16 Days of Nationalism: An Olympic Primer

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16 Days of Nationalism: An Olympic Primer
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Ah, the Olympics. Two weeks of pageantry, the celebration of sport, and the only two weeks where jingoism is not only OK, but encouraged.

Admit it. You're like me and 311 million other Americans who couldn't name an American archer, canoe-er, or handball player without a rather extensive Google search.

Yet every two years, miraculously, there ceases to be Liberal/Conservative, Democrat/Republican, etc. when American hardware is at stake. It's the glorious time of year when it's perfectly acceptable to call Russian athletes 'Commies,' wonder just what the hell Azerbaijan is, and drink beer at 9 a.m. to watch American athletes compete in a sport that when you watch it, wonder why this is even considered a sport.

What is it that makes international competition put aside all other issues to root for one common goal?

And not just here, but across the globe.

In 2002, a civil war began in Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast). Over 1,800 people died over the next four years in the small African nation. Then, a small miracle. Not in a Parliamentary house. Not in a government official's mansion. Not in a rebel faction's stronghold.

On the pitch, the national team from Cote d'Ivoire made the World Cup for the first time in the country's 42-year history. The Civil War STOPPED. Overnight. A soccer match led to peace negotiations between the rebels and President Laurent Gbagbo.

If you're cynical, you say it's political suicide for a candidate to come out and not support the team. If you're a bit of an optimist, you wonder why, for two weeks every two years, we can all find something to agree on. 

Let the candidates run attack ads. Let them say who's wrong for America. That's for November. For the next two weeks, we are united. We are the United States of America. So as long as there's a fencer wearing the Stars and Stripes, and so long as there's a guy in a Speedo wearing the American flag on a skullcap, we have something to rally around.

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