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Hitler’s Great Public-Relations Victory at the 1936 Olympics

March 2 2018

At this year’s Winter Olympics, much was made of the participation of North Korea, which took the opportunity to score propaganda points. In Berlin, 1936 (recently published in English translation), the historian Oliver Hilmes tells the story of an attempt by another totalitarian regime to use the Olympics to show its best face to the world. Liam Hoare writes in his review:

The Summer Olympics of 1936, [held in Berlin], were a moral disaster and thus a political and diplomatic smash for the Nazi regime. Jesse Owens’s achievements notwithstanding, Germany ranked first in the medals table, far ahead of the United States, reinforcing the myth of German or Aryan racial superiority. For the city of Berlin, the increase in visitors made the games highly profitable. More importantly, “Hitler and his regime were able to present themselves as peace-loving, reliable members of the family of nations,” Hilmes writes, giving many the impression that “Hitler can be trusted to keep his promises.” . . .

In competition, spectators witnessed fencer Helene Mayer, who had left the Third Reich for California in the fall of 1934 due to her status as a “half-Jew,” win silver for Germany. The Nazis allowed her to compete under their flag as a sop to the international community and those who had tried to organize a boycott of the games. Outside the stadium, for the duration of the Olympics, the Nazis suspended the publication of the anti-Semitic rag Der Stürmer and took down the issues that were usually displayed prominently in public spaces.

So successful was their propaganda—and the willingness of the International Olympic Committee to look the other way—that at the same time as the games were taking place, the regime was brazenly constructing a concentration camp, Sachsenhausen, barely 22 miles north of Berlin. The city’s gypsy population, meanwhile, had been removed and deported to a single encampment on Berlin’s eastern outskirts.

Read more at Moment

More about: 1936 Olympics, History & Ideas, Nazi Germany, North Korea, olympics, Sports

The Future of a Free Iran May Lie with a Restoration of the Shah

June 25 2018

Examining the recent waves of protest and political unrest in the Islamic Republic—from women shunning the hijab to truckers going out on strike—Sohrab Ahmari considers what would happen in the event of an actual collapse of the regime. Through an analysis of Iranian history, he concludes that the country would best be served by placing Reza Pahlavi, the son and heir of its last shah, at the head of a constitutional monarchy:

The end of Islamist rule in Iran would be a world-historical event and an unalloyed good for the country and its neighbors, marking a return to normalcy four decades after the Ayatollah Khomeini founded his regime. . . . But what exactly is that normalcy? . . .

First, Iranian political culture demands a living source of authority to embody the will of the nation and stand above a fractious and ethnically heterogenous society. Put another way, Iranians need a “shah” of some sort. They have never lived collectively without one, and their political imagination has always been directed toward a throne. The constitutionalist experiment of the early 20th century coexisted (badly) with monarchic authority, and the current Islamic Republic has a supreme leader—which is to say, a shah by another name. It is the height of utopianism to imagine that a 2,500-year-old tradition can be wiped away. The presence of a shah, [however], needn’t mean the absence of rule of law, deliberative politics, or any of the other elements of ordered liberty that the West cherishes in its own systems. . . .

Second, Iranian political culture demands a source of continuity with Persian history. The anxieties associated with modernity and centuries of historical discontinuity drove Iranians into the arms of Khomeini and his bearded minions, who promised a connection to Shiite tradition. Khomeinism turned out to be a bloody failure, but there is scant reason to imagine the thirst for continuity has been quenched. . . . Iranian nationalism . . . could be the answer, and, to judge by the nationalist tone of the current upheaval, it is the one the people have already hit upon.

When protestors chant “We Will Die to Get Iran Back,” “Not Gaza, Not Lebanon, My Life Only for Iran,” and “Let Syria Be, Do Something for Me,” they are expressing a positive vision of Iranian nationhood: no longer do they wish to pay the price for the regime’s Shiite hegemonic ambitions. Iranian blood should be spilled for Iran, not Gaza, which for most Iranians is little more than a geographical abstraction. It is precisely its nationalist dimension that makes the current revolt the most potent the mullahs have yet faced. Nationalism, after all, is a much stronger force and in Iran the longing for historical continuity runs much deeper than liberal-democratic aspiration. Westerners who wish to see a replay of Central and Eastern Europe in 1989 in today’s Iran will find the lessons of Iranian history hard and distasteful, but Iranians and their friends who wish to see past the Islamic Republic must pay heed.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Iran, Nationalism, Politics & Current Affairs, Shah