Running into trouble

The Olympic torch relay was invented by the Nazis. According to historians, Adolf Hitler wanted to promote his belief in an Aryan master race by symbolically linking the 1936 Berlin Games to the ancient Greek gods and rituals, hence the carrying of the flame from Olympia to Germany. The first relay was chronicled on film by Hitler’s propagandist, Leni Riefenstahl.

We bring you this brief history lesson because, as the Olympic torch makes its only North American appearance today in San Francisco, it will be met by thousands of protesters decrying China’s human rights record. In response to similar demonstrations Monday in Paris, the Chinese government complained that a “small group” of Tibetan activists was seeking to politicize an event that should have been a tribute to the love of sport.

Nonsense. From its very beginning, the torch relay has been deeply political, a promotional extravaganza for the Games’ host country. Chinese officials are well aware of this, having designed the longest relay in Olympic history -- an 85,000-mile, six-continent tour, meant to highlight China’s vast economic and political might. The protests are a welcome reminder to Beijing that it can’t tailor public opinion in the rest of the world the way it can at home.

China has a great deal to answer for, including its brutal repression in Tibet and its support of a murderous regime in Sudan that without Chinese backing would have been brought to heel long ago. What better way for the world to show its contempt for such outlawry than by peaceably thumbing its nose at Beijing’s international coming-out party?


U.S. Olympic organizers could hardly have picked a better place than San Francisco as the stage for a big protest. We trust demonstrators there will conduct themselves with more politesse than the Parisians, who pelted a torch carrier in a wheelchair with plastic bottles and cups during a relay that had to be cut short because of security concerns, but we urge them to show Beijing in no uncertain terms what people of conscience think about its behavior.