Wednesday, March 21, 2012

History, The Olympics, Afghanistan

Looking forward to the Summer Olympic Games being played in London, one might reflect back to 1980 and the Games that did not happen for the U.S. Olympians because of the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.

Because the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, President Jimmy Carter announced that the U.S. would boycott the Olympics scheduled to take place in Moscow that summer if the Soviets did not withdraw their troops by February 20, 1980.

The Soviet military invaded Afghanistan in 1979 to reinforce the country's communist regime against Islamic rebel forces. In a statement made after the invasion, Carter spoke out against the Soviet Union, specifically Premier Leonid Brezhnev, and said the invasion was a deliberate effort by a powerful atheistic government to subjugate an independent Islamic people that he called a stepping stone to Soviet control over Afghanistan's oil supplies. Brezhnev dismissed Carter's statements as "bellicose and wicked". The invasion threatened to revive the Cold War, which, during the late 1970s, had appeared to undergo a temporary thaw. President Carter said his opinion of the Russians had changed drastically since the beginning of his administration.

In addition to the boycott, Carter increased pressure on the Soviets to abandon the war in Afghanistan by issuing a trade embargo on two U.S. goods that the country desperately needed, grain and information technology. He also restricted Soviet fishing in American-controlled ocean waters. Carter called on the U.N. to provide military equipment, food and other assistance to help Afghanistan's neighbors, especially Iran and Pakistan to fight off further Soviet encroachment.

Canada, West Germany and Japan joined the U.S. in boycotting the games.  President Carter failed to convince Great Britain, France, Greece and Australia to also observe the boycott. When an international coalition suggested that the boycotting nations send athletes to compete under a neutral Olympic banner, Carter threatened to revoke the passport of any U.S. athlete who attempted to do so.  Reaction to Carter's decision was mixed. Many Americans pitied the athletes who had worked so hard toward their goal of competing in the Olympics and who might not qualify to compete in the next games in 1984. At the same time, the boycott symbolized commitment many Americans felt to fighting the oppressive, anti-democratic Soviet regime.

In retaliation for Carter's action, the Soviet Union boycotted the 1984 Olympic Games held in Los Angeles.

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