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October 30, 2019

The wall

Opinion

October 30, 2019

Some anniversaries are less about the past than the future. So it should be with November 9, 1989. In case you've long forgotten, that was the day when East and West Germans began nonviolently dismantling the Berlin Wall, an entirely unpredicted, almost unimaginable ending to the long-entrenched Cold War.

Think of it as the triumph of idealistic hope over everything that then passed for hard-nosed "realism." After all, Western intelligence services, academic Kremlinologists, and the American national security establishment had always blithely assumed that the Cold War would essentially go on forever – unless the absolute malevolence of Soviet Communism led to the ultimate mayhem of nuclear Armageddon.

For almost half a century, only readily dismissed peaceniks insisted that, in the nuclear age, war and endless preparations for more of it were not the answer. When the Berlin Wall came down, such idealists were proven right, even if their triumph was still ignored.

Yet war-as-the-answer reasserted itself with remarkable rapidity. Within weeks of the Wall being breached by hope – in an era that saw savage conflicts in Central America, the Philippines, and South Africa transformed by a global wave of nonviolent resolution – the United States launched Operation Just Cause, the invasion of Panama by a combat force of more than 27,000 troops.

The stated purpose of that act of war was the arrest of Panama's tinhorn dictator Manuel Noriega, who had initially come to power as a CIA asset. That invasion's only real importance was as a demonstration that, even with global peace being hailed, the world's last remaining superpower remained as committed as ever to the hegemony of violent force.

While President George H W Bush rushed to claim credit for ending the Cold War, the Soviet Union's Mikhail Gorbachev was the lynchpin of that historic conclusion. It was he who, in the dramatic autumn of 1989, repeatedly ordered Communist forces to remain in their barracks while throngs of freedom-chanters poured into the streets of multiple cities behind the Iron Curtain. Instead of blindly striking out (as the leaders of crumbling empires often had), Gorbachev allowed democratic demands to echo through the Soviet empire – ultimately even in Russia itself.

Yet the American imagination was soon overtaken by the smug fantasy that the US had "won" the Cold War and that it was now a power beyond all imagining. Never mind that, in 1987, when President Ronald Reagan issued his famed demand in then still-divided Berlin, "Mister Gorbachev, tear down this wall," the Soviet leader was already starting to do precisely that.

As the wall came down, the red-scare horrors that had disturbed American dreams for three generations seemed to dissolve overnight, leaving official Washington basking in triumphalism.

Excerpted from: 'What the Dismantling of the Berlin Wall Means 30 Years Later'.

Commondreams.org