OLYMPIC TRUCE EMBLEM -- WITH GREEK WORD EKECHEIRIA AND MOTTO
2 LETTERS CONCERNING THE GLOBAL SYMBOLISM OF THE OLYMPIC TRUCE IN THE MODERN WORLD
THE PROBLEM WITH GLOBAL SYMBOLISM: THE TORCH PROTESTS OF 2008
20 August 2012
TO: R. J. Ganterain
FROM: William Brahms
I received your inquiry about the two letters I wrote years ago concerning the symbolism of the Olympic Truce,
and also your inquiry about the Olympic Truce emblem. First, I will comment on the emblem and then on the letters
and finally on the torch protests of 2008.
THE OLYMPIC TRUCE EMBLEM
This is something of my own design that I did in a flight of the imagination as explained in my message to Henry Nevins
(see below).Years later, during the Athens Olympics, I got the idea of incorporating into this design a piece of the ancient
Hellenic world by adding something that the ancient Greeks would have known and recognized so that the design would
consist of elements from both the ancient and modern worlds. Here is the revised description of the emblem:
On a white background, the Olympic Rings inscribed in a
blue-colored wreath consisting of crossed conventionalized
branches of the olive tree. Below the Rings and centered
above the intersection of the olive branches is the word
EKECHEIRIA written in Classical Greek.
The Greek word for truce is ekecheiria. Below is an image of the emblem. As for an associated motto, I never devised
one. But since you raised the question about a motto in your last letter I have given this matter some thought. Given
the fact that the word ekecheiria and the Rings, which represent an entire world or humanity united by Olympism, are
both enclosed by a symbol of peace in the form of the two olive branches, the shape of which resembles the kotinos or
olive wreath placed upon the heads of ancient Olympic victors, I conceived a motto for this integrated design of three
elements, a motto that gives voice to the Rings and uses the athletic contest as a metaphor for the struggle for peace.
It appears to the right of the emblem.
The motto is an expression of the aspirations of all those nations (individually and jointly as members of the United
Nations Organization) that endorse or observe the Olympic Truce: that it will lead to permanent peace where mankind is
the victor in his struggle against the god of war.
To date I have never made use of this emblem except as a decoration on a letter sent to the Athens Organizing Committee
in 2003 and on copies sent to the Greek government, the IOC, and the International Olympic Truce Center. I have no
intention of using it again because I have no further need of it. But if the Olympic Movement has a need for its use and
the use of the motto, I have no objection. It can do whatever it wants with these though I am aware the IOC already has
an emblem for the Truce.
THE GLOBAL SYMBOLISM OF THE OLYMPIC TRUCE IN THE MODERN WORLD
On this topic I wrote a letter around the time of the Atlanta Games of 1996 to Juan Antonio Samaranch who was then
the President of the IOC. This letter suggested that the Olympic Flag and the Olympic Flame be given a wider scope in
their use to provide an opportunity for the members of the international community to express their support and
observance of the Truce through these two symbols of Olympism. My justification for this idea was the obvious fact
that the Olympic Movement is not responsible for the observance of a worldwide truce. That responsibility rests with
the international community of nations. Whereas symbols represent and participate in that to which they point and
provide bridges to levels of reality that are otherwise closed to us, permitting the use of these symbols by the
sovereign entities responsible for the Truce would solidify the Truce because it would allow the symbols to more
effectively make present for the international community the reality to which they point, that reality being the
Olympic Ideal, a world at peace and a global community concerned with the preservation of human dignity. If you
wish to see this letter, click here.
I got no reply nor did I expect one. For the past century the IOC has received suggestions from individuals and my
letter is only one of many that offered ideas for the Olympic Movement. For several years afterward I thought nothing
of this letter until at the behest of J. Rankin and N.C. Marshall I posted it to the three conferences several months
after the Sydney Games whereupon I got deluged by a torrent of inquiries and criticism about the lack of specifics.
The inquiring minds of the curious critics demanded to know what I was talking about when I said:
that the IOC promote the display of the Olympic flag around the world
for the period of the Truce and that the IOC promote the lighting of the
Olympic flame around the world for the period of the Games by sanctioning
the use of these two symbols of Olympism by the national governments of
those countries that are affiliated with the Olympic Movement and have
chosen to observe the Olympic Truce.
After making endless promises about specifics to put an end to the endless inquiries that wouldnít end, in June 2003
I gave the inquiring minds what they asked for when I buried them in specifics written in a letter I sent to the Athens
Organizing Committee. If you wish to see this letter, click here.
Copies were later sent to the Greek government, the IOC, and the International Olympic Truce Center. No reply was
received but, as before, none was really expected. Some agreed with Black Jack who denounced my letter as ďan overly
ambitious pie-in-the-sky proposal written by an outsider who had the hutzpah to offer amendments to the Olympic Charter
for the sake of the utopian pipe dream of a worldwide truce.Ē But for what itís worth, at least it did accomplish one
objective: It gave the critics what they demanded and shut them up. Their silence is either indicative of the fact
that they couldnít come up with better specifics or they agreed with Black Jack that itís a waste of time criticizing the
specifics of a utopian pipe dream. And if their silence is due to the latter, then I offer the cynics the following words from
Heather L. Reid in her essay on the Olympic Truce, Olympic Sport and its Lessons for Peace:
It may be daunting to imagine a true world community, but the Modern
Olympic Games have been remarkably successful at presenting at least
the look of one. Olympic sport continues to emphasize commonalities
while celebrating differences....
Those who dream and write about ideal societies where peace prevails,
are frequently accused of uselessly building castles in the sky; but
oftenest it is they who are most aware that the complete ideal is
unrealizable....In philosophy, peace is always an ideal - but one worth
striving for. What is so remarkable about the Olympics and peace is
that the two came to be associated with one another at all.
THE PROBLEM WITH GLOBAL SYMBOLISM: THE TORCH PROTESTS OF 2008
The Olympics are a unique cultural festival that promotes the values of a global fraternity among the athletes, officials,
and spectators at the games where all these participate in a shared experience. Certainly the electronic media (and
now the Web) has played a major role in increasing a sense of shared experience that was not possible a century ago
and now goes well beyond the Olympic Village to what some commentators have taken to calling "The Global Village."
The sanctioned use of the symbols of Olympism would allow national governments to go beyond the signing off on a
joint U.N. declaration to express their endorsement of the Truce and do more to provide for members of the international
community a shared experience that would contribute to a greater sense of fraternity and enable the Truce to better provide
a window of opportunity where initiatives can be taken to ease tensions, reduce conflict, and provide relief to those who
suffer its effects. This is the positive result of the use of symbolism in promoting the Truce and peace. Now whether
conflict is actually lessened or avoided will, of course, depend of the realities of international relations and geopolitics.
The Olympic Movement cannot impose the Truce or peace.
Even so, do not underestimate the power of symbols. By symbol I am referring to something that goes beyond arbitrary
signs such as numbers and letters established by convention where the meaning conveyed is literal, simple, and
straightforward. I am instead referring to something that conveys meaning or meanings that go beyond the literal, where
it can be said that the symbol not only represents but also participates in the reality to which it points and can open up
a dimension that is otherwise closed to us. Because of this characteristic of symbols, they can provoke strong
reactions--both positive and negative. For example, in the year 1940 the swastika provoked strong reactions. Whether it
was a positive one or a negative one depended upon your view of a certain ideology. Furthermore, because of this
characteristic the misuse and abuse of a symbol is regarded as an attack on the dignity of what is being conveyed by the
symbol and this too can provoke strong negative reactions. Back in the late 1960's I once observed from a third story
window an antiwar protest below that quickly escalated into a bloody brawl during an American flag burning because this
was an act that provoked a strong negative reaction from those who condemned it as the abuse of a symbol and an attack
upon the dignity of the United States and its people.
The Olympic Torch protests of 2008 were not a controversy over Olympic ideals but a controversy over what was regarded
as the misuse or abuse of a symbol due to the lack of respect for the ideals. This was something that I did not expect
back in 2003 when I wrote the letter to Athens and neither did the organizers of the Olympic Games expect this sort of thing.
What was at issue here was something more than a controversy over the changing itinerary of a portable receptacle for
a flame. Disruptions caused by those who condemned the human rights record of the host country were met by that host
country's condemnations of these disruptions as attacks on the Olympic spirit. The symbol provoked strong reactions on
both sides which saw in each other a lack of respect for the Olympic ideal of a world at peace concerned with the
preservation of human dignity, a lack of respect that each side regarded as something akin to blasphemy.
My letter to the Athens Organizing Committee was written five years before the Torch Relay protests of 2008. When I
wrote it there were plans in development to have the Torch Relay cover all five continents, and my suggestion about the
sanctioned use of the Olympic Flame by countries other than the host country was an extension of the idea of an
international route through the continents and was inspired by the sanctuaries of ancient Greece and the sacred fires
that burned at these locations. The first International Olympic Torch Relay was in 2004, but due to the Torch Relay
protests of 2008 the IOC has now retreated from this idea. Hence, the use of the Olympic Flame will be primarily
restricted to the host country for the foreseeable future. The IOC is wary enough of attempts by countries to use the
Olympic Games to advance political agendas which has happened in the past. It is also wary of the misuse and abuse of
Olympic symbolism. For that reason we will not see the Olympic Flame burning in the capitals of countries observant of
the Truce until the ideals to which the Olympic Flame points to and participates in come closer to actuality, that is, to
a world where human rights are accorded greater respect by members of the international community than they are now and
where governments accord the Olympic Truce the level of respect it had in the ancient world. As noble as it may be for a
nation to have its warriors lay down their arms before the Olympic Flame as a sign of that nation's respect for the Olympic
Truce, it is a regrettable fact that we shall not see such a ceremony in our lifetime.
As for the sanctioned use of the Olympic Flag by the national governments of countries affiliated with the Olympic
Movement that have chosen to endorse or observe the Olympic Truce, the same concerns apply. But here is a caveat that
I am sure the IOC is aware of: Flags are symbols that have in the past provoke strong positive and negative reactions,
and for this reason there is a risk of a sequence of events with the Olympic Flag that is similar to the 2008 torch protests
but on a much larger scale. The Olympic Movement can do without the sight of thousands of people descending upon
the world's capitals to stage protest marches, acts of civil disobedience, and even riots to demonstrate their objection
to the controversial display of the Olympic Flag atop or in front of the world's capitols or parliamentary buildings because
of the political policies or human rights record of the host country. The Olympic Flag points to a world of order, harmony,
and peace and not to one of disorder, controversy, and conflict. I believe that if the IOC were to sanction the use of the
Olympic Flag by national governments that endorse or observe the Truce, such sanctioned use would at first be limited to
the display at the seat of government and perhaps limited to the display of only one flag. Whether this sanctioned use is
broadened in subsequent olympiads will depend upon the kind of reception that the display receives around the world and
whether such a display is accompanied by a greater respect for the Olympic Truce by the members of the international
As for the Truce Honor Corps, the problem mentioned above should not be a concern because its presence is restricted
to the site of the Olympic Games within the host country.
You may think that everything I've written here is so much ado over nothing because you've dismissed the idea of the
Olympic Truce. So I will close by mentioning that when I was in Berlin during the 1970's a document was brought to my
attention by an acquaintance who was kind enough to provide me a translation of a long letter received by an ancestor
of his who lived in the eighteenth century and was written by an official employed in the diplomatic service of one the
principalities of Europe. After the writer of this letter bloviated about his many amorous adventures and affairs and his
many deeds accomplished in statecraft with trickery and deceit which for a myriad of reasons he gave he considered
to worthy of the renown of the labors of Hercules, he devoted the rest of it to the dispensing of advice that includes the
My friend, bear the following words in your mind and do not squander them!
Take them to heart and cherish these pearls of wisdom as you would cherish
the treasure of King Solomon. For the greater glory of the Almighty I am laying
down this admonition upon you lest the current contagion of execrable ideas
and odious, unlofty thoughts befall you and imperil your soul and weigh down
your spirit with an accumulation of bile and a nasty temperament rendering you
unfit for the company of noble gentlemen and ladies of refinement!
Following this is a long series of paragraphs that harangue the French Revolution and its leaders whom he denounced
as men of ill repute unworthy of fighting duels on the Field of Honour. Noteworthy is the following passage:
A universal league of sovereign powers that mediates disputes between
members is an impractical idea that exceeds all bounds of reasonableness
and taxes the imagination. It is axiomatic that such powers will always
achieve their own ends by whatever means necessary and work against the
interests of other powers as they all contend for the world's resources.
True, from time to time they will enter into alliances with each other but
this they only do to offset the alliances of opposing powers and maintain a
balance as empires are defended and increased. I can proclaim with the
utmost certainty to those now living and to those who shall follow us in
the unfolding of history that the Day of Judgement will pass in the final
chapter before we see such a universal union of sovereign powers on the
face of this earth. Arguments to the contrary are the chaff of idle dreamers,
ignorant fools, freethinkers, and other disreputable persons of bad moral
character and ranks no better than the addled thinking and corrosive
barbarity of the radical mob. Carthago delenda est!
To this 18th century Machiavellian Casanova, foe of republicianism, and enemy of ancient Carthage the League of
Nations and the United Nations are historical impossibilities. Yes, I know what you're now thinking. The U.N. is a
big failure and maybe this writer has a point. You've got your complaints about it and so do I. But after 67 years of
existence there are no serious efforts underway to relegate it to history's dustbin.
Are you willing to be as dogmatic as this writer and go on record and proclaim the Olympic Truce in the modern world
a historical impossibility?
OLYMPIC TRUCE EMBLEM
1 August 2002
TO: Henry Nevins
FROM: William Brahms
While I was writing the Samaranch letter, I engaged myself in a flight of fancy and did a design of
a special emblem for the Olympic Truce. The design may be described as follows:
On a white background, the Olympic Rings
inscribed in a blue-colored wreath
consisting of crossed conventionalized
branches of the olive tree.
Look below to see an image of the design. You'll recognize the wreath as being the same as that
which appears on the emblem of the United Nations. Following what is alleged (but not confirmed)
to be de Coubertin's idea of using the primary colors from the flags of nations, I changed the
original white color of the wreath to match the blue background of the United Nations flag.
I am pleased enough with this design to use it as a decoration on the inner envelope containing
my letter to Mrs. G. Angelopoulos-Daskalaki.