Thursday, April 10, 2008

Tale of the Torch

I've been of two minds this week watching the Olympic torch on its tortured tour on the way to Beijing for the Summer Games. On the one hand, I certainly grasp the point that the protesters are trying to make with regards to the situation in Tibet. China certainly has a way to go in that area before it makes things right. But on the other hand, the people who were actually carrying the torch at this point don't have anything to do with the oppression in Tibet and the protesters were sullying what should have been a proud and joyous moment. Besides, isn't the Olympic torch a symbol of international goodwill and brotherhood that should remain above politics?

Well, not exactly. As this BBC piece shows, the history of the Olympic torch and its journey to the games is a little less exemplary:

But the idea of lighting the torch at the ancient Olympian site in Greece and then running it through different countries has much darker origins.

It was invented in its modern form by the organisers of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

And it was planned with immense care by the Nazi leadership to project the image of the Third Reich as a modern, economically dynamic state with growing international influence.

* * *

Media coverage was masterminded by Nazi propaganda chief Josef Goebbels, using the latest techniques and technology.

Dramatic regular radio coverage of the torch's progress kept up the excitement, and Leni Riefenstahl filmed it to create powerful images.
All of which is not to say that the torch as a symbol hasn't progressed beyond its origins, but it's hardly the sacred symbol that it is sometime held up to be.

On a related front, perhaps the protesters might take a page from the Dalai Lama:
During a brief stopover in Japan on his way to the United States, the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, told reporters no one should try to silence demonstrators who are protesting Chinese rule in Tibet. But he struck a conciliatory tone toward Beijing, apparently distancing himself from calls in the West for a boycott of the Olympic opening ceremony.

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