Saturday, November 8, 2014

And the Wall Came Tumbling DOOOOWWWWWWNNNNNNN!!!!!

This seemed a worthwhile lead in to a piece on the Berlin wall, since the Biblical account of the fall of Jericho and the archeological version of events seem to have some significant points of difference -- including the archeological evidence that the events of the Jewish captivity and subsequent Exodus from Egypt never took place. Twenty-five years ago tomorrow, November 9th, the Berlin wall came tumbling down.  That is, more or less -- mostly less. Badly educated Americans, at least some of them, have bought into the revisionist history/propaganda and mistakenly give credit for this event to Ronnie Ray-gun. They might as well give the credit to Ronald McDonald. The reality of the Reagan speech is very different than the myth. The Guardian newspaper in the UK does an excellent job of urban myth-busting:
From Reagan to Hasselhoff: 5 people who didn’t bring down the Berlin Wall From Ronald Reagan’s ‘tear down this wall’ speech to David Hasselhoff’s bizarre ‘looking for freedom’ serenade, countless urban myths have sprung up about who was really responsible for the fall of the wall. Do any have any merit? "...One popular theory says that while the collapse of the iron curtain may have looked inevitable, it took the intervention of some great minds to provide the crucial nudge. Never mind Polish trade unionists, Soviet politicians or East German dissidents, it was British and American politicians and popstars who made all the crucial interventions, right? 1) Ronald Reagan The words went down in history: “Mr Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” And lo and behold: soon after the US president Ronald Reagan had voiced his bold demand to the Soviet president in front of the Berlin wall, the borders opened. As John Heubusch, executive director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library, has put it: “One cannot ignore how [Reagan’s] powerful conviction ended the cold war by firing a verbal salvo, an oratorical demand to let freedom prevail.” But one also shouldn’t ignore that Reagan gave his speech on 12 June 1987, a good 29 months before the actual fall of the wall. And there is little evidence that it had much impact on the dynamics of the dissident movement in East Germany, or on Soviet politics at the time. Some 45,000 Berliners witnessed Reagan’s wall speech, compared to the 450,000 people who attended John F Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech in 1963 – in other western parts of the city, there were demonstrations against the US president’s visit. Coverage of the event was only published in the back pages of the major international papers. German weekly Die Zeit did not even quote his request to Gorbachev.
Reagan had made similar speeches before, in 1982 and 1986. The only new element was him addressing Gorbachev directly. Reagan had been losing support domestically, so this show of strength may above all have been directed at an American audience. In that respect, it undoubtedly did the job.
------------- It is unlikely that Gorbachev ever knew of the challenge Reagan nominally directed at him, in a blatant display of American-oriented political theater. Also, NO, the wall really didn't come down on November 9 1989; more on that in the Chicago Tribune piece. Gorbachev, NOT Reagan, was quite properly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990, for his courageous actions in the USSR/Russia and Europe. Kudos to the Chicago Tribune for consolidating some of the myths about the Berlin Wall, and then busting them. The entire piece deserves a widespread read. But to specifically address the part about Reagan :
Many Americans believe that Ronald Reagan's June 1987 speech in Berlin ("Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!") led to the wall's fall in 1989. However, Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms in the Soviet bloc were far more important than Reagan's speech, as were the actions of the East Germans themselves. When the wall started to fall on Nov. 9, it was a mistake. In the face of mass protests against the regime in 1989 and thousands of East Germans seeking refuge at West German embassies in Eastern Europe, East German leaders waived the old visa rules stating that citizens needed a pressing reason for travel, such as a funeral or wedding of a family member. East Germans would still have to apply for visas to leave the country, but they would supposedly be granted quickly and without any requirements. Yet the Communist Party official who announced these changes, Guenter missed most of the key meeting about the travel procedures and went unprepared to a news conference on Nov. 9. In response to reporters' questions about when the new law would take effect, he said, "Immediately, without delay." Schabowski left the impression that people could immediately cross the border, though he meant to say they could apply for visas in an orderly manner. Over the next several hours, thousands of East Berliners gathered at checkpoints along the wall. Since the country's leaders hadn't intended to completely open the border, the supervisors at the crossing points had received no new orders. The chief officer on duty at the Bornholmer Street checkpoint, Harald Jaeger, kept calling his superiors for guidance on how to handle the growing mass of increasingly angry East Berliners expecting to be let through. Jaeger finally gave up around 11:30 p.m. and allowed people to pass through en masse. Guards at other crossing points soon followed suit. The East German regime never fully regained control.
Don't expect the correct version of events to appear in any Tea Party school board dominated history books; they call it being un-American if you tell the truth.

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