THE BLOG

The Legacy of Beijing, 2008

09/21/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Olympiad of any given year has a way of leaving behind a completely
unanticipated political legacy that transcends the ostensible purpose of
the Games -- namely, the spirit of pure and unadulterated sports
competition among fellow citizens of the planet.

Sometimes, the unanticipated political legacy is a positive one. In
1936, for example, Adolph Hitler's plans for demonstrating Aryan
athletic supremacy were eviscerated by the heroic performance of Jesse
Owens. Perhaps the most enduring legacy of the Berlin games was the
repudiation of European claims of racial superiority -- and the aligning
of America's identity with that of its citizens of African ancestry.

More often, however, the surprise political legacy is a negative one.
In 1972, the Munich Games were intended to replace memories of 1936 by
featuring an enlightened post-war Germany as the world's host. Instead,
images of AK-47 waiving Black September terrorists, inept German
security forces and eleven murdered Israeli athletes will forever define
the XX Olympiad. This legacy would serve as precursor to an age of
expanded Middle Eastern terrorism.

Not unlike Munich, the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta were expected to convey
a certain sense of reconciliation by introducing the world to "the new
south" in the first ever Olympics to be held in a formerly segregated
southern U.S. city. Again, however, violence determined the Games'
legacy, as the Centennial Park bombing reiterated the Olympics'
vulnerability to the most senseless of violence and served notice of the
possibility of future terrorism on America's own shores.

And now, as the XXIX Olympiad draws to a close, its legacy again
threatens to have nothing to do with the games and everything to do with
the violence accompanying them. While these Olympics were touted as New
China's "coming out" party, their most profound significance may instead
be for the role they played as a distraction for Russia's military
invasion of its neighbor Georgia. Although political pundits may have
logically predicted that if the Games were to be marred by violence, it
was most likely to be Chinese violence on pro-democracy or Tibetan
protestors, they would have been wrong. Instead, the Olympics have
surprised us again -- it is the unforeseen Russian violence, timed to
coincide with the Games, which may prove Beijing's legacy.

In part as a result of the world's preoccupation with the Olympics,
Russia has received relatively easy treatment from international media
and seemingly, the public at-large. At least in this country, people
seem more interested in Jamaica's domination over the track and field
events than Russia's domination over Abkhazia. The UN has been a
non-factor.

And while the Russian Government has described the invasion of Georgia
by its "peacekeepers" as a result of Georgia's ill-advised effort to
re-occupy its internationally recognized province of South Ossetia, all
indications point to a premeditated Russian attack - as evidence at
least in part by pre-invasion cyber-attacks that dismantled Georgia's
technology infrastructure by notorious Russian hackers. Coupled with
the coordinated blitz from Abkhazia and South Ossetian irregulars, it is
beyond reasonable doubt that Russia's attack was not pre-planned and
intentionally executed during the Olympics.

The most worrisome aspect of the Beijing Games' legacy may thus be the
lesson that aggressive regimes of the future will take from it --
Namely: attack your adversary while the world is glued to the Opening
Ceremonies... and do as much damage as you can and get out in two weeks.