Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Day the Wall Fell Down

Unless you are at least 60 years old today, you probably had no memory on this day in 1989 of a time when the Berlin Wall did not exist. It was 25 years ago today that the wall was brought down, fulfilling Ronald Reagan's famous 1987 challenge to "tear down this wall."

If you are under 30, you almost certainly have no memory of a time when the Berlin Wall did exist.

But, for anyone who remembers most or all of the years between 1961 and 1989, the Berlin Wall was a constant reminder of the tensions between East and West.

It was a fact of life for seven presidents, from John F. Kennedy, whose administration witnessed the construction of the wall in the summer of 1961, to George H.W. Bush, whose administration saw it fall 25 years ago today.

Most Americans — regardless of age — probably had no idea the wall was about to fall, probably had no understanding of the events in that part of the world that were leading to this day. My memory is that it caught most Americans by surprise. They had heard Reagan's plea a couple of years earlier — if they were old enough, they remembered Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech in the shadow of the wall two years after its construction — but such speeches were mostly regarded as symbolic, valuable as propaganda for stirring up the masses. Just as the wall itself was a symbol. I guess Americans were conditioned to believe the wall would always exist. The Berlin Wall took on the same kind of mythical aura as the Great Wall of China — with the added value of armed guards. It was there. It would continue to be there. Never mind that it had not always been there.

("Whatever happened to the kind of inspirational presidential oratory that helped bring down that wall — and Soviet communism?" wonders USA Today's Rick Hamson.)

After it happened, it was easy to see — as it always is — the progression of events that led to that moment. But, before it happened, the collapse of the Berlin Wall was seen as, at best, wishful thinking and, at worst, delusional fantasy.

Personally, I never thought it would happen. I couldn't imagine a world with a unified Berlin. And today I can't imagine a world in which the wall could be resurrected — yet, with Russian aggression in the Ukraine and militant Muslim aggression in the Middle East, one can only wonder if the last 25 years have been merely an interlude.

Freedom, the adage says, isn't free.

Is it possible there could be another wall — perhaps not in Berlin but somewhere else?

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