By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
Berlin in 1936? No, Beijing in 2008.
Now that the Winter Olympics are over, all eyes will soon turn to the Summer Olympics. And that’s just what the Chinese want. Like the Germans of the ’30s, they will use the Olympics to showcase their economy _ and hide their repressive behavior.
But the rest of us don’t have to help. Lest we repeat the errors of 1936, the United States should lead a boycott of the 2008 Olympics. Anything less will give the Chinese the same kind of propaganda boost that the Nazis enjoyed.
If you don’t believe me, go rent Leni Riefenstahl’s prize-winning documentary, “Olympia.” Released on Adolf Hitler’s birthday in 1938, two years after the Berlin Olympics, the film shows the Games _ and the Germans _ in all their glory: the enormous main stadium, expanded to hold 110,000 spectators; the Olympic Village, boasting 100 buildings and 387 dining halls; the pageantry of the Olympische Jugend (“Olympic Youth”), who wowed audiences with their festive dances.
Hitler was no great fan of sport, fearing that athletic competition would elevate the individual over the all-powerful state. But he recognized the enormous potential of the Olympics to burnish Germany’s international standing _ which needed all the help it could get. As early as 1933, a New York Times editorial had suggested that the Nazis’ “race doctrine” contradicted the spirit of peace, equality and fair play at the heart of the Olympics.
So Hitler issued strict orders: No racism at this Olympics. Defenders of the decision to hold the Games in Berlin often point to African-American track champion Jesse Owens, whose four gold medals undermined Nazi racial ideology.
According to one well-worn myth, a deflated Hitler refused to shake hands with Owens after the runner had destroyed the Third Reich’s pretensions of “Aryan” superiority.
But the truth is almost exactly the opposite. Rather than challenging Nazi racism, the triumphs of Owens and other black athletes let the Germans hide it.
“The racial point of view should not in any form be a part of the discussion of the athletic results,” the German Ministry of Propaganda warned. “Special care should be exercised not to offend Negro athletes.” Indeed, the ministry reprimanded one newspaper after it took a potshot at America’s “black auxiliaries.” Hitler refused to pare footage of Owens and other black stars from Riefenstahl’s film, rejecting suggestions that the documentary was too “positive” toward African-Americans.
Fast-forward to Beijing in 2008, when we can expect China’s dictators to disguise their cruelties in a colorful haze of artistic and technological wizardry.
To be fair, the Chinese leaders have never demonstrated the genocidal mentality or the global ambitions of Nazi Germany. And nominally, of course, China remains a “communist” nation. But make no mistake: It’s also a fascist one.
According to my American Heritage dictionary, fascism is marked by four characteristics: centralization of authority under a dictator; stringent socio-economic controls; suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship; and a policy of belligerent nationalism. The Chinese regime exhibits all four.
This government welcomes private business, but subjects it to the strict regulation of large state cartels. It routinely whips citizens into furious protests against foreign “spies” and “interlopers,” allegedly poised to strike at any moment. Most of all, it carefully monitors all communication _ including the Internet _ for the smallest signs of dissent. Critics of the regime often find themselves out of work, or laboring in prison camps. Or dead.
Why should we help this brutal state by participating in its cynical Olympic spectacle? Why not sit this one out?
Back in 1936, we almost did. According to one poll, 43 percent of Americans favored a boycott of the Berlin Games. Boycott supporters included the Catholic War Veterans; the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith; Al Smith, the Democrats’ 1928 presidential nominee; and the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr.
New York’s largest black newspaper, The Amsterdam News, also backed a boycott.
But other African-American periodicals said the Games should go on, to give black athletes the chance to compete.
Eventually, of course, the United States Olympic Committee voted to participate in the Berlin Games.
Americans attended every Olympics until the Moscow Games, of 1980, which they boycotted to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Sixty-two countries joined the boycott, including _ you guessed it _ the People’s Republic of China.
So spare me the anguished retort about “politicizing” the Olympics. The Olympics have always been political. And no one understands that better than the Chinese leaders, who are counting on the Games to advertise their achievements _ and mask their misdeeds.
The only question is whether the rest of the world will play along.