoubtedly a tragic event, Steven Spielberg takes the aftermath of the Munich massacre and uses it as a catalyst to question the equality of terrorism and counterterrorism. In doing so, his film utilizes the media’s coverage of these events as well as the accounts of each side involved to form a film that calls for an end to the violence of terrorism.

Works Cited

Barnett, Brooke, and Amy Reynolds. Terrorism and the Press. New York: Peter Lang, 2009.


Fox, Michael. “Munich deals with serious issues; Spielberg’s message is violence

begets more violence.” Washington Jewish Week 41.52 (2005): 37. Print.

Jonas, George. “The Spielberg Massacre.” MacLeans. 119.2 (2006): 44-52. Print

Moeller, Susan D. Packaging Terrorism. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. Print.

Munich. Dir. Steven Spielberg. Universal Studios, 2005. Film.

Schoenfield, Gabriel. “Spielberg’s Munich. Commentary 121.2 (2006): 34-40. Print.

Waltzer, Kenneth. “Spielberg’s Munich, Ethics, and Israel.” Israel Studies 1.2 (2006):

168-172. Print.