Twenty years ago today, on November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall was breached and thus began the end of this blight on the world’s political landscape. Thirty years ago last week, on November 4, 1979, Islamic militants seized the American embassy in Tehran, Iran and held hostages there for 444 days until January 20, 1981 when the hostages were released on the day of Ronald Reagan’s first inauguration. After toying with a weak American president in Jimmy Carter, the Iranians knew well that Reagan would retaliate hard if they continued to hold our citizens.
So now we are celebrating two anniversaries. As one tyrannical culture – Soviet communism – began to collapse so that its people could re-integrate themselves into the free world, another tyrannical culture – radical Islam – has been building walls and mounting attacks against the West and its traditions of freedom and progress.
Divided after World War II into communist East Germany and democratic West Germany, the single nation of Germany today is reunited and free. But some young Germans today actually are being taught that the Americans built the Berlin Wall starting in 1961 wall to prevent communism from spreading from communist East Berlin into democratic West Berlin. This is false. East Berlin built the wall to keep its people in, like a prison. Because communism is a prison-like system that most productive citizens wish to flee.
For those too young to know, the Berlin Wall was a real concrete wall that separated the two halves of the city of Berlin. It was designed to stop the steady flow of 3.5 million immigrants out of East Berlin between the end of World War II and 1961 in a massive ‘brain drain’ fleeing the closed, oppressive and bankrupt system of communism. The exodus included many of East Germany’s and East Berlin’s most valuable citizens – engineers, technicians, physicians, teachers, lawyers and skilled workers.
The very necessity of the Berlin Wall stood as a testament to the failure of communism. That a city and a nation needed to hold in its people by force to prevent them from fleeing was an admission that the marxist system was unsustainable except by force, a fact that always will remain true. Because communism is an evil, counterproductive and inhumane ideology.
For the decades that it stood, leftists the world over considered the Berlin Wall to be a newly permanent world fixture. On June 26, 1963, president John F. Kennedy visited the wall and gave his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech in order to say “I too am a Berliner”. He simply was sympathizing with the people trapped in East Berlin and behind what Winston Churchill had dubbed The Iron Curtain of communism.
Over the next 26 years, little was done to challenge the existence of the wall. American policy was generally oriented toward appeasing the Soviet communists who controlled East Germany, and avoiding any provocations of their aggression.
The wall had eight crossing points that allowed transit between the two halves of the city, but all in all crossing was highly restricted and controlled. During the wall’s existence, there were 5,000 successful escapes to West Berlin and an estimated 200 people killed by East German forces while attempting to escape.
A freedom-loving president named Ronald Reagan and his CIA knew that the Soviet economy had been crumbling for decades and that communism needed to be toppled into oblivion. To the dismay of leftists in America, Reagan was very tough in international negotiations, forcing Europe to accept upgraded American missiles pointed at the Soviet Union, and refusing to concede American strength in negotiations over long-range intercontinental nuclear missiles. Reagan proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative – an advanced missile defense system based in outer space – and even deigned to call the Soviet Union an “evil empire”.
Liberals in America were terrified that Reagan was going to start World War III. But conservatives knew that Reagan was pushing the globe toward a new era of liberty.
Reagan kept up his blunt rhetoric throughout the 1980s. Nearing the end of his two terms in office, he visited West Berlin in 1987 to celebrate the 750th anniversary of the city’s founding. In a speech at the Brandenburg Gate next to the Berlin Wall, Ronald Reagan shocked and horrified the international left when on June 12, 1987, addressing his remarks to Soviet general secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow, he said bluntly:
“We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
Those six words, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” are six of the most consequential and historic words ever uttered by an American president. So rather than stand timidly by as John F. Kennedy did offering sympathy to the suffering people of Berlin, or looking powerless to radical Islamists in Tehran like Jimmy Carter did, Ronald Reagan did what conservatives always do: He stated the truth boldly and without equivocation despite warnings from faint-hearted diplomats in the State Department that the language was far too strong.
By summer 1989, encouraged by Reagan’s call and yearning for freedom, millions were beginning to move more freely around the Eastern Bloc nations and by November 4, one million protestors had gathered in East Berlin’s Alexanderplatz. On November 9, it was announced that East Berliners would be allowed to travel freely to the West, but the regulations were unclear. The permission became effective “immediately” as huge crowds gathered to move inexorably through the wall’s checkpoints toward freedom.
Although the wall did not begin to be dismantled until days later, November 9, 1989 is considered to be The Day the Berlin Wall Fell. And by 1991, the Soviet Union had collapsed and Eastern Europe was free from its Soviet captors for the first time since World War II.
Today America is facing new adversaries with Tehran, Iran as their headquarters. And while Islamic militancy is not the organized international force that Soviet communism was, it is a menacing energy that threatens America and the West in a much more insidious way – not through direct confrontation, but through terrorist activity, possibly nuclear. And thus the West must stand firm like Ronald Reagan did, not wilt like Carter. Because truth and righteousness are infinitely more powerful than any wall… or any weapon.
Today, November 9, Berlin will celebrate with a Festival of Freedom while the German embassy in the United States is conducting informational seminars with the motto ‘Freedom Without Walls’.
And today young Americans who never knew the era of the Berlin Wall must… MUST!… take time to understand what this horrible monument to tyranny really meant so that it never, ever is repeated again.
Please visit my website at www.nikitas3.com for more. You can print out for free my book, Right Is Right, which explains why only conservatism can maintain our freedom and prosperity.