Monday, November 9, 2009

The Man Who Tore Down The Wall

I'll try to add on to this post as I come across other articles that speak deeply to me about the events of twenty years ago today. Here's the first: an interview with the East German border guard who ordered the first barrier open, without orders from his superiors.
SPIEGEL: Would it have been possible to give the order to open fire?

Jäger: No, we had the order not to open fire even if the border was breached, unless our own lives were in danger.

SPIEGEL: So shooting at people in front of the barriers was not an option at any point on November 9?

Jäger: No, but people could have been injured or killed even without shots being fired. In scuffles, or if there had been panic among the thousands gathered at the border crossing. That's why I gave my people the order: Open the barrier!
Also, a few photos here, including the above.

Another gallery of about 30 amazing photos- I think the thing that strikes me is how these images represent a destruction of symbols and patterns of thought, more so than a simple dismantling of a physical entity.

As always, the Christian Science Monitor delivers a tremendous amount of information boiled down into an eminently readable and fairly concise analysis, with perspectives from a wide variety of observers. I found this passage important in showing the resonance of the day's events:
"We didn't realize how the world was changing because part of that change was held back by the cold war," Mr. Scowcroft says.

It was like a dam breaking, powerful ideas and technologies sweeping the globe.

"One of the important aspects of globalization was information technology," Scowcroft says. "What the radio and television was doing was politicizing the world's people. [For much of history] the population of the planet did not know what was going on past their own neighborhood, didn't much care; life went on. All of a sudden they saw what was going on in the world and they were energized."

Some took that energy and immigrated to the West in search of better lives, Scowcroft says. Others, though, were outraged by what they saw in the West, triggering a rise in religious fundamentalism.

It took Al Qaeda's strike on the US on Sept. 11, 2001, for the world to turn its attention to the currents that roiled the Middle East. Now, the US finds itself in two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, battling terrorism – shadowy, stateless foes.

Indirectly then, the Berlin Wall's fall ushered in a new, more complicated era, one unimaginable to those who built the bedrock post-World War II institutions like the United Nations and NATO.
Chuck at Lounge of the Lab Lemming offers a wise geological perspective... I feel like I'm swiping a bit much here, but I really wanted to get his smackdowns of both the right and left. Obviously, I'm biased toward the left, but I appreciate on-target criticism of my own biases as much as I do criticism of others.
Today is the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. In the 20 years since then, it has become easy to take freedom for granted. The idea that people would be imprisoned for pursuing their dreams and aspirations seems barbaric, and the idea that they would be shot for trying to see the rest of the world seems absurd. But 20 years is just an instant- one 200 millionth of the history of the Earth. For most of that time there were no people at all, of course. But the idea that our lives are ours to live as we please is a very recent development even when you only consider the 200,000 years that we have walked this Earth.

Sadly, communism does not appear to be as dead as it seemed to be headed in the early 1990’s. While military parades and red flags have fallen out of favor in most places, many of the fundamental ideas that made the Eastern Bloc so vile have become entrenched in Western culture. The left’s political correctness and the Right’s truthiness are both examples of communist style diktats demanding that the universe conform to a group’s bland paradigm.
Followup Tuesday, November 10: A very good summary of the history prior and subsequent to the fall at Just an Earth-Bound Misfit:
The preparation on both sides was deadly serious, as both sides regarded each other as the future enemy. The Western Berlin Garrison had a wartime mission that could be boiled down to two words: Die bravely. The NATO forces in Germany had a mission of to hang on until reinforcements could arrive (or things went nuclear). Both sides had enough chemical nerve agents to turn most of Europe into a dead zone. Life during the Cold War was to live with the knowledge, however much [one] wanted to bury it, that if things went horribly wrong, we all had less than an hour before civilization basically ended.
The Big Picture has a wonderful gallery of photos from the days around November 9, 1989, and celebrations and memorials from the last couple of days. Again, I'm struck by the expressions of various people- citizens and soldiers- of joy, confusion and dismay. For those who lived through it on site, it was truly a day the Universe changed. As I mentioned in a comment at EB Misfit's blog a little while ago, the event seems much more important and profound to me now than it did at the time.

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