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Twenty-Eight Years Since the Fall of the Berlin Wall

 

Twenty-eight years ago today my bride and I arrived home from buying software for our Commodore 64  (Yeah, it is that long ago.) and watched stunned after we turned on the tv as we saw East Germans dancing on top of the Berlin War, tearing into it with sledge hammers.   It is hard to convey to people who did not live through the Cold War how wonderful a sight this was.  Most people at the time thought the Cold War was a permanent state of things.  Not Ronald Wilson Reagan.  He knew that Communism would end up on the losing side of history and throughout his career strove to bring that day ever closer.  His becoming President so soon after John Paul II became Pope set the stage for the magnificent decade of the Eighties when Communism passed from being a deadly threat to the globe to a belief held only by a handful of benighted tyrannical regimes around the world, and crazed American professors.  In most of his movies, the good guys won in the end, and Reagan helped give us a very happy ending to a menace that started in 1917 and died in 1989.

 

 

Here is an interview Sam Donaldson did with Reagan immediately after the fall of the wall:

Lech Walesa, a leader of that band of millions of heroes and heroines, at the head of which were Pope John Paul II and President Ronald Reagan, who won the Cold War, gave this salute to Reagan after Reagan died in 2004:

 

 

When talking about Ronald Reagan, I have to be personal. We in Poland took him so personally. Why? Because we owe him our liberty. This can’t be said often enough by people who lived under oppression for half a century, until communism fell in 1989.Poles fought for their freedom for so many years that they hold in special esteem those who backed them in their struggle. Support was the test of friendship. President Reagan was such a friend. His policy of aiding democratic movements in Central and Eastern Europe in the dark days of the Cold War meant a lot to us. We knew he believed in a few simple principles such as human rights, democracy and civil society. He was someone who was convinced that the citizen is not for the state, but vice-versa, and that freedom is an innate right.I often wondered why Ronald Reagan did this, taking the risks he did, in supporting us at Solidarity, as well as dissident movements in other countries behind the Iron Curtain, while pushing a defense buildup that pushed the Soviet economy over the brink. Let’s remember that it was a time of recession in the U.S. and a time when the American public was more interested in their own domestic affairs. It took a leader with a vision to convince them that there are greater things worth fighting for. Did he seek any profit in such a policy? Though our freedom movements were in line with the foreign policy of the United States, I doubt it.President Reagan, in a radio address from his ranch on Oct. 9, 1982, announces trade sanctions against Poland in retaliation for the outlawing of Solidarity.I distinguish between two kinds of politicians. There are those who view politics as a tactical game, a game in which they do not reveal any individuality, in which they lose their own face. There are, however, leaders for whom politics is a means of defending and furthering values. For them, it is a moral pursuit. They do so because the values they cherish are endangered. They’re convinced that there are values worth living for, and even values worth dying for.

Otherwise they would consider their life and work pointless. Only such politicians are great politicians and Ronald Reagan was one of them.The 1980s were a curious time — a time of realization that a new age was upon us. Communism was coming to an end. It had used up its means and possibilities. The ground was set for change. But this change needed the cooperation, or unspoken understanding, of different political players. Now, from the perspective of our time, it is obvious that like the pieces of a global chain of events, Ronald Reagan, John Paul II, Margaret Thatcher and even Mikhail Gorbachev helped bring about this new age in Europe. We at Solidarity like to claim more than a little credit, too, for bringing about the end of the Cold War.In the Europe of the 1980s, Ronald Reagan presented a vision. For us in Central and Eastern Europe, that meant freedom from the Soviets. Mr. Reagan was no ostrich who hoped that problems might just go away. He thought that problems are there to be faced. This is exactly what he did.Every time I met President Reagan, at his private estate in California or at the Lenin shipyard here in Gdansk, I was amazed by his modesty and even temper. He didn’t fit the stereotype of the world leader that he was. Privately, we were like opposite sides of a magnet: He was always composed; I was a raging tower of emotions eager to act. We were so different yet we never had a problem with understanding one another. I respected his honesty and good humor. It gave me confidence in his policies and his resolve. He supported my struggle, but what unified us, unmistakably, were our similar values and shared goals.* * *

I have often been asked in the United States to sign the poster that many Americans consider very significant. Prepared for the first almost-free parliamentary elections in Poland in 1989, the poster shows Gary Cooper as the lonely sheriff in the American Western, “High Noon.” Under the headline “At High Noon” runs the red Solidarity banner and the date — June 4, 1989 — of the poll. It was a simple but effective gimmick that, at the time, was misunderstood by the Communists. They, in fact, tried to ridicule the freedom movement in Poland as an invention of the “Wild” West, especially the U.S.But the poster had the opposite impact: Cowboys in Western clothes had become a powerful symbol for Poles. Cowboys fight for justice, fight against evil, and fight for freedom, both physical and spiritual. Solidarity trounced the Communists in that election, paving the way for a democratic government in Poland. It is always so touching when people bring this poster up to me to autograph it. They have cherished it for so many years and it has become the emblem of the battle that we all fought together.As I say repeatedly, we owe so much to all those who supported us. Perhaps in the early years, we didn’t express enough gratitude. We were so busy introducing all the necessary economic and political reforms in our reborn country. Yet President Ronald Reagan must have realized what remarkable changes he brought to Poland, and indeed the rest of the world.  And I hope he felt gratified. He should have.

Lech Walesa

 

The thirst for freedom that the hand of God places in each human soul can be held down by force for a time, but it never can be killed forever.

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

10 Comments

  1. I also remember watching them tear the wall down on TV. There was a baby shower going on in the front of the house and the men were all in the back watching the TV. I was newly out of college and my retired Great Uncle was with us. He was an engineer born in Germany. I knew next to nothing about his history. He designed the landing gear for the B16s bomber. He was smart and very knowledgeable. I asked him what he thought of the changes. He thought it was great and amazing. I asked him when he was last there. He said he went back to Hamburg a couple of years before to visit his mother. He casually mentioned that “it had changed a lot with the war and all.” I asked him when was he last there? He said 1922. So he missed the whole Nazi problem, WW2 and the Cold War. He was an patriotic American.

  2. St. Pope JPII – Ronald Regan – Lech Walesa
    Amazing Grace in action.

    “Did he seek any profit in such a policy? Though our freedom movements were in line with the foreign policy of the United States, I doubt it.President Reagan, in a radio address from his ranch on Oct. 9, 1982, announces trade sanctions against Poland in retaliation for the outlawing of Solidarity.I distinguish between two kinds of politicians. There are those who view politics as a tactical game, a game in which they do not reveal any individuality, in which they lose their own face. There are, however, leaders for whom politics is a means of defending and furthering values. For them, it is a moral pursuit. They do so because the values they cherish are endangered. They’re convinced that there are values worth living for, and even values worth dying for.”

    Thanks Donald for this post.
    Good for the heart and soul.

  3. I remember this day well. It was a Friday. I was working in DC and went to my grandmother’s for the weekend. As western Pennsylvania is a 4 1/2 hour drive from the Baltimore/DC corridor, I got there kinda late. The network TV stations all were covering the events……except the NBC station from Steubenville, Ohio (36 miles west of Pittsburgh and the hometown of Dean Martin and Jimmy “the Greek” Snyder) was carrying the tape delay broadcast of the Steubenville High School Big Red football playoff game.
    That is Steubenville for you.

    The fall of the Communist regimes in Central Europe has not been sufficiently studied or written about in my opinion. Hollywood has ignored it because it does not fit what Hollywood wants to shove down our throats. Academia is probably still in mourning over the collapse of the USSR.

    The Visegrad Group was all part of the remains of the Hapsburg Empire 100 years ago and had a very short lived independent period before Hitler and Stalin.

    The spirit of the people of Poland is unstoppable. Walesa’s words are evidence of that. Poland became a nation at the same time it accepted the Catholic faith in 966 and unlike Western Europe, the Poles have never abandoned their faith. God, honor, country.

    In one year, Poland will celebrate it’s 100th anniversary of its reestablishment as a nation and as a republic. The significance of this is, I think, not lost on anyone in Poland and not on much of Polonia either,

  4. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s reaction was less enthusiastic: “We beat the Germans twice, and now they’re back.” She also feared feared that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev would be destabilized by reunification, in which she was right.

    M. Mitterrand, too, was sceptical. Over lunch in the Elysee Palace on January 20, 1990, Mitterrand warned Thatcher that reunification would result in Germany gaining more European influence than Hitler ever had. His gloomy forecasts included a return of the “bad” Germans, according to previously secret notes made by Thatcher’s foreign policy adviser, Charles Powell.

    As Zhou Enlai said, when asked what he thought of the French Revolution – “It’s too soon to tell.”

  5. I don’t remember it– in fact, we boggled a teacher who mentioned it, and got a sea of blank faces. (Ditto the teacher who was a runner-up for the Challenger mission.)

  6. She also feared feared that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev would be destabilized by reunification, in which she was right.

    No, she wasn’t. The Soviet Union did not dissolve because there was one fewer Germanophone state in Europe, but because it was an assemblage of incongruous parts which went their own way quite naturally once the apparatus of coercion holding them together was dismantled. The Red Army etc had applied tremendous coercion in 1918-22 when the imperial periphery had attempted to leave and in 1939-40 vindictively stomped on the one bit of the periphery which had succeeded in leaving after the 1st World War.

    M. Mitterrand, too, was sceptical. Over lunch in the Elysee Palace on January 20, 1990, Mitterrand warned Thatcher that reunification would result in Germany gaining more European influence than Hitler ever had. His gloomy forecasts included a return of the “bad” Germans, according to previously secret notes made by Thatcher’s foreign policy adviser, Charles Powell.

    Hitler had enough ‘influence’ during the period running from January 1933 to March 1939 to conquer every piece of Germanophone territory in Europe bar the scattered bits which ran from Hungary out to the Volga, some municipalities in South Tyrol, Alsace-Lorraine, and Danzig. Danzig was a de facto German dependency by 1935. He did all this and in addition effectively abrogated the Versailles Treaty provisions on German disarmament without firing a shot. Frau Merkel’s managed to generate a law enforcement problem with her political signaling, but that’s because Eurotrash political elites are hopeless. Any country with the stones to defend its borders has managed to block that immivasion. Earlier German ministries were crucial in bringing the Euro to fruition. But, again, that banked on the foolishness of other parties. European states which had the sense to stay out of the Euro didn’t get burned by it.

  7. She also feared feared that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev would be destabilized by reunification, in which she was right.

    No, she wasn’t. The Soviet Union did not dissolve because there was one fewer Germanophone state in Europe, but because it was an assemblage of incongruous parts which went their own way quite naturally once the apparatus of coercion holding them together was dismantled. The Red Army etc had applied tremendous coercion in 1918-22 when the imperial periphery had attempted to leave and in 1939-40 vindictively stomped on the one bit of the periphery which had succeeded in leaving after the 1st World War.

    M. Mitterrand, too, was sceptical. Over lunch in the Elysee Palace on January 20, 1990, Mitterrand warned Thatcher that reunification would result in Germany gaining more European influence than Hitler ever had. His gloomy forecasts included a return of the “bad” Germans, according to previously secret notes made by Thatcher’s foreign policy adviser, Charles Powell.

    Hitler had enough ‘influence’ during the period running from January 1933 to March 1939 to conquer every piece of Germanophone territory in Europe bar the scattered bits which ran from Hungary out to the Volga, some municipalities in South Tyrol, Alsace-Lorraine, and Danzig. Danzig was a de facto German dependency by 1935. He did all this and in addition effectively abrogated the Versailles Treaty provisions on German disarmament without firing a shot. Frau Merkel’s managed to generate a law enforcement problem with her political signaling, but that’s because Eurotrash political elites are hopeless. Any country with the stones to defend its borders has managed to block that immivasion. Earlier German ministries were crucial in bringing the Euro to fruition. But, again, that banked on the foolishness of other parties. European states which had the sense to stay out of the Euro didn’t get burned by it.

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