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Excerpts of President Nixon’s Reaction to the Munich Massacre

(September 5, 1972)

Declassified documents from President Nixon's administration:

September 5 [1972], 10:35 P.M. Haig reports to Nixon that all the hostages have been killed. “The Israelis are going to react”, he says.

Nixon: “Who are they going to hit though?”

Haig: “Lebanon, though they will find out where based (sic).”

Nixon: “They are capable of it. They have got to hit somebody, don’t you think?”

Ten minutes later, Nixon says to Haig: “Hell, what do we care about Lebanon. Think we have to be awfully tough. I want you to run that by a couple of peopel. Any nations that harbors or gives sanctuary to these international outlaws — we will cut off all economic support. Obviously Lebanon. Jordan’s another. Don’t know who else we have relations with.”

Five minutes later, Nixon tells Haig over the phone: “I might consider showing our position on this by flying to the Israelis’ funeral. Tell them that I am here at the White House getting reports as they come in, and that I am saddened and shocked by this terrible incident and we will comment in the morning.”

At 11:25 P.M. Rogers and Haig talk on the telephone. Rogers suggests that Nixon issue an executive order for a day of mourning in Washington with flags at half-mast.

Kissinger: “Well, Rogers thinks we should declare a national day of mourning. I’m against even that. It’s not our day of mourning, Mr. President. It’s easy enough now to do a number of grandstanding...And also, God I am Jewish. I’ve had 13 members of my family killed. So I can’t be insensitive to this. But I think you have to think also of the anti-Semitic woes in this country. If we let our policy be run by the Jewish community...”

Nixon: “By the radical Jewish community...”

Kissinger: “By the radical Jewish community and declare a national...”

Kissinger, (in response to Nixon going to the UN): “Not you. Not physically. To have the United States to go to the UN and see whether we can get some international rules on harboring guerrillas and so forth.”

Nixon: “Now, I’ve called Rabin. I’ve asked him to call me this morning to get me a report. You know they have the best intelligence. You know he was so good last night...He says I haven’t got all the information.”

Kissinger: “I think they might. They’re in the best position they’ve ever been in. No Russians there. We’ve got an election campaign. Now I got a promise out of Golda Meir two months ago when you asked me to that they wouldn’t take military action. But this is an enormous provocation. And they are emotional. And I don’t want them to think that they’ve got you in their hip pocket.”

Nixon: “Well, let me say, you have no problems with Rabin. The way he’s talking, he’s very rational.”

Nixon: “But the point is, let’s let Bill be out in front. Your idea of going to the UN, he finally got the point...And it will be great for him and it will be great for us.”

Kissinger: “About all, it will be good for you, Mr. President...Because if he goes up to the UN, he will be doing something concrete. Of course, nothing will come out. But we could make a lot of statesman-like speeches about curbing terrorism.”

Nixon: “I don’t want them to go conquer Beirut. I don’t mind them going in and knocking off a few camps, but even that’s bad right now.”

Nixon: “Let’s talk a little about lowering the flag. What I’m concerned about is that you can be sure as hell that (New York City Mayor John) Lindsay (a former Nixon rival in the race for the Republican nomination) is going to lower the flad, Congress is going to call for lowering the flag...Here’s the point. (Unclear) Why don’t you order the flag when some Irish nationalists get killed?”

Kissinger: “That’s right. What will Irishmen say if you didn’t lower it when the school children got killed in Belfast...”

Nixon: “That’s right. It really hits the point that the flag ought to be low all the time.”

Nixon: “Yeah. Now the idea of the church thing appeals to me if I do it my way. My way would be I call upon all Americans to go to church and a moment of silence. But I think, in my way, I quietly slip out of this damn door...”

Kissinger: “That doesn’t bother me.”

Nixon: “...and pick maybe that little church across the way without...any notice of it. I just walk round, sit in the church for five minutes and walk out. Get my point? That’s my moment of silence.”

Kissinger: “That I think, that has meaning. That has human compassion. You show where you stand, but you don’t involve the presidency of the United States in an official act.”

Source: Amir Oren, “How Nixon got shot of Munich,” Ha’aretz, (February 23, 2006).