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Boycotting the Moscow Olympics

There is no value in reaching for wishful reasons either to move or to boycott the Moscow Olympics. Some appear to hope that, if enough nations withdraw from the games, this will pressure the Russians to withdraw from Afghanistan.

There is no evidence that anything presently visible will deflect the Kremlin from turning the Soviet Union's Afghan neighbor into a Soviet satellite.

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Some seem to hope that any Olympic boycott, on top of the massive UN condemnation, will persuade the Soviet leaders to step back from their purposeful occupation of Afghanistan.

There is no evidence today and no precedent in past Russian actions to suggest that there would be any likelihood that, having embarked on a military conquest, the Soviets will recede unless they meet decisive military resistance. President Kennedy once agonizingly asked Charles Bohlen, our most knowledgeable Sovietologist, "When will they stop?" The ambassador replied, "When they meet steel."

Some have suggested that the Kremlin made what is turning out to be a grievous miscalculation by totally misjudging what the world reaction would be.

I suspect the opposite is nearer the truth, that the Soviets simply made a calculation: that they had the power and the will to do anything they wanted to Afghanistan and would not be deterred whatever happened. I figure they did not miscalculate world reaction: they did not bother to calculate it because they knew they would be uninfluenced.

This means that the UN resolution, the grain embargo, the trade embargo, and an Olympic boycott will leave the Russian position in Afghanistan and its potential use of Afghanistan for more ominous purposes exactly as it is. These are useful actions, but they change nothing other than to signal that, as in Bohlen's phrase, some steel might be in the making.

I am simply saying that it would be a mistake to undertake to do anything about Moscow as a site for the Olympic contests for wrong reasons.

The central, compelling reason for asking the athletes not to play games in Moscow is that it is the morally right thing to do. No more is necessary.

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Perhaps unintentionally, Robert Mathias, ex-Olympic champion and former congressman from California, advanced one of the best arguments for avoiding Moscow in an article in the Washington Star pleading, "On with the games." He wrote: "The Olympic games represent the strongest moral force in today's society."

Most of the sports commentators I read agree with Pete Axthelm of Newsweek, who writes: "Although it would be inconvenient for our athletes to seek new places to run or to jump for glory, their problems tend to pale next to those people dying in various corners of Afghanistan."

To boycott Moscow might acutely hurt the pride and propaganda and pocketbook of the Soviet Government. It might help the Russian people to realize what their government has done to them. But all that is secondary, because it is simply not right that those who cherich freedom and law should behave as though nothing has happened.

Too much has happened to ignore it.


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