INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — As the Cold War slowly thaws, we continue to throw wet blankets over Syria, adoptions and missile defense agreements, but we are in complete compliance that the polar bear must be protected.
Picture 23,500 polar bears watching a Kentucky basketball game in Rupp Arena, sipping slurpees. That would account for every polar bear left on the planet, and yet we continue to hunt them for their skins and furs. But guess what? Against all odds, America and Russia together are about to propose an international ban on commercial trade in polar bear skins and furs. Yes, Virginia, there’s hope in Mudsville.
So if we can agree to work together on saving polar bears, why can’t we agree to train together for the Olympics? Well, we can...
Most of us who are old enough to remember our boycotting the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow probably can’t remember the reason why. We boycotted because the Soviets were fighting in Afghanistan. Oh. Tit for tat they returned this diplomatic favor and boycotted our Summer Games in Los Angeles in ‘84.
But this is a brand new day. Today we are training together in Russia for next year’s Winter Games in Sochi. Sure, the KGB and CIA probably have permanent seats in the cafeteria, but our athletes are learning from one another while enjoying each other’s company on the slopes.
What does this solidarity over polar bears and Olympic training tell us? It tells us that the unfinished Cold War is finally beginning to defrost from the bottom up. Americans and Russians are starting to realize that nationalism is the exact opposite of true brotherhood, and perhaps what Dr. Johnson told us in 1775 holds true today, that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. Perhaps the corollary from Ambrose Bierce rings truer yet, “I beg to submit that it is the first.”
In my one memorable visit to Russia I found the people to be as hospitable as Texans and humble as Hawaiians. When the students I talked to at Leningrad University found out I was from Nevada they asked if they could see my gun, not, “Do you have a gun?” but, “Can we see your gun?”
The Russian people are the most loving people I have encountered in my travels. You cannot know the meaning of a bear hug until you’ve been hugged by a Russian Babushka.
Russia has busied herself fighting off invaders from Mongols of the 13th century to Germans of the 20th century. Now that they have no one to fight off in the 21st century they don’t really know quite how to act on the world stage, so they continue to shadow box. We, at the same time, continue to encourage expansion of NATO verily to the front doorstep of Russia, which inspires diplomacy of the sort that Will Rogers might define as, “...the art of saying, ‘Nice doggie,’ until you can get a rock.”
It makes the 21st century world citizen want to shout to Russia, “No one is coming to invade you ... relax a little bit.” And shout to the USA & NATO, “The Russians are not coming. Communist imperialism is dead in Russia, and so is the domino theory ... relax a little bit.”
At the end of the day we have polar bears and Olympic skiers to thank for bringing us closer together -and that’s a good thing.
Now, North Korea? There’s a horse of a different color.
Learn more about McAvoy Layne at www.ghostoftwain.org.