Toga! Toga! Toga!
If we can't be boisterous for our team, let's do it for Iraq!


Jennifer Graham

The United States Olympic Committee has spoken, and it has laid down the law to our athletes: You will not be Deltas in Athens. You will be Omegas, like it or not.

The Deltas, of course, were the propriety-challenged frat boys led by John Belushi, a.k.a. Bluto, in the movie Animal House. The fun-lovin’, beer-chuggin’, road-trippin’ Deltas were just good ol’ boys at heart, that little business about the dead horse aside.

The Deltas were the original Ugly Americans, but everyone loved them–even those of us who, in our real lives, more closely resembled the uptight, button-downed Omegas than the merry slobs of Delta House. Of course, Animal House came out way back in 1978, and since then, the Ugly American has become a bad thing. No one is allowed to act like that anymore, and even if they did, no one would be allowed to admire them…. certainly not on the world stage, and certainly not in today’s climate.

Therefore, the Olympic Committee (think Dean Wormer) sternly admonished our athletes, gathered in New York last week, to “act appropriately” (implied is “for a change”) when we go to Athens in August. This means no strutting half-naked around the track, no Brandi-Chastain-like shows of exuberance, no raucous “We’re No. 1!” taunts accompanied by high fives.

“We are not the favorite kid in the room as a country,” admonished Bill Martin, the U.S.O.C. president. “We are sensitive to the issue of flaunting and jingoism in its raw sense.”

Added Mike Moran, an adviser to the U.S. athletes, “We are saying, “We want you to make an exaggerated personal effort in sportsmanship with respect to your competitors”.”

Okay, okay, we get it.

If swimming phenom Michael Phelps wins eight gold medals in August–a conceivable feat that would surpass Mark Spitz’s seven–the 18-year-old Phelps is to smile shyly, nod at the judges, and slink off modestly to the locker room.

Seems kinda silly to me. But, hey, people smarter than me (let’s hope) are running the show, and if this will help the war effort, I’m for it.

I’ve only one modest request: Can we at least whoop it up for the Iraqis?

I know no one in Iraq. I don’t think I even know anyone of Iraqi descent. I have never set foot on their soil. But never before have I wanted so much for a group of athletes to win.

Their soccer team last week beat Saudi Arabia to win a spot in the games. That makes 30 Iraqis in all for Athens–24 on the soccer team, and one athlete each in swimming, weightlifting, track, wrestling, boxing, and tae kwon do. I will be cheering every one. I’ll be doing my part to counteract those images of the Ugly American the world has been looking at lately.

In Red America, where I live, we show support for our troops. The American flag stickers on our SUVs are getting a little gritty–they’ve been there now nearly three years–but they’re still firmly affixed. We are awash in yellow ribbons, even now.

We support America. We support the war. (Sorry to break it to you, Franken.) We support our troops. But, unless we have a husband or wife, or son or daughter to send them, ordinary Americans don’t have many opportunities to show our support for Iraqis.

The Olympic Games, now freed from the evil grip of Uday Hussein, will give us the chance.

The Cassandras are out in force, worrying about all the opportunities for terror that Athens presents. They’re right, of course; one bomb has already gone off, and it probably won’t be the last. But the Games extend other opportunities.

When an Iraqi athlete enters the arena, all the Americans there should be on their feet, screaming, as if Elvis showed up. And that goes for those of us watching at home: If a wrestler from Fallujah pins somebody from Topeka, we better be cheering them both–particularly if we’re watching the Olympics from a bar stool at Applebee’s and a CNN camera is pointing our way.

In the opening parade of nations, Iraq’s athletes will carry their old flag–the one that flew under Saddam, but that pre-dates Saddam–the red, white, and black. (The new flag chosen by the temporary Governing Council proved too contentious and has been quietly set aside.)

Some entrepreneurial sort needs to get busy cranking out some car flags here in the U.S.–Iraqi car flags. In fact, I wonder why they’re not already out there. I would happily cough up $6.95 or so to fly the flag of Iraq on my car, next to the Stars and Stripes. In fact, I’d be doing it now, if I could find one–to show my support for the war and, more importantly, to show my support for the ordinary Iraqis who don’t want to kill me and my kids, but just want to do their jobs, raise their kids, love their God and live decently and with honor.

For so long, in matters of Iraq, it’s been Us versus Them.

For this noble thing America is doing to succeed, it needs to become Us and Them. (Let’s be realistic: It’s never going to be simply Us.) We can make it happen, come August in Athens.

Jennifer Nicholson Graham, an NRO contributor, is a writer in Virginia.