Demonstrators demanding freedom for Tibet, and protesting China's abysmal human rights record, created a furor around the world as the Olympic torch made its way from Greece to the site of the summer games in Beijing. The flame was actually extinguished on several occasions. Lost in the news coverage was the origin of the Olympic torch-bearing tradition.
It's not that old, and certainly doesn't go back to ancient Greece. As Chinese dictators hope to burnish the image of their regime in hosting the 2008 games, the XI Olympiad held in Berlin in 1936 was a grand opportunity for the Third Reich to put on a public relations spectacle. What better way to symbolize the supposed continuity of classical civilization with their own "New World Order" than to light a flame at Mt. Olympus and bear it to the capital of the Reich? A mirror made in Germany by the Zeiss corporation focused the sun to light a torch, fabricated of steel-clad magnesium by Krupp, which was then run by relay to Berlin, the event lovingly covered by Josef Goebbels. The route taken was through southeastern and central Europe, countries that would soon be overrun by the armed forces of National Socialism.
Hitler's Germany permitted capitalism but allowed no political freedom. It's only fitting that the People's Republic of China, today's largest fascist state, continue to carry the torch.