As I was contemplating writing another post in the recent series Things As They Are as a rejoinder to Shahar’s rejoinder, I came across this discussion of the Olympic tradition of the torch – I thought this was a sort of common knowledge, but apparently some people believe that the ceremony of the Olympic torch goes back to the Greek Olympics…
In light of the recent protests against the Olympic Games in China, protests that are feared to continue, it is interesting that it takes The Independent to let everyone know that “torch procession” is a Nazi invention:
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.
In other words, people should protest the idea of maintaining a Nazi ritual, not the fact that China abuses Tibet and violates human rights. But then again we would have to stop using highways, another great Nazi idea…
People are massing in San Francisco to protest against China’s policies as the Olympic torch passes through on its only North American stop.
A sizeable number of pro-Beijing demonstrators are also on the streets, prompting fears of violence.
Police have mounted a massive security operation, erecting barricades, sealing off streets and cautioning that they may curtail the route of the torch.
There were disruptive protests as the torch passed through London and Paris.
Meanwhile, President George W Bush has urged China to “begin a dialogue” with Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.