Thursday, May 8, 2008

Victims of Communist Glory Remembered


Last night I saw "Doping for Gold" on PBS,* and the memory of it has haunted since. It is a documentary about the communist East German use of androgenetic-anabolic steroids to beef up their female athletes in the 1970s and 1980s until the wicked regime finally imploded.

It was all political. Their economy was, of course, failing, and they wanted to distract attention away from it with these glorious national sporting victories. The great crime is not simply that they cheated in sports and cheated worthy athletes out of their just rewards. The crime is also the tragedy of the unsuspecting young girls who were fed these drugs that ruined their health, disfigured their bodies, in some cases seriously confused their genders, and even killed them. Girls who voiced suspicions were severely punished. Most dismissed the bulking up to the effects of the rigorous training. Poor Heidi Krieger was given such powerful drugs that she transformed into a man, chose to have surgery to complete the process, and changed her name to Andreas. He married an East German Olympic swimmer, Ute Krause.

Someone remarked that while doping existed elsewhere, the East German program was characteristically German: thorough, efficient, bureaucratic.

It struck me as a metaphor for the communist tyranny itself.
  • It was deceptive.
  • The people were entirely in the service of the state, not the reverse.
  • It was also inhumane.
  • Not only that, instead of recognizing human nature and employing it for humane ends, they attempted to change human nature and with disastrous results.
  • Also, like the illicit drive for gold medals, the whole totalitarian system was premised on technology. Since the dawn of time, some people have amassed total power over others politically, but it is only with the advent of modern technology that is has become possible to add total control to that unhappy and still too common arrangement. (This is Karl Wittfogel's thesis in Oriental Despotism [out of print].) Technology or man's conquest of nature is, as C. S. Lewis points out in The Abolition of Man, inevitably turned toward the conquest of some men by other men, then becomes the attempted conquest of human nature itself, and ends up the re-conquest of nature over man as we place the extraordinary power that comes with technology in service of our passions.

The book to read on the subject appears to be Faust's Gold: Inside the German Doping Machine by Steven Ungerleider. Some of the victims of the program are now suing the German pharmaceutical giant Jenapharm, now owned by Schering ("Forgotten Victims of East German Doping Take Their Battle to Court").

*an episode of their Secrets of the Dead series, the creepy title they give to what seems to be an interesting educational series.

1 comment:

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