Sunday, March 02, 2008

SOUND OFF: OLYMPIAN DECISIONS

Movie director Steven Spielberg has pulled out of his commitment to serve as an artistic adviser to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. His decision comes after he tried and failed to convince China's president to exert his nation's influence on the government of Sudan to put a stop to the genocide in Darfur.

"Conscience will not allow me to continue with business as usual," Spielberg said in an official statement.

According to The New York Times, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington rejected Spielberg's decision as empty posturing.

"As the Darfur issue is neither an internal issue of China nor is it caused by China," the spokesman said, "it is completely unreasonable, irresponsible and unfair to link the two as one."

Spielberg and others nevertheless believe that the Chinese government could do more to influence the Sudanese government -- with which it has extensive military and commercial ties -- to accept peacekeeping troops into the region.

Was Spielberg's decision to step down in protest a legitimate one? Given his concerns, should he have refused to accept the appointment in the first place? Or does the Chinese government have a legitimate point in arguing that the Olympics should not be linked to its ability or willingness to exert influence on the Sudanese government?

Post your thoughts here by clicking on "comments" or "post a comment" below. Please include your name, hometown, and state, province, or country. Readers' comments may appear in an upcoming column. Or e-mail your comments to me at rightthing@nytimes.com.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of The Right Thing, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@nytimes.com or to "The Right Thing," The New York Times Syndicate, 500 Seventh Avenue, 8th floor, New York, NY 10018. Please remember to tell me who you are, where you're from, as well as where you read the column.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jeffrey,

China is not the unified monolithic superpower everyone seems to think it is.

Read "China: Fragile Superpower" by Professor Susan Shirk of the University of San Diego School of International Affairs in La Jolla, California.

She was the Deputy Secretary of State for Chinese affairs during the Clinton administration and knows a lot about the situation there.

As far as China, a superpower, interferring in Sudan, what makes Steven Speilberg think the has the right to tell China how to handle its international affairs?

Many people (actually the liberal mainstream media) want to see us get out of Iraq where a brutal dictator, Sadaam Hussein, killed over 300,000 of his fellow countrymen. That didn't seem to bother them as much as our being there with the result that terrorists and suicide bombers are killing civilians in retaliation.

And, of course, our occupation of Iraq (the War ended in three weeks) is bad because it was done without the "consensus" of the Western European countries.

Incidently, as I recall, FDR didn't seek "consensus" from France and Germany before invading Europe on June 6, 1944. Which, of course, we probably would not have received. Up until 1943 there were more French policemen in Paris than there were German soldiers.

But I digress as usual. If China goes into Sudan, what can we expect to happen? I would expect that all the bad guys would receive fair trials and then they would all be taken out and shot. Probably be a good thing for the average citizen.

Speilberg is in the entertainment industry. China is going to pay about as much attention to him as we do to Sean Penn.

Incidently, did you know that Sean Penn isn't joking when he talks about politics? He's trying to be serious and all this time I thought he was just trying out a new comedy routine.

Burl Estes

Susan Hammond said...

I believe that Mr. Spielberg's decision to quit as artistic advisor to the Olympics in Beijing this summer is unfortunate, and will cause him to miss a significant and timely opportunity to be a catalyst for change, not only in Darfur, Sudan, but also, possibly, in China, a nation itself with very dirty hands in the human rights arena. And while time is of the essence in Darfur, it still remains true that the most effective work for change in anything comes through established relationships among persons - relationships from which Mr. Spielberg has now cut himself off from forming with both high-ranking and ordinary Chinese citizens. As a world-renowned filmmaker, Mr. Spielberg would have been granted access through his person and his art, which, over a period of time, could have been used to successfully challenge oppressive Chinese policies - an access that now appears to be lost.

The Olympics are not supposed to be "political," so, in that regard, I agree wtih the Chinese government's criticism of Mr. Spielberg's decision to quit. However, the bottom line is that everything is political in one sense or another, and the International Olympic Committee acknowledges that reality when it states that it desires "to contribute to searching for peaceful and diplomatic solutions to the conflicts around the world" (see the Olympics official website for more about this at: www.olympic.org). Mr. Spielberg could have employed his powerful story-telling art to help fulfill this mission of the IOC.

It seems that peer pressure may have ultimately led to Mr. Spielberg's decision to become involved in the Darfur/China issue in the first place, and now to leave. I have seen comparisons of him with the late filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, which I think is unwarranted, in addition to being highly distasteful, as Mr. Spielberg is Jewish, and is not, I assume, in ideological support of the communist Chinese government, as Riefenstahl (in ignorance?) was for Hitler's Nazi regime. If it is not too late, Mr. Spielberg should resume his position with the Olympics and consider how he may best use his wonderful skills for genuine good around the world.

Susan Hammond
Irvine, CA

Executive Studio said...

The Chinese government has gotten too many people to forgive its human rights abuses and involvement in places like Darfur through its seductive offer of cheap labor and a large market.

Spielberg's decision is the right one for him. More should follow.

Eric McNulty
Brookline, MA

Anonymous said...

Dear Jeffrey,

I applaud Mr. Spielburg's stance on China . The Chinese government is a tyranical dictatorship, denying the citizens freedom of spech, the press, association, and religion. They persecute the religious sect, Falun Gong, work camps, prison, and even death to innocent men, women, and children. They continue to occupy Tibet.

Any government that says that they believe in freedom, yet send a delegation to the 2008 summer games, puts money and prestige over the suffering of fellow human beings.

Any athlete that competes in the games, shows low moral fibre.

And, anyone who even watches the games, lokks the other way, and condones the massive human rights abuses in China.

I am glad to know that I am not alone in my condemnation of the Chinese government and all those involved in the 2008 summer games.

And the band plays on.

Very sincerely yours,
Daniel Lloyd Allison
Kingsville, Ontario, Canada

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