London ~~ Tuesday April 8 2008
Aryan ideals, not ancient Greece, were the inspiration behind flame tradition
By Andy McSmith
There is a two-word answer to those who think the Olympic torch is a symbol of harmony between nations that should be kept apart from politics – Adolf Hitler.
The ceremony played out on the streets of Paris yesterday did not originate in ancient Greece, nor even in the 19th century, when the Olympic movement was revived. The entire ritual, with its pagan overtones, was devised by a German named Dr Carl Diem, who ran the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
Although he was not a Nazi, and was appointed to run the Olympics before the Nazis came to power, Diem adapted very quickly to the new regime, and ended the war as a fanatical military commander exhorting teenage Germans to die like Spartans rather than accept defeat. Thousands did, but not Diem, who lived to be 80.
He sold to Josef Goebbels – in charge of media coverage of the Games – the idea that 3,422 young Aryan runners should carry burning torches along the 3,422km route from the Temple of Hera on Mount Olympus to the stadium in Berlin.
It was his idea that the flame should be lit under the supervision of a High Priestess, using mirrors to concentrate the sun's rays, and passed from torch to torch along the way, so that when it arrived in the Berlin stadium it would have a quasi-sacred purity.
The concept could hardly fail to appeal to the Nazis, who loved pagan mythology, and saw ancient Greece as an Aryan forerunner of the Third Reich. The ancient Greeks believed that fire was of divine origin, and kept perpetual flames burning in their temples.
In Olympia, where the ancient games were held, the flame burnt permanently on the altar of the goddess Hestia. In Athens, athletes used to run relay races carrying burning torches, in honour of certain gods.
But the ancient Games were proclaimed by messengers wearing olive crowns, a symbol of the sacred truce which guaranteed that athletes could travel to and from Olympus safely. There were no torch relays associated with the ancient Olympics until Hitler.
The route from Olympus to Berlin conveniently passed through Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Austria, and Czechoslovakia - countries where the Nazis wanted to extend their influence. Before long, all would be under German military occupation. In Hungary, the flame was serenaded by gypsy musicians who would later be rounded up and sent to death camps.
In Berlin, the flame was carried the last kilometre along Berlin's main boulevard, by a 26- year-old runner named Siegfried Eifrig, who was watched by hundreds of thousands as he transferred the flame to a cauldron on an altar surrounded by vast Nazi flags. Eifrig, amazingly, is still alive, aged 98, and told the BBC this month that carrying the ceremony should be a purely sporting affair.
Despite its dark political overtones, the event was an unqualified success for the organisers, immortalised in a propaganda film by the Nazi director Leni Riefenstahl. The ritual has been repeated before each Olympics but not always with such organisational flair.
In Melbourne, in 1956, the 19-year-old athlete Ron Clark burnt his hand as he put the torch to the cauldron, because technicians had increased the gas flow, fearing it might not light. When the Games returned to Australia 44 years later, Clark was persuaded to do the honours again, and burnt his forearm during a rehearsal. One of the Australians taking part in the 2000 torch ceremony decided to do his stretch in a tractor instead of on foot.
Before yesterday, the flame had gone out just twice. It was extinguished by a sudden downpour in Montreal in 1976, when a worker scandalously relit it with a cigarette ligher, forgetting the pagan mystique involved; it should have been relit from a back-up torch. In 2004, it was blown out by a gust of wind. Yesterday's events pushed the number of such mishaps from two to five, making the President of the IOC, Jacques Rogge, furious.
"Violence for whatever reason is not compatible with the values of the torch relay or the Olympic Games," he said. Someone should have told Adolf Hitler.
Berlin 1936 Beijing 2008
Adolf Hitler in 1936 and China Beijing Olympics in 2008:
Commentary From Former British Minister Michael Portillo, on The Times, UK, Sunday, March 23, 2008
Adolf Hitler’s glee at exploiting the 1936 Berlin Olympics as a showcase for Nazism turned to fury when the black American athlete Jesse Owens won four gold medals. The Chinese leadership must by now be wondering whether staging the Games in Beijing will bring the regime more accolades than brickbats. Be careful what you wish for, as Confucius probably said.
In defence of the Olympic movement, Berlin had been selected before the Nazis came to power. No such excuse covers the decision to award the coveted prize to Beijing. In 1989 the Chinese government crushed the peaceful protests in Tiananmen Square as the world looked on in horror. China still secured the Olympics and a propaganda triumph and has looked forward to showing off to the world.
The authorities must have reflected that other governments are rarely brave enough to boycott the Olympics. The Berlin Games proceeded even though the Nazis had by then implemented the infamous Nuremberg laws that deprived German Jews of basic human rights.
Admittedly the Americans led a boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics because Soviet troops had stormed Afghanistan (Russian invasion bad, American invasion good). China knew that, short of marching into neighbouring territory, nothing it did would put its show at risk.
All the indicators suggested that China would be given a soft ride. When President Jiang Zemin visited Tony Blair in 1999 the Metropolitan police treated pro-Tibet demonstrators roughly. Double-decker buses were used to shield the protest from Jiang’s sensitive eyes. As Washington became embroiled in the scandals of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and extraordinary rendition, not to mention the tremendous loss of civilian life in Iraq and Afghanistan, Premier Wen Jiabao, the prime minister, must have been confident that America would avoid dialogue on human rights.
In any case we are all in awe of China’s economic power. When Gordon Brown toured there last month, he talked of business opportunities. Prime ministers loathe being asked to raise human rights issues that threaten to interrupt the smiles, handshakes and toasts by which the success of visits are measured. Brown probably limited himself to the vaguest urging of reform.
China’s economic sway is such that it has undermined US foreign policy with impunity. America aims to use its muscle to shape a world that embraces western values. In developing countries it insists that governments respect the rule of law and reduce corruption as a condition for trade and aid. China, on the other hand, has extended the hand of friendship to gruesome regimes (including Sudan’s). Beijing’s requirement for natural resources is its only consideration. Maybe it has enjoyed thwarting America’s attempts to export its liberal values.
So China had every reason to expect a trouble-free Olympics that would show its best face to the world. In Berlin the anti-Jewish notices were taken down in the weeks preceding the Games. In Beijing the use of cars has been restricted to reduce air pollution.
In the modern world governments are not the only players. Steven Spielberg, the film director, withdrew as artistic adviser to the Games’ ceremonies, remarking that his conscience did not allow him to continue while “unspeakable crimes” were being committed in Darfur.
His decision has transformed the situation. In that moment the Beijing Olympics flipped from being an opportunity for the Chinese government and became a threat. China’s deep concern that the Games should be a success provides those who oppose its policies with a narrow window of opportunity. It delivers leverage both to domestic dissidents and to the outside world, unparalleled since Tiananmen.
With the news blackout imposed by China on the country’s interior we cannot know whether the Tibetan protests are opportunistically linked to the forthcoming Games. But the Olympics are a political factor and the situation is dynamic. The eyes of the world are turned disapprovingly on Chinese policies.
“If freedom-loving people throughout the world do not speak out against China and the Chinese in Tibet, we have lost all moral authority to speak out on human rights,” declared Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, before cheering crowds of Tibetans in northern India, where she had gone to meet the Dalai Lama. Such outbursts had not featured in China’s “script” for the Olympics.
Our prime minister, discovering the courage of others’ convictions, has said that he, too, would like to meet the Tibetan spiritual leader. David Cameron has congratulated him, so we have a new consensus. We have moved a long way since Blair claimed to have too many requests for meetings to find time to receive the Dalai Lama during his 2004 visit to Britain.
China failed to understand that politicians in democracies cannot predict what positions they will take. Spielberg’s démarche has changed everything for them. In a few weeks they have moved from avoiding anything that might offend Beijing to scrambling to be seen as pro-Tibetan. It scarcely matters whether the riots in Lhasa were, at least in part, brutal and racist, nor that such violence is in defiance of the Dalai Lama’s strictures and undermines his authority. The Tibet bandwagon is rolling and every democratic politician clamours for a place on board.
As western politicians are exposed as being powerless to avert economic downturn and as Iraq and Afghanistan smoulder on, heaping opprobrium on China offers an agreeable opportunity to divert attention from the politicians’ other woes.
The genie is out of the bottle and there is no predicting where this may end. All our politicians say that boycotting the Olympics is not on the cards. But that is for now. If the situation in Tibet deteriorates, pressure will grow to use the Olympics as a weapon against Beijing. If China continues to thwart western journalists in their attempts to report dissent, the hostility of the world’s media can be guaranteed. However, if it allows events to be reported, the protesters will seize their chance.
Anyway, there is much that can be done short of a total boycott. The Olympic torch is to embark on a world tour, providing the occasion for Tibet and Darfur protests around the world. When it arrives in London, I predict that the 2,000 police being mobilised that day will go easy on the demonstrators and no buses will block our view of them. Sir Trevor McDonald, scheduled to be a torch bearer, will surely face insistent calls to withdraw.
Mia Farrow, the actress, will front the protest when the torch passes through San Francisco. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton must then consider how to garner support from those demonstrations in America’s most populous and perhaps most liberal state.
The unprecedented grandiosity of the torch’s itinerary must have looked great on the drawing board. In practice, Beijing has secured a rolling programme of antiChinese protest circling the globe.
If celebrity torch bearers are forced to pull out one by one, China will suffer daily public relations disasters. Nor does its recruitment of Spielberg, a spectacular coup at the time, look such a brilliant move now.
The ceremonies on which he was advising will provide the next focus. They can be shunned without disrupting the sporting events which supposedly are the point of the Olympics. Indeed, once the politicians have aligned themselves with Tibet and Darfur, what justification could they offer for allowing the regime to bask in global adulation?
When China bid for the Olympics it judged correctly that democratic politicians are pusillanimous. Given their hunger for Chinese contracts they would not let massacre in Darfur or torture in Tibet disrupt a good party. But Beijing failed to see that western statesmen are even more craven towards their celebrities and media.
Beijing’s other mistake was being too anxious for the Games to be a success. A man who wants something too much makes himself vulnerable. Surely Confucius said something of the sort.
Note: Michael Portillo left the House of Commons in 2005 after a 30-year career with the Conservative Party, which took him from MP for Enfield Southgate to transport and local government minister to the Cabinet, where he served as Treasury Secretary and Secretary of State for Defence. Since leaving politics he has written weekly for The Sunday Times and made a number of documentaries for BBC2
Friday, October 26, 2007
China’s Olympic Moment Same as Hitler’sBy: Lev Navrozov
The 1936 Olympics took place in Germany. In 1938, Hitler was generally regarded in the West as a cofounder of the Munich “peace in our time” agreement.
So in 1936, the peaceful Munich he envisioned still lay ahead. The 1936 Olympics were to bring about warmer social ties between him and the victims of his forthcoming attacks. No wonder President Roosevelt attended the Games.
Three years later Hitler was waging a world war for world domination. To prevent his subordinates’ betrayal of him to the English-speaking countries, after his debacle near Moscow, he secretly ordered them to begin the extermination of Jews. This way, in the eyes of the U.S. and the British, his subordinates were seen as the heinous criminals, while he was to be seen as having known nothing about the “final solution.”
Fortunately for his enemies, he ran out of resources to continue his development of nuclear weapons, the key to global domination.
Such was the post-history of the 1936 Olympics.
As for the 2008 Olympics in China (Aug. 8-24), Human Rights Watch began its section of Aug. 2, 2007, in Yahoo! (see http://china.hrw.org) with the following utopia in big type: “The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games are a historic opportunity for the Chinese Government to show the world that it has the confidence to make tangible and sustainable progress in ensuring basic human rights for its 1.3 billion citizens.”
I feel that this utopia is so utopian that any sarcastic remarks of mine in the past decades concerning the march of China’s dictatorship toward “basic human rights” would be anticlimactic.
The dictatorship of China holds Olympics for the same purposes Hitler held them in 1936.
On Oct. 11, 2007, at a special conference of the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace, Bob Dietz, the Asia program coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists, spoke about the persecution of China’s journalists in China.
He gave no statistics concerning the journalists tortured by the dictatorship of China. But he said that China had been leading the world since 1999 “in the number of jailed journalists.” Yet despite this “world record” (by no means Olympic), “in 2001, the International Olympic Committee awarded the Games to China.”
The public communications in China are not created by journalists themselves. Certainly, Zhao Yan did not create either The New York Times or its Beijing bureau, or his job as a researcher in that bureau. Yet he was imprisoned in 2004 for a New York Times (correct) prediction that Jiang Zemin would retire as the head of the military commission.
Chen Kai, a former Chinese national basketball player, now in Washington, D.C., published on Sept. 28, 2007, in Chinaview and The Epoch Times (both “dissident publications”) a letter to President Bush, calling him to “join our Olympic Freedom Run,” to “clarify your moral standing and solidarity with freedom-loving people in China”:
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Bush:
As the 2008 Beijing Olympics fast approach, we as freedom-loving people realize as that time comes, we are standing at the threshold between human freedom in our future and human despotism from our past. Having learned that you had accepted an invitation from Mr. Hu Jintao to attend the opening ceremony for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, I like to extend my invitation to you to join our “Olympic Freedom Run” in Washington DC on September 30, 2007 from the Memorial of Communism Victims to the Lincoln Memorial.
As a former Chinese National basketball-Team player, I feel compelled by my conscience to speak out not just to speak out against oppression, slavery and human degradation, but to speak out for human freedom, for hope, for a better tomorrow. I am speaking out not just for those innocent lives perished under the communist regime, not just for those who still suffer under the same oppressive regime of the Chinese communist government, but also for those who are suffering under all kinds of despotism, old and new, in the world.
Chen Kai recalls the 1936 Berlin Olympics:
History should not repeat itself, and we as free people will make sure that Olympic spirit is nothing but the spirit of human freedom, but not opium to induce illusions for despotism and tyranny. Any government that wants to use the Olympics for its own oppressive and reactionary policies against human freedom should be put into the spotlight and have evil exposed. The 2008 Beijing Olympics should be an example of how the cause of human freedom is pushed forward by the Olympic movement, not pushed backward.
As an athlete with a conscience, I call upon all athletes, all coaches, all people in the athletic establishment in the world, all sports fans and all tourists who will participate in the 2008 Beijing Olympics to awaken your conscience, pluck up your courage and listen to the call from the deepest recess of your soul to join our “Olympic Freedom T Shirt” global movement.
Chen Kai correctly assumes that President Bush will not be tortured or even just imprisoned for “x” years, for wearing an “Olympic Freedom” T-shirt. Certainly not now not yet.
When you stroll on the Tiananmen Square, under the stare of the giant portrait of Mao the biggest mass murderer in human history, when you remember those who died in the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, wear our “Olympic Freedom T-shirt.”
Mr. President, we do not advocate boycotting the Beijing Summer Olympics. We hope that you use your presence in the 2008 Beijing Olympics to spread the message of Truth, Justice, Liberty and Dignity to all human beings on the planet earth. We want to see you use your moral conviction, your appreciation of the human yearning for the eternal values of mankind to spread the message of hope and human freedom.
I, as a Chinese athlete with a conscience, call upon the voice in your conscience; call upon your moral courage, your action and your prayer for freedom for the Chinese people, for freedom for all the people in the world. In wearing our “Olympic Freedom T-shirt” and joining our “Olympic Freedom Run,” you are expressing your solidarity and your support for the freedom-loving people in China. You are indeed building a better tomorrow for the world.
Hereby I cordially extend my invitation to you to join our Washington DC “Olympic Freedom Run.”