Tag: Hitler

Olympic Myths, Ancient and Modern

The Olympics are starting, which means that alongside the parade of athletes, we face a parade of grandees trying to use the Games for their own purposes.  The International Olympic Committee thinks that this multi-billion-dollar sports spectacle is really some sort of movement for world peace, while domestic politicians see the Olympics as a canvas on which to project their views on economics, international trade, environmental policy, and anything else they can dream up.

They’re all full of it.  As I explain in the Huffington Post,

The ancient reality could not have been further from these modern misconceptions, as Greek armies routinely violated the Olympic truce, sometimes battling in the Olympic sanctuary itself. Individual achievement was valued much more than participation, and wealth superceded ideology.

Pindar, the lyric poet whose odes tell us much of what we know about the early Olympians, wrote at the behest and patronage of wealthy athletes, who sought personal glory rather than the vindication of their city-state and its political system. The great champion Alcibiades used his prestige to gain fame and riches, often at the expense of “national interest.”  … .

Under today’s conditions of globalization – cultural homogenization, economic interdependence, decline of the nation-state even with respect to our enemies in war – international athletic competition assumes an ever-more parallel course to that of the world at large. As with all sporting events, the Olympics of the past two decades have become exponentially more entertainment-oriented. Even the proliferation of crass commercialism is a positive step because it returns the Olympics to the role they fulfill best: providing a forum for the globe’s finest athletes to show the rest of us a good time.

The Olympics now bring us the absolute best, without regard to color, creed, contract, or the Iron Curtain. The nature of the Olympic “movement,” meanwhile, has returned to the entertainment, ritual, and indeed athletic value of the original Games.

Ira Stoll makes a similar point at Reason.

Which isn’t to say that the Olympics are no good – I love them so much that I wrote my master’s thesis on their post-Cold War transformation – but that in enjoying them you shouldn’t read in anything other than that you’re watching the best athletes in the world show their stuff.

Let the Games begin!

We Should Not Praise Stalin, But Bury Him

Although the debate has been raging for months, it has just come to my attention that the man responsible for the second-most number of murders ever – after Mao, of course, with Hitler a distant third – is to have his bust placed at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia.

Defenders of the Stalin bust argue that, whether we like it or not, our uneasy alliance with the Soviet Union during the war is a part of history and should be recognized. Furthermore, they say that his visage is in no way glorifying the man or his deeds.

This argument misses the point entirely. Memorials are monuments to fallen heroes, not historical dioramas. There is no statue of Stephen Douglas at the Lincoln Memorial, no bust of Wendell Willkie at the FDR Memorial, and no plaques honoring Axis dead at our WWII Memorial. Moreover – and perhaps most importantly from a historical perspective – Stalin had no role in D-Day; the invasion of Normandy by U.S., British, Canadian, Australian, Free French, and other Western forces.

While there is no question that Stalin, by virtue of commanding the army fighting on the Eastern Front, played an indispensable role in defeating Hitler, it should escape no one’s memory that he too was an evil, mass-murdering despot.

Stalin and communism should be universally reviled in the very same way as Hitler and Nazism. (Note also that Stalin only fought the Germans because Hitler invaded the USSR in violation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that divided Eastern Europe and enabled the Reich’s western incursions in the first place.)

Finally, no one doubts or discounts the bravery of the Russian and other Soviet soldiers fighting in defense of their homeland and families, far removed from the politics of terror that permeated their government – including my maternal grandfather, a tank captain who helped take Berlin. Accordingly, if we are to honor the Soviet role at our D-Day Memorial, we should honor the common Red Army soldiers – whom Stalin treated as disposable bullet-stoppers, many of whom he murdered after the war because they had witnessed the world beyond communism – not the tyrant and the murderous system they represented.

You can read about the collective amnesia – if not willful blindness – about the evils of communism that has set in among Western elites in Paul Hollander’s excellent Cato Development Policy Analysis.