OUR OPINION: Lessons from opening day ceremonies of Olympics
The Chinese put on a real show Friday. The opening ceremony was an "unparalleled spectacle," as the Herald's headline said Saturday. The ceremony was as impressive and inspiring as any recent Olympics. It was also educational. The Chinese taught ...
The Chinese put on a real show Friday. The opening ceremony was an "unparalleled spectacle," as the Herald's headline said Saturday.
The ceremony was as impressive and inspiring as any recent Olympics.
It was also educational.
The Chinese taught the world their history.
They displayed their new wealth.
And they also showed their power. It's unlikely that any American producer could have presented the spectacle that the Chinese did. It was a testimony to discipline and synchronization on an enormous scale.
Commentators suggested that the Chinese also sent a message -- that their numbers, their discipline and their exploding economic power don't present a threat to the rest of the world.
The Olympic opening ceremony was educational in another way.
Athletes from 204 nations paraded into the Bird's Nest stadium. Many Americans probably had never heard of some of these places.
The procession also demonstrated the diversity of the world's human population.
We are not all alike.
National pride was on display, of course. Some athletes, especially from developing countries, wore extravagant costumes that showed off their cultures and emphasized their national identities.
Even the weather provided a learning experience. Now, we know that the mighty sweat in the heat, just like the rest of us. President Bush looked pretty uncomfortable.
Some things were conspicuously absent from the ceremony.
There was no terrorism, despite threats.
There were no protests, despite expectations.
Perhaps this can be attributed to the efficiency of Chinese preparations, both by law enforcement and military. Some protesters were refused admission and some were sent home.
Even the smog cooperated. Air quality was good enough that none of the athletes felt a facemask was necessary.
One purpose of the Olympic opening ceremony is to emphasize the Olympic ideal, and the Chinese accomplished this.
But it is an ideal. The world is considerably different.
A new war flared up between Georgia and Russia even as the nations were marching. Sport hasn't succeeded in building peace.
Nor has it guaranteed freedom. The Chinese government is a repressive one. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion -- these are fictions there. Dissidents are in prison. Tibet is enslaved.
It may be that world leaders, including the president, missed an opportunity to press these issues with the Chinese leadership.
War and repression are hardly the only issues that the ceremony overlooked.
Many of the nations represented there are desperately poor, and the cost of their sports programs no doubt depleted the national treasuries.
Beijing, site of the Olympics, is among the most polluted places on Earth. Even residents routinely cover their noses in order to avoid breathing the air.
But the Olympics may change China, tying the country more closely to the rest of the world. History shows that the desire for consumer goods helps fuel freedom. Shoppers helped bring down the wall in Berlin, after all.
The Olympics can't obscure the troubles in the world. Reality intruded on opening day when a Minnesota tourist was murdered.
But the Olympics can give us hope. However improbably, however unexpectedly, the Chinese did that with their spectacle Friday.
Hope is always welcome. Combine hope with effort, and you change the world.