U.S. winning Olympic medal for hypocrisy | NevadaAppeal.com

U.S. winning Olympic medal for hypocrisy

Barry Smith

I was as appalled as anybody earlier this month when the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2008 Games to China.

Why?

Because I believe in the ideals of the Olympic Games. Because I am mortified by the human-rights abuses and the dictatorial powers of Beijing, site of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Most of all, though, it was because I am an American — and I have a short memory, like most Americans.

By the time China hosts the Olympic Games, 19 years will have passed since the Tiananmen Square massacre.

By 1984, when the United States hosted the Games, it had been 14 years since the Kent State massacre.

When Los Angeles was the site, the Olympics turned a profit of $215 million and Peter Ueberroth was hailed as Time’s Man of the Year.

We all swelled with pride at the accomplishments of our athletes, rose to the national anthem and scoffed at the Russians and East Germans, who were among the countries boycotting that year.

I don’t remember anybody saying, “Hey, how can the United States host the Olympics? Wasn’t that the country where they shot the students for protesting at Kent State University?”

Nope. Don’t remember that at all.

Maybe there was a columnist somewhere writing for the Beijing Times or Pravda who raised the issue, but Americans didn’t seem to be bothered by it. Nor are they bothered by it now.

“Normal human beings would blanch at the thought of staging an athletic event at the site of an infamous massacre,” wrote Jeff Jacoby, a Boston Globe columnist, earlier this summer. “But China’s Communist rulers, who are bidding hard to host the Summer Olympics in 2008, are not normal human beings. So it comes as no surprise that they propose, if they are awarded the games, to hold the Olympic marathon, triathlon, and cycling competitions in and around the spot where the People’s Liberation Army killed as many as 2,000 student demonstrators in June 1989: Tiananmen Square.

“The highest aim of the Olympic Games is set out in the Olympic Charter: ‘encouraging the establishment of a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity,’ Jacoby continued. “Would staging races at a place of mass murder demonstrate respect for that goal — or contempt?”

I’d say contempt. But it depends on whose eyes you’re looking through.

Now, I’m not trying to defend China’s leaders or what they did in 1989. It was an act of totalitarianism, murder and official terrorism.

Nor am I saying that what happened at Kent State compares in scale to the killings in Tiananmen Square, where hundreds — or, as the quote above indicates, perhaps up to 2,000 — students died in their pursuit of liberty and freedom.

What I am saying is: Anybody without sin, go ahead and cast the first stone.

“I do believe the IOC will make a selection which will give a big boost and leave a most precious heritage to the Olympic Movement … and that is Beijing,” Liu Qi, Beijing’s mayor, said before the IOC’s decision had been announced. “We are able to and will host a most outstanding Olympics.”

We read that, and we don’t believe it. But we can’t say how many Chinese believe it.

Certainly the protesters, the anti-government faction, the students who are willing to give up their lives in the name of freedom don’t believe it. But how are they different from the students who gathered in the quad at Kent State on May 4, 1970?

Try to remember. The United States had invaded Cambodia a month earlier, an act many considered to be a direct contradiction of President Nixon’s promises to scale back the Vietnam War.

Tensions were high, and the Ohio National Guard was ordered to campus to try to quell any disturbance. The governor of Ohio decided that the protests planned for May 4 were illegal, so he banned them. But the students showed up anyway.

There was a confrontation, and Guardsmen fired a volley of between 61 and 67 shots during a 13-second span. Most of those shots went into the air or into the ground. But enough went into the crowd of students to kill four and wound nine.

We all remember the image of the lone Chinese student confronting the Tiananmen tank. Do we also remember the image of Joseph Lewis, a Kent State student standing 60 feet from the National Guard when they opened fire, with his middle finger in the air? He was among the wounded that May day in 1970.

Fourteen years later, Russia and East Germany boycotted the Los Angeles Olympics. They did it in retaliation for the United States boycotting the Moscow Olympics in 1980, which we did because the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan.

Now, there is no such thing as a Soviet Union or an East Germany.

We look back at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and shudder, because it became Hitler’s show. But those Olympics were awarded in 1931, two years before Hitler came to power.

The world will be a different place by 2008. I hope it will be a better place. I hope China will be a free and democratic land, the way Americans would like China to be.

But the only way I’ll know for sure is to look in history’s rear-view mirror.

Barry Smith is managing editor of the Nevada Appeal.