Today marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It did not fall, of course. It was felled. It was felled by ordinary East German men and women who decided they were not willing to spend the rest of their lives in a large prison pretending to be a nation. On the other side of the wall - the free side - far too many westerners were indifferent to the suffering of the east. As I put it in my new book:
The presidents and prime ministers of the free world had decided that the unfree world was not a prison ruled by a murderous ideology that had to be defeated but merely an alternative lifestyle that had to be accommodated. Under cover of "dÃ©tente", the Soviets gobbled up more and more real estate across the planet, from Ethiopia to Grenada. Nonetheless, it wasn't just the usual suspects who subscribed to this feeble evasion â€“ Helmut Schmidt, Pierre Trudeau, FranÃ§ois Mitterand â€“ but most of the so-called "conservatives", too â€“ Ted Heath, Giscard d'Estaing, Gerald Ford.
Consider one of the men present at today's celebrations: Gerhard SchrÃ¶der, chancellor of a reunited Germany until his defeat by Angela Merkel in 2005 and now performing a little light "consulting" for Rothschild and one or two others. What was Herr SchrÃ¶der doing back in the Eighties? Well, he was writing to Egon Krenz, deputy to East Germany's head gaoler Erich Honecker and the man who very briefly succeeded him 25 years ago. Here's SchrÃ¶der schmoozing Krenz:
I will certainly need the endurance you have wished me in this busy election year. But you will certainly also need great strength and good health for your People's Chamber election.
The only difference being that, on one side of the wall, the election result was not in doubt. In other words, SchrÃ¶der and a big chunk of the west's political class were part of the problem.When a free man enjoying the blessings of a free society promotes an equivalence between real democracy and a sham, he's colluding in the great lie being perpetrated by the prison state.
There were three key figures who stood against the dÃ©tente fetishists, and in large part against the disposition of western electorates. Their names were Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II - all heroes in Eastern Europe to this day, yet, as Richard Fernandez notes, all absent from the coverage of today's observances. The A-list guest is Mikhail Gorbachev, whose plan was to preserve Soviet Communism by putting a cosmetic gloss on it. Today, the old passivity has returned: The Wall "fell".
I would like to quote two US presidents in Berlin. First, again from The [Un]documented Mark Steyn:
Everything you need to know about the establishment's view of Ronald Reagan can be found on page 624 of Dutch, Edmund Morris' weird post-modern biography. The place is Berlin, the time June 12th 1987:
'Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!' declaims Dutch, trying hard to look infuriated, but succeeding only in an expression of mild petulance ... One braces for a flash of prompt lights to either side of him: APPLAUSE.
What a rhetorical opportunity missed. He could have read Robert Frost's poem on the subject, 'Something there is that doesn't love a wall,' to simple and shattering effect. Or even Edna St. Vincent Millay's lines, which he surely holds in memoryâ€¦
'Only now for the first time I see
This wall is actually a wall, a thing
Come up between us, shutting me away
From you ... I do not know you any more.'
Poor old Morris, the plodding, conventional, scholarly writer driven mad by 14 years spent trying to get a grip on Ronald Reagan. Most world leaders would have taken his advice: you're at the Berlin Wall, so you have to say something about it, something profound but oblique, maybe there's a poem on the subject... Who cares if Frost's is over-quoted, and a tad hard to follow for a crowd of foreigners? Who cares that it is, to the casual (never mind English-as-a-second-language) hearer, largely pro-wall, save for a few tentative questions toward the end..?
Reagan looked at the Berlin Wall and saw not a poem-quoting opportunity but prison bars...
'Tear down this wall!'
- and two years later the wall was, indeed, torn down. Ronald Reagan was straightforward and true and said it for everybody - which is why his "rhetorical opportunity missed" is remembered by millions of grateful Eastern Europeans.
Here, from my previous book After America, is Reagan's hipper, cooler successor. He didn't see the Wall as a poem-quoting opportunity, either, but as just a bit of set-dressing for Barack Obama's great unending Song of Himself:
As he put it in his video address to the German people on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall:
'Few would have foreseen on that day that a united Germany would be led by a woman from Brandenburg or that their American ally would be led by a man of African descent.'
Tear down that wall â€¦so they can get a better look at me!!!
Is all of human history just a bit of colorful backstory in the Barack Obama biopic? "Few would have foreseen at the Elamite sack of Ur/Napoleon's retreat from Moscow/the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand/the passage of the Dubrovnik Airport Parking Lot Expansion Bill that one day I would be standing before you talking about how few would have foreseen that one day I would be standing before you."
When he's not talking about himself, he's even worse. Here, from his Brandenburg Gate citizen-of-the-world speech in 2008, is Obama's characterization of what happened a quarter-century ago:
People of the world â€“ look at Berlin, where a wall came down, a continent came together, and history proved that there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one.
No, sorry. History proved no such thing. That's comforting pap, but it's not what happened. In the Cold War, the world did not "stand as one". One half of Europe was a prison, and in the other half far too many people - the Barack Obamas of the day - were happy to go along with that division in perpetuity. And the wall came down not because "the world stood as one" but because a few people stood against the pap-peddlers. The truly courageous ones were the fellows like Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel and a thousand lesser names, who had to stand against evil men who would have murdered them if they'd been able to get away with it. That they were no longer confident they could get away with it was because a small number of western leaders had shoveled dÃ©tente into the garbage can of history and decided to tell the truth. Had Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and John Paul II been like Helmut Schmidt and Francois Mitterand and Pierre Trudeau and Jimmy Carter, the Soviet empire would have survived and the wall would still be standing.
Since I'm quoting from my own books, here's a final one, from the predecessor to The [Un]documented Mark Steyn and After America - America Alone. It wasn't just Schmidt and Mitterand, but the bulk of their electorates, too:
There were two forces at play in the late 20th century: in the eastern bloc, the collapse of Communism; in the west, the collapse of confidence. One of the most obvious refutations of Francis Fukuyama's famous thesis The End Of History â€“ written at the victory of liberal pluralist democracy over Soviet Communism â€“ is that the victors didn't see it as such. Americans â€“ or at least non-Democrat-voting Americans â€“ may talk about "winning" the Cold War but the French and the Belgians and Germans and Canadians don't. Very few British do. These are all formal Nato allies â€“ they were, technically, on the winning side against a horrible tyranny few would wish to live under themselves. In Europe, there was an initial moment of euphoria: it was hard not be moved by the crowds sweeping through the Berlin Wall, especially as so many of them were hot-looking Red babes eager to enjoy a Carlsberg or Stella Artois with even the nerdiest running dog of imperialism. But, when the moment faded, pace Fukuyama, there was no sense on the Continent that our Big Idea had beaten their Big Idea. With the best will in the world, it's hard to credit the citizens of France or Italy as having made any serious contribution to the defeat of Communism. Au contraire, millions of them voted for it, year in, year out. And, with the end of the Soviet existential threat, the enervation of the west only accelerated.
That bit about "hot-looking Red babes" wasn't a literary whimsy on my part. I was in Berlin a few weeks after the Wall had been breached, when the streets were still full of young Germans wandering back and forth from east to west still in semi-bewilderment. Me and my mate met a couple of cute Osterbirds and had a drink with them in the free world, and then they took us on a brief tour of the disintegrated tyranny on the other side. It was a great moment to pick up chicks - and none of them seemed to mind that the fetching young lad from Frankfurt or Munich had spent most of the Eighties protesting against the deployment of US Cruise missiles in western Europe, and cheering rock stars who complained that Ron and Maggie would lead us to Armageddon.
Reagan and Thatcher won the war. Obama and SchrÃ¶der and the like inherited the peace. Which is why today's anniversary has that strange, passive, evasive quality. Or as Obama would put it:
There is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one.
Generally speaking, when the world "stands as one" it's in the cause of inertia: Right now, the world stands as one in feeling it's no big deal if Iran goes nuclear, or Putin gobbles Ukraine, or the Islamic State starts head-chopping its way into Jordan, or members of certain unspecified multicultural communities plot to kill the Queen. The alternative to waiting for the world to "stand as one" is to stand up yourself, and stand for something. And now as in the Eighties there are few takers for that.