August 6, 2001 Issue

The awarding of the Olympic Games to Beijing is no light thing. People could die from it - or be tortured or banished to a dungeon or camp. Although it is difficult to say with certainty how an event seven years from now will affect the development of China, dissidents fear that the [party' name omitted] government now has a freer hand to persecute its people: The Olympics are coming, and therefore no dissent - no disturbance - can be tolerated. Beijing must show the world a unified, happy country; and nothing can be allowed to blot that image.

Visitors to the Olympic City, of course, will not likely see any "cleaning up," any cracking of heads; this will be done out of view. The regime will have sanitized, Potemkinized, the capital, just as it has done for previous international events. This dictatorship, like others in history, is expert at putting on a show, at giving the wrong impression.

Much has been made of the 1936 Olympics, held in Nazi Germany, and much should. Wei Jingsheng, for one, is convinced that the parallels between 1936 and 2008 are clear. Americans in general have long had a distorted view of the Hitler Games: They (we) are steeped in the myth of Jesse Owens, which goes that the great trackster embarrassed Hitler, disproving the theory of the master race, causing the Games to backfire on their hosts. This is very far from the truth. All students of the period say that having the Olympics helped Hitler enormously.

In 1935, the American consul in Berlin wrote to the secretary of state back in Washington, "To the Party and to the youth of Germany, the holding of the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936 has become the symbol of the conquest of the world by National Socialist doctrine. Should the Games not be held in Berlin, it would be one of the most serious blows which National Socialist prestige could suffer." Years later, the journalist William Shirer wrote, "Hitler, we who covered the Games had to concede, turned the Olympics into a dazzling propaganda success for his barbarian regime." The historian Duff Hart-Davis, in his book Hitler's Games, relates that the Nazis were able to project an image of "a perfectly normal place, in which life went on as pleasantly as in any other European country."

Here is a danger of bestowing the Olympics on Beijing: It furthers the perception that the PRC - with its sprawling gulag system and often murderous repression - is a normal country, if with some peculiar characteristics, surely necessary or at least understandable in a nation so vast and populous. In some of the very stadiums in which games will be held, mass sentencings and executions, [party' name omitted]-style, have taken place. The Falun Gong have been beaten and murdered.

While some anti-[party' name omitted] hope the Olympics will serve the cause of openness, it should nonetheless be a principle that, given all the cities in the world, the Olympic Games should not be held in a police state: not in Nazi Germany (the Games had been awarded to Germany before the Nazi takeover), not in the Soviet Union, not in Red China. The granting of the Games to Beijing will probably strengthen the regime's hand, emboldening it in its persecution, teaching it that the world will reward it anyway. All things considered, we would have taken Paris.