For God and Country (and television ratings)

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By W. TIMOTHY SUTTON. Sutton is a member of the Maryland Libertarian Party executive board. He hosts the Non-Aggression Principle Thursday nights at 8 pm on Free State Radio.

When I was a little kid the Olympics were held every four years. Both the winter and summer games were in the same year. The Cold War was still on and at times nearly ended the world. As Americans we were taught to hate the Soviets and that they wanted us dead and to end all freedom. I was too young to see the Miracle on Ice, to know of the boycott of Moscow and LA, but I remember Red Dawn and Rocky IV. It was America vs. the Soviets for the fate of the world. The Olympics at that time was an extension of the this nationalism. We were not fighting an actual war, but we could compete on the athletic field. It is part of what made the Miracle on Ice such an event. It was a bunch of American youths versus the Soviet machine. It was not even the gold medal match. The Americans still had to beat Finland the next day.

I was an Olympic-phile every four years I knew all of the Olympians names, sat in my living room and chanted USA USA USA. We hated the Soviets and Germans. Katarina Witt was the enemy. Our American darlings had no shot. We would be redeemed in the summer. FloJo, Carl Lewis, Matt Biondi and Janet Evans would bring home gold.

I loved the Olympics so much that I would stay up all night watching it. In fact I was watching an interview live with Janet Evans at the time that a bomb went off in Atlanta. It was not the first time that politics or terrorism would inject itself into the Games. Hitler used the Olympics to further his dystopian future. John Carlos and Tommy Smith used them to showcase black power.  Of course, in Munich terrorists would invade the Olympic Village and kill all of the Israeli team. The boycotts of the eighties further used the Olympics as geopolitical theater.

The fall of communism would limit the amount of antipathy felt towards the other athletes. But the Olympics always had us rooting for the Americans. Other nations have begun using the Olympics to project power on the world. China used the 2008 games to show that they have arrived. A spectacular opening ceremony and set of venues showed how far that nation has come since the death of Mao and the opening of it to the west in the 70’s. London used the 2012 games to remind the world of the greatness of the British Empire, an empire on which the sun never set. Now, for the first time in the Winter Olympics, Russia is using the 2014 games to show the world their power. They have spent more on this games than any other games before. But there are issues. Buildings are unfinished. Venues are causing injury. Stray dogs roam the streets. The water is the color of apple cider. And then there was the opening ceremonies.It was an overview of Russian history. While there are many things that happened in American history that probably would not make an opening ceremony (that slaughter of the Indians, slavery, Jim Crow, Japanese internment portion of the program probably would be frowned upon) those aspects would not be glorified. It seemed as though Russian President Vladimir Putin wants a return to the Iron Curtain. Of course, NewYorker editor David Remnick, broadcasting the ceremony for NBC, would agree. Remnick said that country as vast as Russia needed to be ruled with an “Iron Hand.” The oppression, human rights violations, spying, corruption, and graft will be overlooked.

Now (Spoiler Alert) I will still be tearing up a bit when the Star Spangled Banner plays for American Sage Kostenburg after he won the first gold medal of the games in something called slopestyle, but at this point I am starting to wonder what is the point. Nationalism is great. We are Americans so we want the Americans to win. But hell half of the other nations’ athletes are either actual Americans or might as well be. Maria Sharapova carried the torch in as a Russian and has lived in Florida since she was seven. The entire Dominica team is from Staten Island and received their Dominica citizenship for their charitable works. Professional hockey players, sponsors, X-Games sports have shown the games to be what they always were: a marketing event. They added more sports that Americans can win, snowboarding among them. The luster is gone. It is not as fun too root against the Russians. It is all about the tv ratings. But it is still the Olympics and we are still American, so I guess there is only one thing left to say, USA USA USA!

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