In recent weeks the world has once again witnessed the spectacle of political trials in the Soviet Union. Scientists Yuri Orlov and Anatoly Shcharansky and poet Alexander Ginsberg have received harsh sentences for daring to speak out against the regime's totalitarian, anti-Semitic policies. In the past year the Soviet government has stepped up its attacks on political dissidents, especially those seeking to emigrate to Israel. In so doing it has made a mockery of the Helsinki Accords which it signed with much fanfare three years ago.
In response to these new atrocities the Carter administration's response was mixed. Attempting to counteract UN Ambassador Andrew Young's gaffe about US political prisoners, Carter abruptly canceled government approval of the sale of a $2 million computer system to Tass. But the next day he backpedaled, saying there would be "no additional reprisals" and "no vendetta."
One of the proposals Carter explicitly rejected was a US boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games, scheduled to be held in Moscow. The idea of a boycott was raised by Sen. Wendell Anderson, a Minnesota Democrat, in July. It quickly picked up support from Rep. Robert Drinan and a number of other Congressmen—and from columnists Mary McGrory and George Will—so far, to no avail.
The boycott proposal raises again the question of an appropriate foreign policy for a country supposedly committed to the principle of individual liberty. For a government that splits hairs over human rights violations in Chile and South Korea, and specifies the precise details of the kind of majority-rule formula that will permit resumption of US trade with Rhodesia, mere wrist-slaps over the USSR's latest human rights outrages are, to say the least, disproportionate.
But then again, should the US government be restricting trade with any country, for any reason? Shouldn't a "limited government" mind its own business—protecting the rights of its own citizens—rather than trying to right the world's wrongs? And besides, as one columnist put it, "Would an Olympic boycott really free Shcharansky?"
These are good questions, and any thoughtful person must take them seriously. Though it is beyond the scope of this editorial, let us assume that the answer to the first two questions is to affirm non-interventionism by the US government. But since American participation in the Olympics is essentially non-governmental, the boycott question remains: Should American athletes, companies, contributors, and tourists boycott the Olympics?
A strong general case can be made that free trade promotes both peace and freedom—the former by increasing economic interdependence (which reduces incentives for war), the latter by stimulating the free flow of ideas and information. On these grounds many people have argued against trade boycotts of, for example, South Africa. And the same arguments have been applied to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. There is also the pragmatic argument that boycotts "don't work," or at least don't accomplish their objectives.
But what exactly is the objective of an Olympics boycott? Obviously, it is not to bring down the Soviet government. Nor, necessarily, to free all political prisoners in that oppressed land. No, the purpose of boycotting the Moscow Olympics is to make a moral point, to refuse to accept the charade of the Soviet government as "just another host nation" to be portrayed round-the-world on TV with a smiling mask hiding the brutal face of jailor of its people.
What good would it do? Ask the dissidents themselves. When the Association for Computing Machinery canceled all cooperative efforts with the Soviet Union early this year over Shcharansky's persecution, dissident leader Andrei Sakharov praised the move. This support undoubtedly encouraged 20 American high-energy physicists to cancel a trip to the USSR in May, with the blessings of the National Academy of Sciences, and the subsequent pullout of leading US geneticists from the International Congress of Genetics, held in Moscow in August. And a key backer of the Olympics boycott is none other than Avital Shcharansky, exiled wife of the convicted dissident.
The dissidents realize, as few American pragmatists do, the moral significance of such a boycott. It is a message to them and their beleaguered comrades that there are still people in the world able to distinguish between an honest man and a thug—and willing to make the distinction. And it is this kind of moral support that sustains them in their long, bitter struggle for a modicum of freedom.
It is for this reason that we urge a boycott of the Moscow Olympics—not as a mandate from our government but as a spontaneous outpouring of a free people. Here are some examples of actions we can take as individuals:
- Refuse to contribute to the Olympics Committee. And tell them why.
- Write NBC and demand that it cancel its $85 million television contract with the Soviet government.
- Picket NBC's headquarters and its affiliated stations.
- Demand the names of the advertisers who have scrambled to buy up 75 percent of the commercial time slots for the Moscow Olympics (at $75,000 per minute). Pressure them to support human rights by canceling their contracts. Refuse to buy their products until they do.
- Boycott Coca Cola until it drops its exclusive contract for Olympic soft drinks.
- If you own stock in NBC, Coca Cola, or the TV advertisers, hold their managers to account and demand changes in their policies.
In 1936 hypocrisy reigned supreme as Hitler hosted the Olympic games in Berlin, covering over his regime's totalitarianism and anti-Semitism with a mask of respectability. Brezhnev & Co. want to pull the same shabby trick in 1980. Let's not let them get away with it. An Olympics boycott can show the world that Americans—never mind their pragmatic politicians—still revere human rights and liberties.