This month was the 40th anniversary of the United States Olympic hockey team beating the Soviets and winning the gold medal. The sports channels have done some segments on it, bringing back some of the young men, who are now old men, to talk about their experiences. Some of the players have shown up with Trump out on the campaign trail. The movie Miracle on Ice, a “fact-based” depiction of what happened with that team is getting replayed on the various services.
The win over the Soviets is one of the greatest upsets in sports history. That’s not an overstatement based in nostalgia or latent patriotism. The Russians were the best hockey team on the planet and it was not close. They had won everything for twenty years and had not lost to the Americans since 1960. They had done a barnstorming tour of the NHL the year before and beat several NHL teams handily. Any team beating them in that Olympics was going to need a miracle.
The Americans, in contrast, were college kids assembled for the tournament. Younger people cannot appreciate this, but at the time there was some national pride in the fact that America relied on amateurs in the Olympics. “The only reason the Russians do so well is they are using professionals” was a common refrain. It had the added benefit of being true. The Soviet bloc countries used full-time athletes, who did nothing other than train for their sport. They were professionals.
To put it in perspective, imagine a college team today beating a team of NHL all-stars or an amateur golfer winning a major tournament. Think of some implausible combination of events in your favorite sport and you have an approximation of the enormity of this upset of the Russians. The American team averaged twenty-two years old. They had played together for a couple of months. The average Russian player had been on the team ten years. It was literally men against boys.
Of course, the reason it still resonates with Americans old enough to remember the event is the cultural and political impact. Carter was still president and the country was in a deep spiritual depression. The nation’s leaders regularly talked about how the good times were over and it was all downhill for America. We were just going to have to get used to be losers. After the disastrous 1960’s and 1970’s, that really did not strike most people as wrong. America had killed itself.
More importantly, there was a sense, promulgated by the Left at the time, that the Soviets were on the winning side of history. Communism was on the advance, while capitalism was on the defense. The number of countries falling under the spell of communism was increasing. The Soviets had just invaded Afghanistan and the Iranians had made a mockery of American power. It is hard to believe it in hindsight, but serious people really did think it was over for America.
I was a boy in that time and I recall my grandfather telling me that I’d surely live long enough to see communism in America. He’d talk about the number of countries that had gone over to that side. He’d point out the nature of the American Left and how it was mostly focused on destroying the white middle-class. He would say, “Communism is a war on the middle, waged by those at the top using us at the bottom.” His opinion was not out of the ordinary for the time.
The Americans beating the Russians and then beating Finland to capture the gold was a transformative event. All of a sudden. everyone had a reason to be proud and more important, be proud in public. It was a great example of the cascading effect. Everyone suddenly realized that lots of other people harbored the same thoughts as they did about the state of things. Those chants of “U-S-A” still bring chills to anyone old enough to have watched that Olympics. It was amazing.
Young people today get mad at old people for hanging onto the old civic nationalism, thinking they are just deliberately obtuse. There is some of that, for sure, but the real magnetic power of civic nationalism is patriotism. The feeling people had in the days following that win over the Russians was the best thing most American had ever experienced as Americans. Everyone was talking about it. “Can you believe we beat the Russians” was said over and over in joyous disbelief.
Those old enough to remember that time and what it was like to feel genuine love of country, should be forgiven for not wanting to close the door on it. There are few things that rival the bliss that comes from genuine national pride. Not only wanting that feeling for yourself, but for your descendants is not unreasonable. Preferring to look back to when such a thing was plausible, rather to a future of angry caterwauling by ungrateful browns, is perfectly understandable.
Old people should not be so quick to condemn the young people for mocking Baby Boomers or criticizing civic nationalism. At the root of that mockery is a bitterness at knowing they can never experience what their ancestors experienced. There will be no miracle on ice for the young. The social capital that made such a thing possible was converted into money and traded away by global capitalism. They have a right to be bitter over what their ancestors bequeathed them.
For those of us young at the time, this anniversary is a reminder of the strange divide in our timelines. One side of the timeline is the before times, when being a patriotic America was exhilarating. Then there is the after times, the now times, when such feelings seem absurd. Looking back over that great divide to this particular event is a strange feeling, because it’s like remembering yourself as a foreigner, living in a strange and foreign land. Your past is now alien to you.
That is the duty of those who have made the journey over the great divide to dissident politics, but still remember when the other side had promise. The America that made possible the miracle on ice had promise. It could have been a great nation. Instead, the people in charge chose to leverage our patriotism, monetize our social capital, so a handful of alien money-changers could turn themselves into potentates. They can never be forgiven for what they have taken from us. Never forget.
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