In 1992, the International Olympic Committee revived the Ekecheiria, what is now called the “Olympic truce,” a mystical tradition dated back to eighth century BC in Greece. The classical narrative is one where the ancient Greeks lay down their arms, with peace breaking out across the land as everyone joined in a festival of sweaty man-on-man competition. The idea that ancient bloodshed was halted and instead decided through successive rounds of oiled up Greco-Roman wrestling is a creative historical fiction. Yet every two years of the Olympic cycle, a litany of idealistic sports reporters and nationalist talking heads of the mainstream media try to drape the tin veneer of peace across the Olympic spectacle.
The Ekecheiria was little more than a divine pact between the Greeks and Zeus &- who the Olympics were held to honour &- to provide divine protection for those coming and going from the Olympics. Even the Eleans, ancient custodians of the site of Olympus &- a sort of ancient IOC &- were unable to maintain neutrality. They joined an alliance against Spartan expansion in 420 BC, forcing a standing military to prevent an invasion of the Games. Again in 364 BC, the Eleans, Arcadians and Pisatans waged war inside the sacred grove of Olympia during the Games.
In 393 AD, Roman Emperor Constantine deployed his new Christian army on a mission to wipe the empire of pagan rituals. They razed Olympus and buried the Games until they were revived in 1896 by Pierre Fredy Baron de Coubertin, a wealthy French aristocrat, heavily criticized for creating the Games as a way to give control over athletic events to the upper class, and turning the Games into a mere propagandistic distraction.
The reason for this short history lesson is simple. Time and again armies would, and have, waged war not only during, but in the Olympic gathering. The truce is, as it always has been, a tool of state interests &- dressing up athletic endeavor as a peace-building exercise while war continues unchecked.
Canada and the Vancouver Olympic organizing committee announced that the 2010 Games would respect the “Olympic truce,” making a commitment to “contributing to peaceful and diplomatic solutions to conflict around the world. Canadians will be engaged through initiatives that leave lasting legacies in the local, national and international community.”
While the eyes and minds of the western world have been fixed on the spectacle in Vancouver &- thanks to monopolizing media coverage &- Canada and its NATO allies have made good on one part of their promise, engaging Canadians with the American-led Operation Moshtarak in Helmund province, southern Afghanistan. The mission to take back the Taliban-controlled town of Marjah began on Feb. 13, one day after the 2010 Games.
The offensive, which military commanders state is the start of an operation that could last 18 months, has resulted in the death of nearly forty civilians and, according to the UN Human Rights Commission, displaced thousands. Apparently, the Olympic protection of a mystic thunder-god does not apply in Afghanistan, or simply is no longer powerful enough to stop mis-targeted air strikes.
It is a wondrous, idealistic thought to believe that we have spent the last two weeks waving flags and laying bricks of peace, but the fact is the Olympics do not stop the world from turning or fires of war from burning. And when two nations with some of the highest medal counts use the hubris to shade the launch of their newest military offensive, one cannot help but utter the word distraction.