Every two years for the Summer and Winter Olympics, one of the most iconic aspects of the Olympic games is the torch march that begins in Olympia, Greece, and winds its way around the world before ending at the host city during the Olympic ceremony. While it might be easy to comment on the pagan religious symbolism of trying to borrow the credibility of the ancient Olympics and their ideal of attempting to find harmony through a shared internationalist worldview, it would be wrong to assume that this particular tradition dates back to the pagan Greeks themselves, though most might assume this at first glance.
The truth is more troubling. It was not the ancient pagan Greeks but the neo-Pagan Nazis who are most responsible for this iconic modern tradition, begun in 1936 as a way to legitimize the Nazi regime in the eyes of the world as an acceptable neighbor rather than as a threat to the safety of humanity . Even though this image was false and was a lie, the image of the torch and its value for propaganda, was enduring enough that it has been copied in every Olympics since then. One of the reasons, it may be suspected, is because every regime basks in gaining legitimacy by tying to (supposedly) ancient traditions, and because the Olympics are closely tied with an internationalist vision and a projection of national strength in the host city that is often undeserved and insecure in reality.
It may be uncomfortable to reflect on the similarity between the Nazi regime and other regimes, but it is important to do so for our own sakes. The Nazis engaged in a lot of deliberate propaganda because they were trying to present a false image to the world in a deliberate fashion. Once the Germans had shown the iconic value (even if false) of such a deliberate display of theatrical skill in planning the Olympics, even after the evil that they revealed once the true nature of their regime was exposed to the world, other nations with similar insecurities adopted similar techniques, either not knowing or not caring about their sinister origin.
Why are so many regimes so insecure that they would be willing to copy the Nazis? Well, every nation that hosts the Olympics wants to show that everything is well, wants to profit from international attention and project an image of strength to the world. Almost every nation is seeking to project a strength that it does not possess, and is usually vainly hoping that the attention and money it gets from the Olympics will oughtweigh the costs. Almost every nation wants to look wealthy and prosperous and civilized to the world when it is not entirely so. And having adopted a course of lying and pretense, most nations prefer to lie in a spectacular way, like the Nazis, rather than to accept the truth.
And that is the underlying issue with ceremonies in general. All too often the fancier the ceremony, the greater the untruth it is giving, and making ceremony and spectacle suspect in general is a bad policy for those governments who want to develop genuine and trusting relationships with their people and with other nations. But it is a difficult task in this world to find much commitment to openness and honesty. Let us do the best we can for ourselves, and set an example for others, so that we might pass the torch in a way that does not harken to the propaganda and lies of the past.