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Chuck Chalberg

John C. “Chuck” Chalberg teaches American history at Normandale Community College in Bloomington.
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NBC and Tom Brokaw’s Olympic Tribute to the Battle of Britain

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012 - by Chuck Chalberg

Thank you, NBC and Tom Brokaw. The 2012 Olympics are history, and near the end you provided an important amendment to the opening ceremonies. But questions remain. Did you long ago plan to devote half an hour of prime time to the Battle of Britain or did you scurry around for the footage and the interviews after sitting through the pageantry and politics of that first night? No matter the answer, you did the right thing.

There we were last Saturday evening, settling in for one last round of Olympic competition and what did NBC give us but a history lesson — and one that had nothing to do with Olympics past, not even the historic 1936 Berlin Games of Jesse Owens fame or the previous London Games of 1948. Well then, how about the games of 1940 and 1944? Oops, no games were held in either Olympic year. It seems as though something else of some importance was going on at the time. And that something else would certainly have eliminated London as the host city, unless dodging Hitler’s bombs would have suddenly qualified as an Olympic event.

So thanks, NBC and Mr. Brokaw. You reminded us that life — and death — sometimes do get in the way of fun and games. Had you not taken a good chunk of time away from this year’s Olympic fun and games we might have been left thinking that those opening night organizers were right. We might have walked away from it all thinking that the greatest accomplishments of the English people over the course of the last century really were their contributions to children’s literature and the creation of their National Health Service.

Now, who wants to downplay what any number of great English authors have given to the children — and adults — of the world? I certainly don’t. But the National Health Service? Of course, the organizers went to Olympian efforts to portray the employees of the NHS positively.  Sweet-faced nurses were everywhere in sight, tending tenderly to their patients. A few even had time to read bed time stories to children, thereby combining in one touching scene what those same organizers decided were England’s two great contributions to modern life.

Were those same Olympic organizers also going for a three-fer in one fell swoop? Were they trying to stick it to the Yanks, too? No doubt. The United States is in the midst of a national election and a great uproar over something called ObamaCare. And what are the Brits doing but telling us to calm down, look at us, and accept progress.

Of course, that same opening night extravaganza could have been portrayed a little differently.  Instead of efficient nurses kindly performing their duties, the massive tableau could have featured long lines and longer waiting lists, blizzards of paper work, rejectees for hip replacements and the like.  But that wouldn’t have played quite as well.  Nor would it have been consistent with sticking it to the country that is paying most of the freight for NBC to cover these games and the country that hasn’t been all that anxious to adopt a national health care system.

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