Opinion | Morgan Liddick: The fall of the Berlin Wall
On Your Right
In my china cabinet, there is a small tea service from a country that no longer exists. Four bone china teacups and saucers, four cake plates, a teapot, cream pitcher and sugar bowl. They are white with a dark blue stripe, and on the bottom is a trademark reading “Echt Kobol” and “GDR,” marking them as a product of the German Democratic Republic, a vanished country.
While most Americans celebrate Veterans Day on Nov. 11, many have forgotten the momentous event of Nov. 9, the 30th anniversary of which occurred this year. On that day in 1989, a spokesman for the East German Communist Party announced that at midnight, East Berliners would be allowed to freely cross the border to the West. Crowds quickly gathered, and in an eye blink, it was over. Although it took two more years for them to realize it, the evil that was the Soviet Union and its puppet states in Eastern Europe died that night in Berlin. Today, millions of concrete fragments of the wall that separated East and West Berlin are in living rooms across the globe; physical reminders of the West’s victory in one of the world’s longest and most dangerous conflicts.
The Berlin Wall, called an “Antifascist Bulwark” by the Communist government of East Germany, was built in 1961 following the disastrous Vienna meeting between Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and U.S. President John. F. Kennedy. Sold as a means to prevent Western “fascists” from undermining “the will of the people” in building a socialist state in East Germany, it was in fact meant to halt the tidal wave of Eastern Europeans fleeing the socialist paradise the USSR was establishing by force in the states it occupied during the second World War. Its official moniker is also a historical reminder that the left is endlessly inventive when it comes to misuse of language — as George Orwell noted more than once.
Kennedy accepted the wall, constructed in violation of the Potsdam Accords. Lyndon B. Johnson did, as well, and Richard Nixon after him. Jimmy Carter had public qualms about Eastern Europe’s human rights record but did nothing about them. Then history’s currents shifted, and the world changed.
A Polish cardinal became Pope John Paul. A grocer’s daughter became prime minister in the United Kingdom. And Ronald Reagan was elected president. The aging autocrats of the USSR and its European puppets were suddenly confronted by Western leaders who were united and outspoken describing the wrongs they saw in the USSR and occupied Eastern Europe. When Reagan referred to the Soviet Union as the “evil empire,” and the term resonated with Poles and Czechs, Hungarians and Armenians. Tellingly, it was rejected by the American and Western European left. If Western academics and intellectuals had had their way, the Cold War might still be ongoing, with the outcome between freedom and slavery still in doubt. But Reagan and his allies persisted, and the “prison-house of nations” is no more.
So why don’t we celebrate the momentous event that drew a bright red line under 50 years of peril? Probably for the same reason we don’t really think much about the original name of Veterans Day, which is what we’ve called the 11th of November since June 1, 1954. It used to be called Armistice Day because on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the most terrible war in human history until that date ended. But it was tedious being reminded that the veneer of civilization is thin and fragile, that technology — which offers wonders and eases burdens — also threatens horrors on an unimaginable scale because the humans who use it are weak and easily corrupted. So the name was changed to “honor living veterans,” and part of the history the holiday represented was erased.
We’re good at erasing history. One current example is the campaign to destroy monuments and markers that make a few of us feel uncomfortable. Another is the selective remembering and socially conscious editing that passes for teaching history in our schools today. Why do we do it? In some cases because history disquiets: most don’t like thinking about the lessons of World War I, and some don’t like dealing with the complexities of U.S. society before the Civil War. Still others do it deliberately and with a plan because, to use Orwell again, “He who controls the past, commands the future; he who controls the present, controls the past.”
I hope your Veterans Day was enjoyable.
Morgan Liddick’s column “On Your Right” publishes Tuesdays in the Summit Daily News. Liddick spent 27 years working for the U.S. Foreign Service, primarily living abroad. He also spent 12 years teaching U.S. history and Western civilization at community colleges in Colorado and Texas. He lived in Summit County as recently as 2015. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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