“The biggest surprise of my life was freedom,” explained Angela Merkel after taking over as Germany’s Chancellor. “I expected the [Berlin] wall. I did not expect freedom,” she said in her first major address to the Bundestag.
Although Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democrats did unexpectedly poorly in the recent election, they defeated the ruling Social Democrats, allowing her to complete the transition from a physicist in communist East Germany in 1989 to the head of government of united Germany in 2005.
Necessary for that transformation was the fall of the Berlin Wall, a seemingly permanent fixture of international life. Until then millions of oppressed people throughout the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe could only yearn for freedom. They could not take it for granted, as in the West.
Being able to expect liberty is an obvious blessing, but in certain ways a dangerous one. For it is easy to forget how essential is freedom, and how many Americans died to win and protect liberty.
FOR NEARLY FOUR DECADES the Berlin Wall was the supreme symbol of totalitarianism, man’s utter inhumanity to man. Its genesis was World War II and the cataclysmic collision of the Nazi and communist tyrannies.
Germany’s defeat left that state divided between East and West. The Red Army could conquer national territory but not win human hearts: workers rose in East Berlin in 1953, only to be ground under Soviet tanks.
The chief alternative to political opposition was Republikflucht, or “republic flight.” Tens and often hundreds of thousands of residents of the workers’ paradise fled west every year. This was not only a supreme embarrassment to the self-proclaimed people’s representatives; it also constituted an economic disaster.
The so-called German Democratic Republic closed its border in 1952. But Berlin remained open under the occupation accords, allowing thousands of East Germans to continue to find freedom.
The GDR, backed by Moscow, finally had enough. On August 13, 1961 armed guards began stretching 96 miles of barbed wire around West Berlin. Over time the communist regime added concrete barriers, death strips, and automatic firing mechanisms.
The Wall was no bluff. The first attempted escapee was shot on August 24th; he was fished out of a canal alive.
Alas, many did not survive. On August 17, 1962 Peter Fechter, an 18-year-old brick-layer — he would now be 61 — was left to bleed to death, his pitiable cries for help heard in the west before East German guards carried his body off nearly an hour later.
Still, hope lived on among East Germans. Although at least 254 died trying to breach the Berlin Wall, with another 700 were killed elsewhere along the GDR’s boundary, more than 5,000 people succeeded in escaping. They used special autos, balloons, tunnels, gliders, and even mini-subs.
There never was a kinder, gentler East Germany. On February 5, 1989, nine months before the Wall fell, 20-year-old Chris Gueffroy was the last person murdered while trying to escape. He would now be 36.
NO SURPRISE, THEN, THAT ANGELA MERKEL did not expect freedom. Although communist systems varied in some ways — the GDR was a bit more prosperous, Hungary was a bit more relaxed, Yugoslavia was a bit more independent — all yielded repression and poverty. Many delivered assembly-line murder.
The picture painted by Stephane Courtois in The Black Book of Communism and R.J. Rummel in Death by Government is one of endless horror. Although casualty figures are uncertain and some estimates vary widely, as many as 75 million people were murdered by Mao Zedong and his criminal gang; Soviet dictators, led by the monstrous Joseph Stalin, killed at least 20 and perhaps 60 million.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?