Let fall of Berlin Wall inspire us to stop building partisan walls
On the morning of Nov. 9, 1989, my wife awakened in her West Berlin, Germany hospital room following surgery to the repetitive uttered disbelief of her German roommate, "Das kann nicht sein!" ("It cannot be!"). Upon asking what cannot be, my wife learned that sometime during the previous evening one of the darkest symbols of human oppression, the Berlin Wall, came crumbling down.
Having gotten the kids off to school that same morning, I headed to my office on the Kudamm, West Berlin’s main thoroughfare. However, upon hearing the news on the car radio, I rerouted toward the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate where, not too many months before, President Ronald Reagan implored Soviet President Gorbachev to "tear down this wall."
The Wall arched around the Brandenburg Gate, pressing into West Berlin. The East Germans had constructed it to create an overhang, intentionally designed so that anyone trying to escape the East would have to cross this elevated horizontal plane, becoming a clearer target for East German sniper bullets.
Instead, on this morning, the overhang was populated with West Germans (most with beers in hand) calling to their East German brethren to come and join them in the celebration that was about to erupt. It was a seminal moment in history where the individual triumphed over the repressive state; where the indomitable will of the human spirit to be free overwhelmed the lie that was totalitarianism.
The background to the event was part hard work, part luck, pure genius, and flawless execution. Financially, the Soviet Union was bankrupt. Aware of this, President Reagan played his hand, informing Gorbachev that the United States was proceeding with the SDI (Space Defense Initiative), positioning satellites in orbit around Earth that could train lasers anywhere on our planet.
Knowing that the Soviets could no longer compete, Gorbachev was forced down the road of peace, or "Glasnost." Soon after this epiphany, Gorbachev came to East Berlin to inform then East German Prime Minister Erich Honecker and to warn him that if the East Germans continued to train their muzzles on the people, the Soviet Union would not support them.
In one fell swoop, East Germany was defanged, declawed and relegated to the status of a paper tiger. Honecker, a hard liner, took it badly. Had he elected to "go rogue," he could have risked bloodshed up to and including a confrontation between the world's two superpowers.
Faced with the cold facts, Honecker resigned himself to the inevitable. The order to shoot-to-kill ceased and, gratefully, not one life was lost. When the word got out that bullets would not fly, chaos and confusion reigned in the East and, over the course of the evening, the East German guards simply walked off the job. People began migrating across the border crossings. It wasn’t long before this trickle become a human torrent. There was no going back; it was awesome!
(Interesting to note that as they flooded into West Berlin, the East Germans wiped out the following, in this order: 1. Books; 2. Fruits and Vegetables; 3. Sekt (German sparkling wine).
That we celebrated Veterans Day in 2019 shortly after the 30th anniversary of the Fall of the Wall was not lost on me. As a former American expatriate, it was both gratifying and humbling to know the enormous role that the United States has played defending freedom in the world and, particularly in the ultimate emancipation of the German people, their nation and that great city.
Moreover, I was proud that by living in what effectively was an island (the Wall not only divided East and West Berlin, but continued around the entirety of West Berlin isolating it from Communist East Germany and the rest of the world), my family and I were doing our part to support and foster that freedom and, more importantly, honor those Americans who died defending it. It is a freedom that too many of us take for granted.
So, on the heels of the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and Veterans Day, and as we move past the great American tradition that is Thanksgiving and into that crazy quilt of the commercial, secular and spiritual that is a U.S. Christmas, my prayer and hope is that we find the resolve to transcend the partisan, self-serving political hatred and bickering that has for too long punctuated our government and torn our nation apart.
The zealots need only to heed the motto, "E pluribus Unum" on the Great Seal of the United States of America. It means, out of many, one; not the other way around. We must return to our basic values of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
I pray that our obsession with the material gives way to the more honorable calling of family, morality, education of our children, mutual respect, tolerance and independent thinking. I yearn that we again seek the greater reward of higher aspirations as opposed to the more immediate comfort of least common denominator and that God, once again, becomes central to our human existence.
I dream of and hope for a press that respects the innate intellect of the American public and returns to reporting the news, and not spinning it according to a political agenda. I crave the emergence of capable, moral, ethical leaders who are better legislators than they are campaigners and who understand that whether you are the president or a local official, petulance, self-interest and indifference are outside of the job description.
I pray fervently for a country that I have been blessed to be born in and love.
That may seem like a tall order, but it is well within our grasp. The true American spirit is not defined by “das kann nicht sein” (what cannot be) but, as we have demonstrated so many times over history, by “vas kann sein” — what can be!
Louis Camerota lives in Waterford and is a sales manager with BMW of New London.
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