Saturday, 11-9-19 will mark the 30 year anniversary of when the Berlin Wall came down. That marked the end of communism as we knew it. The Cold War was finally over.
I grew up during the Cold War. For many, a distant, hard to understand, alien concept. Not for those of us trained as elementary school kids on how to survive a nuclear attack. Imagine being shown films of mass destruction as a young child and being told that standing inside a door frame or under your desk could protect you. Imagine neighbors building bomb shelters in their own backyards to ward off the end of the world.
This was not a science fiction movie. This was not Hollywood. This was real life. And if truth was told, we apparently came close to the brink far more times than anyone wanted to admit.
I was 18 when I traveled on a six week University whirlwind European trip. I saw first-hand what it meant to live in countries dominated by dictators, tyrants and bullies. Some considered benevolent – like Tito, in Yugoslavia, until his death in 1980, to the brutal rule in a country marked by the division of a wall. No matter the term, they all sought one purpose- to control and subjugate their citizens. That was what we called “the Iron Curtain”. An impenetrable demarcation line dividing democracy from totalitarian regimes. Equally as insurmountable as the concrete wall erected in Berlin, separating loved ones in the middle of the night. Living on the wrong side defined your life.
Only the U.S. stood out as a beacon, denouncing anything but freedom for all. Even when our own country was fraught with divisiveness over the Vietnam war and civil rights movement. The difference? Regardless of our strife, our perspectives or our perceived path forward, we always strove for unity. A road ahead that would converge not diverge from all our common goals- to achieve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for everyone.
Our fore fathers knew there would be immense and unforeseen changes ahead, but the premise would never alter. That has always kept us from faltering too far, for too long, down a rabbit hole without recovery.
At 18, I shouted slogans against the aggressors of the day, never truly understanding the incredible right I had to say such things. It wasn’t until I crossed multiple sealed borders of Yugoslavia, Eastern Germany into West Berlin that I, or any of the other college students had a taste of what tyranny and suppression really meant. It wasn’t until we walked across the “no man’s land” filled with crosses of those willing to die for their right to cross unhindered from check point Charlie, into East Berlin. It wasn’t until I let go of the fierce hold I had on my U.S. passport upon returning to the color and vibrancy of West Berlin, that I realized the precious gift we were really fighting for back home. That hand print indelibly stamped on an old passport still serves as a reminder that freedom is a hard fought, constant struggle we can’t ignore.
Every attack takes its toll and winnows away a piece until nothing is left. I never thought I’d see the Soviet Union break up, or the Berlin Wall come down. As a child hiding under the desk to survive a nuclear holocaust, I never thought such change could actually occur in my lifetime. But it did. Three decades ago!
We think change should be permanent. We lament having to fight for the same things over and over and over again. We grow tired and fear the mantle won’t be passed to our youth. That all the hard-won prizes will be lost to a history, never read or acknowledged. But that’s evolution. Two steps forward, one step back. We just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
My daughter never learned how to protect herself from a nuclear bomb. But she learned an equally sobering message at age 11- the attacks on the New York World Trade Centers. It’s a fight that can’t be ignored, eased upon, or rewritten. Threats against freedom and truth require a never ending, vigilante, and constant willingness to defend at all costs. The Cold War ended because it became impossible to enslave a population and feed it lies that nothing better existed in an age of world wide communication. It became too easy to see the truth through the garbage spewed.
November 9, 2019, is a special day that most people will never acknowledge. Like most things in life, it’s the behind the scenes, unknown warriors that fight the daily battles protecting our way of life. Their endless and persistent struggles keep our freedoms alive. When such a wall existed, the world was in jeopardy. All breathed a sigh of relief with its demise and finally hoped the future would bring peace and harmony.
When a wall built to manipulate peoples’ perspective can come tumbling down, it’s easier to believe truth will always win out. In the remnants of that horrifying structure, we will remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to ensure those freedoms. And those willing to fight to their last breath when they were denied.