Olympic history FAIL!, or great PhotoShop

May 11, 2008

Ed Brayton found it.

Olympic torch relay protestor with really dumb sign

Do you think the sign maker was jesting? Or do you think the sign maker genuinely didn’t know? (See: 1936 Olympics in Berlin)

While we wait to see whether someone will confess to PhotoShopping this picture, we teachers might consider using this photo as a hook for a lesson on the differences between the rising totalitarian state of Nazi Germany in 1936, and the rising, increasingly economically free state of the People’s Democratic Republic of China today.

One more lesson plan for this year — it’s reusable next fall, with the added bonus then that by then you’ll have the headlines of the actual Olympics to add to the discussion.

Update: The photo is said to have been was taken by Rowan Benum at a California site (see Mr. Benum’s comment). Since it’s all the rage on conservative sites, where the history ignorance is condemned but the conservative bloggers can’t quite bring themselves to endorse the Communist Chinese, I strongly suspect wondered about a PhotoShop origin. The torch was run through San Francisco; there are few palms in San Francisco (Californians: Can you identify the location?).

Update 5-13-2008: The photographer kindly dropped by comments to note the authenticity of the photo. I agree, the Tibetan prayer flags suggest authenticity; would a hoaxer think of such details?

Discussion questions for the classroom:

Students should look at the photo, and read coverage of the torch relay, such as CNN’s story about the San Francisco relay where Mr. Benum took the photo. Students should have access to information about the International Olympic Committee and its organization, especially the tradition of Olympic Truce. The Charter of the Olympics is probably too long for practical classroom use, but Paragraph 2 can be copied for the students, or perhaps the full page of the “Fundamental Principles of Olympism”:

“Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.”
Olympic Charter, Fundamental principles, paragraph 2

There is a wealth of information for classroom use at the website of the IOC. If you’re particularly adventurous, or deep into this topic, check out the podcasts of Olympic history from amateur historian Eli Hunt.

Students should also have some information about Tibet, and the Dalai Lama and Tibet’s government in exile, about the history of Tibet and China’s actions since World War II. Students should have some history of the 1936 Olympics, and they should be familiar with the stories of Jesse Owens’ accomplishments there and his return to a segregated U.S. You may want to provide an article about the U.S. protest of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, and the Soviet protest of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, and other Cold War moments of Olympic tension.

  1. Since the International Olympics Committee (IOC) is an avowedly non-political international agency, is it fair or rational to protest the siting of an Olympics on political grounds?
  2. What do the protesters ask the IOC to do? What do the protesters ask others to do?
  3. Under international law, what are the rights and duties of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC)?
  4. Did the IOC ask anything of the government of the Peoples Republic of China of a political nature? Would such requests be fair, or rational?
  5. Other international organizations function in other nations where governments do not have good records on human rights, such as the Red Cross/Red Crescent, Scouting, UNICEF, and others (can you add to this list?). What considerations must such organizations give to local politics where human rights are at issue?
  6. Compare and contrast the issues surrounding the Beijing Olympics with issues surrounding the Myanmar relief efforts after Cyclone Nargis (2008).
  7. Look at other protests involving the Olympics, especially in 1980 and 1984. Did those protests achieve what the protesters had hoped? Does the success or failure of past protests augur well for current protests?
  8. The creator of the protest sign in the photograph appears to have not known about the 1936 Olympics, which were hosted in Berlin, then under the control of the Nazi government of Germany. The Olympics were sited in Berlin prior to the rise of the Nazi government. Does the protester’s ignorance of history affect the message of the sign? Does it reflect well on the cause the protester advocates?
  9. What other famous or notorious examples of ignorance of history can you find?
  10. Do you ever get embarrassed for the people captured in Jay Leno’s “Jaywalking” segments?
  11. Georges Santayana (1863-1952) famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Do you find that statement to be true? Does this affect the course of history? (Students may want to explore the history of invasions of Russia by Napoleon and Hitler, or the history of invasions of Afghanistan by Britain, the Soviet Union, and the U.S.)

Quote of the moment: Ashley Montagu, on creationists

May 11, 2008

Ashley Montagu

“Science has proof without any certainty. Creationists have certainty without any proof.”

Ashley Montagu (full citation needed!)

Tip of the old scrub brush to Aunt Betsy.


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