Sunday, November 8, 2009

Berlin and Moral Certainty

Tomorrow, November 9, marks 20 years since the Berlin Wall came down. The wall stood for 28 years and was the most potent symbol of the separation between the free world and the Soviet Bloc. This anniversary means more to me than some others, perhaps, because I worked in Communist Eastern Europe from 1979-82, and I spent a lot of time in East Germany and Berlin.

The Soviets caused plenty of difficulty prior to erecting the wall, such as totally blockading West Berlin in 1948 and necessitating the Berlin Airlift (at its peak, more than 1,300 flights per day were bringing in supplies). But the Wall itself drew the battle lines more closely and tangibly than ever in the Cold War.

As I view the Berlin speeches of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, I am struck by the moral certainty in their text (and demeanor). To them, there was no question as to the superiority of the free world and the leadership role of America. There was no equivocation. You can check out their speeches for yourself. Reagan's is particularly moving and worth the full 25 minutes.

Kennedy in 1963, two years after the wall was erected, separating East and West Berlin:

Ronald Reagan in 1987, two years before the wall came down:

And then there's Barack Obama, on the campaign trail in Berlin, 2008. Do you hear a difference?

Unfortunately, our President is too busy to go to Berlin tomorrow for the commemoration. Apparently, it does not rise to the importance of an Olympic bid, so he's sending Hillary.

Meanwhile, if you'd like to know more about the Berlin Wall, its construction, life, and final demise, you'll find no shortage of videos on YouTube. Simply enter these search terms (or click on these links): "Berlin Wall" or "Berliner Mauer."