I am going to have a political moment. If you’re here for pens today, I don’t have a lot to offer.
Actually, it’s not political. It’s historical. I am, at my core, a history teacher (with a Professional A certificate and everything– sadly, there’s not much call for that sort of thing ’round here, so that’s not The Regular Job). I heard an item on CBC radio last week that’s been troubling me, and I’m going to have a brief rant about it.
The item itself is laid out on CBC’s website, but as is usual I will synopsize– there’s an exhibit on in Vancouver about the politicization to the Olympics in 1936, when they were hosted by Germany… which at the time was under the control of Adolf Hitler.
The thing which got up my nose was the mention of a picture showing some Canadian athletes apparently enjoying themselves while within touching distance of one of the top monsters of human history. The reason this got up my nose is that there was a tone of condemnation for the athletes.
Now I step out onto dangerously thin and slippery ice. I am second to very few in my condemnation of Hitler– one of the few I am second to is my father, who had first-hand experience in occupied Holland, while my opinion is ex post facto. However, as a student and teacher of history, I think it’s important to be fair to those who at some points in the past might have failed in this condemnation.
In 1936, there were very few people who had a word to say against the stubby brute. At that point, he was just the guy who had pulled the German economy out of the deepest pit anyone had ever seen, a trick which most of the rest of the industrial nations were fairly anxious to learn at the time. To be a young athlete standing beside him at that time was to be a young person (i.e. not very wise, easily impressed) standing next to a celebrity. Of course they look jolly.
The CBC article also mentioned a Jewish-Canadian boxer who declined to attend the games, as it was evident even at that point that the Nazi regime was bad news for those of that faith. He was true to his principles, but apparently he undid his boxing career (this is missing from the online write-up, so I can’t offer any better detail). Fair enough, and good on him for seeing where the path led. The problem here is that it doesn’t mean that the others who still chose to participate were participating in Hitlerian evil… at least, no more so than the rest of the world at the time.
In 1936, sad to say, anti-semetism was pretty much status quo. In 1939, after it was clear that part of Hitler’s economic revitalization program was empire-building in its bloodiest manifestation, Canada was still willing to turn away ships full of refugees… because the government of the day felt there were already plenty of Jews in Canada, or thought that it was poor policy to encourage refugees in general, or some similarly horrid reason. It’s unfair to cast aspersions upon participants in the 1936 Olympics just because they held the common opinion of the day. At least, it’s unfair to cast any more aspersions than we would upon anyone else alive at the time.
Besides, if anyone who wasn’t a serious supporter of the Third Reich and its aberrant, abhorrent policies had stayed away from the 1936 Olympics, we’d have been denied the jolly and ironic spectacle of the celebration of blond, blue-eyed superhumanity having to hand a gold medal to Jesse Owens. It’s comedy bought at a very high price, I’ll grant, but how much worse would the whole episode have been without the occasional leavening?
My point is not that one shouldn’t condemn people for foolish acts in the past (13th Century Europe, you’re still grounded!), but it’s important to understand what you’re condemning them for. Standing beside a bad person doesn’t necessarily make one a bad person.
Today’s yet-to-be-contextualized pen: Lamy 2000
Today’s reconciliatory ink: Herbin’s Bleu Nuit (see– French and German can get along nicely!)