Of the dominoes that remained standing during the Cold War, the Berlin Wall’s fall, set in motion, the end of communism in Europe. And not slowly. Within days of the first chunks of concrete that sledgehammers shattered, an avalanche of freedom came tumbling down on Soviet satellite states.
On November 16th 1989, day’s after it the manmade divide between East and West Germany became no more, Czechoslovakian students began to peacefully protest against the Communist Czech government. As each day passed, more citizens began break into spontaneous protests until one day, over half a million citizens stood together in Prague, protesting Communism. Then, on November 27th all the citizens of Czechoslovakia took part in a 2 hour long general strike. The following day, the Communist government of Czechoslovakia announced that it would relinquish their power to the people and dismantle the existing government apparatus.
Prior to the ethnic conflicts that took place between the Czechs and the Slovaks and eventually consumed the region, the event was a remarkable example of a people yearning for freedom and it was triggered by the fall of one of the greatest symbols of Communist oppression in the world—–the Berlin Wall.
I remember the day it happened. All of my life I had known Germanys. I had heard how people were shot and killed for trying to go from East to West. I was also aware of why few if any people tried to go from West to East. On one side of the Wall you had a thriving society with advanced technology and luxury automobiles, high tech companies, busy entrepreneurs and happy youngsters wearing Nike and Adidas as they bounced basketballs with Michael Jordan’s name imprinted on them. You had a generally happy society hopeful about tomorrow and full of optimism.
On the other side, you had rationing of food and fuel, state owned businesses that produced little and paid little. On the other side of the wall , optimism was nothing more than a concept. The Communist government told its people what they should hope for. Tens of thousands of fortunate East German’s drove the state car, the Trabant. It was a shell that boasted its ability to seat four people. It was mechanically unreliable, lacked any comforts or conveniences and required lots of effort just to pour fuel into. One joke often repeated by East Germans asked how one could try to double the value of a Trabant? To which the answer was “Fill up the tank”. Another asked if you knew that they had Knight Rider in East Germany?………to that the answer was……It’s a Trabant with a pocket calculator! The car became a symbol of Communism’s inability to compete in industry and technology. When the Berlin Wall came down, thousands of East Germans abandoned their Trabants and walked to West Germany, never to retrieve the GDR made autos again.
These were the two Germany’s I knew all my life. So when I saw young German men and woman cheering as they climbed the graffiti covered 3 and a half mile long, abomination to freedom, as they chipped chunks of it away, I was stunned. I never thought I would see the people who Communists hid away from the rest of the world, suddenly celebrate the joy of freedom with unbridled glee. But I did. It was the goal of Ronald Reagan and it was being realized.
Since then, leftists have often demonized Ronald Reagan. They do so with unrelenting force and mock his boldness, bluntness and military build up, which all helped to create the fatal cracks in the Berlin Wall that brought it down. Many have come to take for granted the course which led to our winning the Cold War. For many of us, that nonchalant attitude is disappointing. We also see it as dangerous. In Statecraft. Strategies for a Changing World, one of contemporary history’s great women and even greater leaders, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher writes;
“Revisionism about the Cold War has taken various guises. But underlying them all is the assertion that the policies of Ronald Reagan towards the Soviet Union were, as you prefer, superfluous, dangerous or even counter-productive“.
She goes on to describe such revisionist interpretations or uninformed opinions as
“ potentially disastrous, because learning the wrong lessons could still result in adopting the wrong responses”
Her point being that the world was not changed by accepting that which we know is wrong. Even East Germans knew that Communism was wrong. They knew that they were falling behind the rest of world. Some East German’s knew this all too well and they tried to make a break for freedom. Since it was erected in 1961, 136 of such West German thinkers were shot to death as they tried to go from East German oppression to West German freedom.
Lady Thatcher reminds us that timidity in regards to freedom does not allow it to flourish. She also reminds us that Ronald Reagan knew that. He never apologized for freedom, he shared its virtues, knowing that those who get a taste of freedom become addicted to it. Just as did the people of Czechoslovakia who in “peaceful” protests jingled keys in symbolic display of their demand to “unlock the doors” of “their” government.
20 years later, although Europe and all the continents still suffer from the human condition, we are for the most part, free. We are free to choose between construction and destruction, free to choose between living in harmony or in war, in richness or poorness, ignorance or intelligence. We are free to make the right or the wrong choices and it is that freedom and the challenges that comes with it that makes life——-the free life——-a thrilling, promising experience. But its promise can only thrive if the sea of oppression is not allowed to douse the flame of freedom. The Berlin Wall doused that flame. But Ronald Reagan fought off its drowning tide, and he did not by ignoring the world’s oppressors, but by confronting them.
For that we are here today. For better or worse, after some decisions correctly made and many others wrongly decided, we are here today to celebrate the possibilities of freedom and the demise of it’s enemy—–oppression.
But twenty years later while we celebrate what we once achieved, the United States and the world must decide what we will achieve in the years to come.
It would seem that in America we have begun to move away from the freedom of independence and independent thought, the type of independence that was granted to half of Germany when its dividing line came down. With this trend, moving forward, we must stop and understand that the freedom which we celebrated on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, is the very same freedom that some of our nation’s leaders are now trying to limit. Such sentiments are expressed in the actions of the House of Representatives. Their recent recommended government takeover of healthcare or the decision to tax the air that we breathe, are legislative walls between freedom and oppression. They are examples of just the opposite of the 20th anniversary we just praised and celebrated .
And even worse, most Americans don’t even realize it.
The trend is one that was predicted. It is one we were warned about from past leaders and one that current leaders are now warning us about. Some seven years ago Margaret Thatcher addressed the road we are on right now.
“Neither the fall of the Berlin Wall, nor victory in the Gulf War, nor the collapse of the Soviet Union, nor the establishment of free markets and a measure of democracy in South-East Asia – none of these has resolved the tension between liberty and socialism in all its numerous guises. Believers in the Western model of strictly limited government and maximum freedom for individuals within a just rule of law often say, and rightly, that ‘we know what works’. Indeed we do. But equally there will always be political leaders and, increasingly, pressure groups who are bent on persuading people that they cannot really run their own lives and that the state must do it for them. And sadly but inevitably, there will always be people who prefer idleness to effort, dependency to independence, and modest rewards just as long as nobody does better. There is always a danger that, as Freidrich Hayek put it in his Road to Serfdom, ‘the striving for security tends to become stronger than the love for freedom’. It mustn’t.”
As a unified Germany and their elated allies rejoice in the fall of a wall that allowed freedom to sweep across a continent, America has begun to map out the creation of a permanent welfare state. The dichotomy between the celebration of freedom in Europe and the limiting of freedom in America is startling and is the very dichotomy that Thatcher and Hayek both once wrote about. If freedom is so worthy of celebration than why are we simultaneously legislating it away. The Nostradamion words of Hayek and Thatcher are worth our attention. They are worth our asking whether or not we have in fact placed more value on personal security than individual freedom.
It is a question we must. For whether we realize it or not, we have begun to build a wall of our own. The Washington Wall. One which is a solid divide of federal control that will give bureaucrats and the political class freedom on one side, and on the other side will be us, the ones being oppressed by the regulations and laws of the political class.