David Hines
February 28, 2014
Elephants on slippery slopes
By David Hines

As I write we're in the mist of the biennial celebration of tribalism and nationalism. Olympians are taking to ski slopes in a beach community on the Black Sea. Their individual prowess may be noted, but is subsumed by the nation under whose auspices they perform. Counts of medals by nation are a de rigueur ritual. Not surprisingly, those nations with large populations tend to win more medals.

This follows on the heels of another iconic bit of tribalism: the Super Bowl. Two cities vie for victory in simulated warfare. Fans from other cities watch the game as a sort of conquered populace, their combatants having been eliminated from the battle of superpowers. Not surprisingly, reminders of militarism abound at the event – the honoring of veterans; flyovers by military aircraft; uniformed security in conspicuous display.

Hosting the Olympics is a massive undertaking. The city will be left with a white elephant – infrastructure little suited to most other applications, and lots of debt to pay for the tremendous costs involved. This was a contentious issue in Colorado when Denver was named to host the 1976 Winter Olympics. On one side were those who wanted the pageantry and brief influx of tourists – perhaps also some plum building contracts. On the other side were those who didn't want the bills and, some said, adverse ecological impact upon the semi-desert from the crowds. The city pulled out, and the athletes went instead to Innsbruck. Austrians rather than Coloradans ended up with the white elephant.

This time the white elephant is spread around a bit. US warships are in the Black Sea, purportedly for the purpose of evacuating Americans should some terrorist activity take place. Despite rhetoric about how tough, dangerous, and totalitarian Putin is, he is not trusted to handle a few terrorists.

Putin has something he'd like to prove. Chechens are just down the road, and they very much dislike Russians. Stalin perpetrated a great deal of genocide in the Caucasus. Those not killed were sent to gulags in the dead of winter. The ones who eventually returned found their communities decimated and replaced by immigrants. They have long memories, and a grudge to settle. It seems as if Putin is waving the red cape, daring the bull to charge. He's surely taken precautions far greater than a few US ships have.

Maybe the warships have a purpose different from the stated one. There has been a strategy to encircle Russia. Missile systems were installed in Poland despite Russian protest; NATO has expanded ever closer to Russia. Could it be that the ships and their guns is intended to make Putin even more nervous?

It fits with the tacit Olympic theme, doesn't it? Celebrate nationalism as an athletic ideal. Show off the military ordnance along with the skills of athletes. Those ships had better put on a good show, considering how much money we don't have that we're paying for the operation.

The Olympics have been used for politics before. Carter prevented American participation. Jesse Owens put a blemish on Hitler's dream of an event highlighting Aryan purity and superiority. Politicking with warships fits the traditional theme.

The ancient games were cause for Greek city-states to make truces. Athletes passed freely, intent upon honoring the gods with their prowess. Nowadays it's not the gods who are honored so much as the larger successors of the city-states.

The white elephant in the room may be the increasing of international tensions beneath a fašade of international amity.

© David Hines

 

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David Hines

Born in a mill town, David Hines has seen work as a furniture mover, computer programmer/analyst, and professional musician... (more)

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