Posted by: Mark Nielsen | August 8, 2008

Russian Guns, Chinese Olympics, & the Pawns Caught in the Middle

I’m trying to resist the temptation to write about the armed conflict today between Russia and Georgia. Yet I’m resisting because I don’t know enough, not because I don’t care. Unfortunately, with my mental “IN” box pretty much full regarding international conflicts, I don’t know how much attention I can even give to what looks like another Russian assertion of Cold War type aggression.

I had sat down to write on another silly little topic (EAA Airventure, site of the big amateur and experimental aviation gathering each summer in Oshkosh, Wisconsin… tune in soon for that report) and was distracted –yet again– by more immediate life and death matters, by people dying needlessly at the hands of their duplicitous so-called leadership, in the wake of ethnic hatred in Ossetia. Apparently, this is yet another region with ethnic cleansing and people caught behind arbitrary borders and refugees and the whole sad, ridiculous package. Ossetia was unknown to me until today, as it must have been to most Americans and probably even most Europeans.

I’m no fan of Russian Prime Minister Putin, President Medvedev, and Russia’s overall shift back toward more conservative and hawkish tendencies the past ten years or so. The Chechen situation, ethical free-trade issues in Africa, the still pending disagreements with the U.S. about the Arctic Circle, plus who knows what else might be bubbling just under the surface.

Plus they do, let’s remember, share a border with China. In the midst of all our Olympic glee and environmental/human rights hand-wringing, many political scientists and experts are calling this Olympics the dawn of “the Chinese century.” Okay, I’ll bite. Now let’s see if they can screw up the planet any worse than we did in the American Century! I’m now consulting my Magic 8-Ball, which comes up “All Signs Point to Yes”.

But we were in Russia, weren’t we? Sorry. I’m American. All those feren countries end up looking the same to me after awhile. They’re “the competition”. They’ve infiltrated our professional sports, our businesses and banking industry, our agricultural and transportation plans, even our infrastructure (like foreign companies approached or hired to guard American ports… or have we forgotten that whole post-Katrina controversy?). Heck! Next thing you know, they’ll be entering a Russian or Chinese driver in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series. [Sarcasm alert!]

And now this Georgian thing, a little boutique war designed perhaps to get the world’s eyes back on Russia for a bit (why else would they wait until Opening Ceremonies Day to strike?). Maybe they’re proud, and starved for attention, and realizing they no longer dominate world consciousness in the largely symbolic realm of “Who will win the most gold medals?”.

Which begs the question: have we reached a point in history where small, frustrated people groups, or powerful nation-states, recklessly engage in violent conflict at a certain opportune time, simply as a P.R. ploy? Will there be an annual Christmas War somewhere now, or a May Day Massacre, so that nothing is left pure anymore, unassociated with grief and political struggle?

Sure, with the Olympics, this wouldn’t be the first time violence was associated with the world’s biggest tournament. I have not seen Steven Spielberg’s Munich yet, but since broadcaster Jim McKay died earlier this year, and because of the tributes, the utter sadness of McKay’s “They’re all gone” is still fresh in my memory.

I’m praying then, today, for Arabs and Jews, who still have not worked it all out. For Russians and Georgians. For South Ossetians, caught in the middle. For Chinese and Tibetans. For Americans and Iraqis. For Olympians from every nation, who did not sign up to be pawns in some stupid Grand Game of chess. May they all live in peace, and may we celebrate that peace and good sense –whenever and wherever it can be found– even more than we celebrate our own home team’s medal count.


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