The US Must Not Repeat the Error of Allowing at Totalitarian Regime to Use the Olympics for PRRoundup
tags: Holocaust, sports, China, Nazism, human rights, diplomacy, Olympic Games, Uyghurs
Dr. Medoff is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies and author of more than 20 books about Jewish history and the Holocaust.
Editor’s Note: This article was written before President Biden’s decision to withhold U.S. diplomatic participation from the 2022 Beijing Olympics. Click here to read the author’s most recent analysis on this issue.
In a recent telephone interview with Fox News, former President Donald Trump said he is opposed to a proposed boycott of the 2022 Olympics in China because it would “hurt the athletes.”
President Joe Biden and others have raised the idea of a potential boycott of the 2022 games to protest the Chinese government’s ongoing persecution of its Muslim Uyghur citizens and other human rights abuses, such as the oppression of Tibetans and the trampling of civil liberties in Hong Kong.
America has been through this debate before — in 1936, and again in 1980. The very different outcomes of those two earlier debates offer some useful lessons for our current controversy.
The Chinese regime is engaged in “ongoing genocide” against the Uyghurs, according to the State Department. A recent report by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum found that “the Chinese government’s attacks on the Uyghur community are alarming in scale and severity” and constitute “crimes against humanity,” including “forced sterilization, sexual violence, enslavement, torture, forcible transfer, persecution, and imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty.”
From the Chinese perspective, the Olympic Games represent a prime public relations opportunity. They make the host country seem like an accepted part of the civilized international community.
Adolf Hitler saw the 1936 Berlin Olympics the same way. Many Americans today remember the Berlin Olympics as a victory for the good guys, because African American track star Jesse Owens won four gold medals, an implicit challenge to Hitler’s claims of “Aryan” racial superiority.
But in reality, The Games were a triumph for the Nazis in the way that mattered most — improving the Hitler regime’s image abroad.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt had ample warning that the Nazis intended to use the games for propaganda purposes. The U.S. ambassador in Germany, William Dodd, reported to Washington that the Nazis intended to use the Olympics “to rehabilitate and enhance the reputation of the ‘New Germany.’”
Foreigners will “have only the usual tourist contacts,” he wrote, and are likely to come away doubting the veracity of “the Jewish persecution which they have previously read in their home papers,” he predicted. The 2,000 translators hired by the Hitler government were also being trained at “parrying embarrassing questions and insinuating praise of National Socialism in their small talk,” Dodd wrote.