Saturday, November 08, 2014

Remembering the Wall

Twenty-five years ago -- on Sunday, November 9, 1989 -- the Berlin Wall came down. What a world-changing event that was, on the scale of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

Russia threw an "iron curtain" across Europe soon after the end of the Second World War, consisting of barbed wire, watchtowers, machine guns, and remotely triggered shotguns, to keep the captive peoples of the East from escaping to the West. Nevertheless, 3,500,000 people made the dash to freedom. In 1961, therefore, a high concrete barrier was erected wherever the border went through a city or town, most notably Germany's great prewar capital of Berlin. Desperate people tried to scaled the Wall, or to tunnel beneath it, or to smash through in a truck or car, with an estimated 100 would-be escapees (along with 9 East German border guards) dying in the attempt.

The Wall began to shake in the spring of 1989, with a reformist government in Moscow unable or unwilling to send troops and tanks to crush rebellions, as the Red Army had been doing since 1945. With incredible rapidity, the whole apparatus of repression began to fall apart, first in Poland, then in Hungary, and finally in East Germany itself, the worst of the lot. Realizing that the police no longer dared to shoot them, young German rebels climbed the Wall and straddled it, painted graffiti upon it, and attacked it with sledgehammers from both sides. So the Wall came down, metaphorically and literally, and everything that Lenin and Stalin had built upon the bones of tens of millions of people tumbled with it.

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