Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Musings On Two Wars & Two Olympics

The Russian invasion of Georgia recalls another war and another Olympics and the day the water turned blood red when Soviet invaders and Hungarian resisters faced off at the 1956 Summer Games.

In late October 1956, a student demonstration against Hungary's Stalinist government grew into a nationwide revolt that was crushed by a large Soviet force in early November. Some 2,500 Hungarians were killed and 200,000 became refugees.

In an eerie echo of today's conflict in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, Western nations led by President Eisenhower condemned the Soviet aggression but stopped well short of coming to the aid of the Hungarians.

Which makes John McCain's saber-rattling bloviations over the war in Georgia all the more ridiculous because even his addled mind should be able to process that this is not "a 3 a.m. moment" for an administration that has been so humiliating inept when it comes to foreign policy and far more adept at causing crises than defusing them.

Nor would it be such a moment if McCain was president. Besides which, "Bomb bomb bomb bomb bomb Ossetia" just doesn't do it.

Lest anyone wonder whether Georgia should be admitted to NATO, the answer is a resounding "no" since the U.S. and other member nations have no interest in lifting a finger to defend it against a provocation that Russia has been itching to act on for quite some time under the Bush-inspired moniker of "regime change."

Anyhow, the situation in 1956 was made worse because of Radio Free Europe broadcasts funded by the U.S. beseeching Hungarians to resist the Red Army that misleadingly suggested that NATO or the United Nations would intervene, while in another echo Georgians apparently are blaming the U.S. (with some justification) for their own dire straits.

* * * * *
The animosity between the Hungarians and Soviets was palpable when the 1956 Olympic Games opened in Melbourne in late November, which is late spring in Australia.

The Communist Hungarian flag with red star was vandalized and replaced by the flag adopted during the uprising, and tensions came to a boil on December 6 when the Hungarians and Soviets met in a semi-final water polo match in a stadium packed with Hungarian-born Australians.

Hungary, then a nation where water polo ranked only behind soccer in popularity, was the defending Olympic champion.

The matched was described to me a decade later by George Boardmann, a player on the Hungarian team who emigrated to the U.S. after defecting following the Olympics and became my water polo coach. It should be understood that there are few sports as physically demanding as water polo because of the nonstop play and the fact the swimmers are not allowed to touch the bottom or sides of the pool. That may explain why I never excelled at it.

The Hungarians agreed to a strategy of taunting the Soviet players in Russian, a language they had been forced to study in school.

From the opening gun, the match was extremely physical with kicks and punches exchanged under water. At one point the Hungarian captain, Dezső Gyarmati, caught a Russian opponent with a sucker punch, while Ervin Zádor scored two goals to the shouts of "Hajrá Magyarok!" (Go Hungarians!) from the rabid crowd.

With less than two minutes left in the second half and Hungary leading 4-0, Zador (small photo) was slugged by a Soviet player whom he had taunted and emerged from the pool with blood gushing from his face. The crowd went wild, police were called out to prevent a riot and the match was abandoned.

Hungary -- broken at home but unbowed in Melbourne -- was credited with the victory and went on to win the gold medal.

Fast forwarding to the here and now, what will happen should those defiant Georgians meet those bellicose Russians at a Beijing Games venue? It may not happen since Georgia apparently is considering bringing its athletes home.


jj mollo said...

So you think our only mistake with Hungary was encouraging them? Ditto for Georgia?

Shaun Mullen said...

Only mistake? Heavens no. The U.S. was pretty much powerless then and is now. It would have been the same if Stevenson was president in '56 or that windsurfing girlie man was president now. That is why McCain channeling Cheney is so silly, albeit obscenely so.