Foiling the Fuhrer

Last week it was in the obituaries: Archie Williams is dead. Archie Williams was one of the black athletes who foiled Adolf Hitler in the 1936 Olympics held in Berlin. Hitler had hoped to use the games to demonstrate the superiority of the blue-eyed Nordics destined in Nazi ideology to rule the world. Hitler's propaganda dream was to turn the Olympic competition into a showcase for the Aryan race. But black athletes like Archie Williams turned it into a showcase for the human race. Williams came home with a gold medal in the 400 meters. His teammate Jesse Owens brought home four gold medals. It was a blow to Hitler's hopes of grandeur. But for us today it is a poignant reminder of what America is all about. On the fourth of July, we remind ourselves of the vision upon which our nation was founded. In Germany the Nazis built the Third Reich on an ideology of the master race. But here in America our founders built a nation based on the conviction that "All men are created equal-endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights." We have not always lived out that conviction, of course. Even Archie Williams faced racial discrimination when he came home from the Olympics. After earning a college degree, he was unable to find a job. Back then "they weren't hiring black engineers," his wife remembers. Today stories like this are often used to castigate America for its racist history. But the story of Archie Williams is a two-edged sword. On one hand, it is a shameful reminder that we have not always lived up to our ideals. But on the other hand, it's also a reminder that our ideals are still worth living up to. Think of it this way. In America Archie Williams might have been forced to sit at the back of the bus. But in Nazi Germany, many minorities were forced to sit at the back of a boxcar-and carted off to the gas chambers. In America the problem is that our practice does not always match our ideals. But in Nazi Germany the problem was that their practice did match their ideals. Racism was built into the warp and woof of their ideology. Today our children are not being taught this crucial distinction. Under the banner of multiculturalism, the American heritage is being called into question as never before. Our founding documents-the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights-are debunked as the products of so many dead white males. But the answer to racism is not to reject our founding ideals; the answer is to follow them more consistently. To allow them to challenge us ever more deeply. There's a contest going on in America today, a race to see whose vision will prevail and shape our nation's future: the classic vision of equality under God or the multicultural division of white males versus the world. Fifty years ago Archie Williams stood up for classic American ideals-and he brought home the gold. Today it's up to you and me to stand up for those ideals against the debunkers of our tradition. And to win the race for America.


Chuck Colson



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