J.C. Peters

5 November 2009

reagan berlin wall

IN NOVEMBER 1989, weeks -days even- after the Berlin Wall had fallen, my brother went on a week long excursion to Berlin with his history class. Senior year, 18 years old, traveling from Holland to Berlin, Germany, where it was all happening. The Germans, who never partied, never did anything spontaneous, who always maintained law and order, suddenly found themselves throwing the party of the decade, without having organized as much as a bar and a band.


People took to the streets, bringing beer and champagne, laughed, talked, hugged total strangers. Flower Power in Germany, all in the middle of a particularly rugged autumn. So, chaos, party, action and a fun demolition to boot. And while I had to watch it on television with my parents, my brother was actually there. Not sure if I've ever been more jealous about something.


I also remember President Reagan, giving a speech some two years earlier in (then still) West-Berlin, in front of the Brandenburger Tor, saying "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" It's probably one of the most defining one liners of Reagan's Presidency. Standing there all brave and determined (well, in a senior citizen kind of way), challenging that most reasonable of all Soviet leaders. I never thought much of it back then, but lately I've started seeing it in a different light.


Of course it was an actor's line, and one like no other President could have delivered the way actor Ronald could. In the days leading up to the speech, aides advised Reagan to scrap it from the speech, because it might jeopardize his - otherwise promising- relationship with Mr. Gorbachev. But how could he have ever even considered it? It would be the line of his life, spoken right there in front of the Berlin Wall, that San Andreas fault of world politics.


And so he did.


Did saying it really change the world? Did it really 'tear down The Wall'? It's tempting to think so, and many still do. How it emboldened the East-German people to fiercer resistance and louder voices of dissent. One argument sustaining this, is the apparent hope of today's Iranian protesters, to receive the same sort of support from President Obama in their struggle for freedom. At recent anti-government rallies, many of them could be heard chanting: "Obama, Obama — either you’re with them or you’re with us". They realize they can't expect much more than verbal support, but it would still be more than they've gotten so far.


To be sure, after you unravel all the bullshit, there really isn't much difference between Communism and Islamism. Both ideologies use supposedly supreme principles, leaders and rituals to suppress people into obedience, and worse.


And though I know it's early days, I can't resist thinking about the one liner that will define President Obama's Presidency. Will it be "Yes we can!" (but we never did). Or something more like: "Mr Ahmadinejad, tear down this dictatorship!"


My brother did bring me back something from his school trip to Berlin in November 1989. It was a small piece from That Wall. I still have it.