Monday, November 9, 2009

Berlin Wall and Bad History

Today is the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. By now you've probably heard Ronald Reagan's famous "tear down this wall!" speech on the news a few dozen times. What you might not know, and what author Will Bunch explains in his book/deconstruction of the Reagan years, "Tear Down This Myth", was that Reagan's Wall speech was aimed less at "Mr. Gorbachev" and more at his conservative critics at home who feared the Gipper had gone soft on the Reds, you know, negotiating nuclear arms reduction treaties with them and all that...

Expect to hear a fair bit of misinterpreted history over the next few days as every news magazine, paper and cable outlet does their own Berlin Wall recap. I stumbled across this piece by George Packer in the New Yorker: "Communism Collapsed, Is Iran Next?", where Mr. Packer talks about Communism being consigned to the "ash heap of history" - something which must come as news to the 1.3 billion Chinese currently living under a Communist government. In fact Beijing just commemorated the 60th anniversary of Communist rule with great fanfare, and despite the free market trappings and luxury cars in the streets of Shanghai, China is still very much a centrally-ruled country, just as the Soviet Union once was.

Meanwhile, Mr. Gorbachev used the anniversary to plead with world leaders to tear down a wall of a different sort, Gorbachev said that the governments of the world must unite now to take on climate change. He draws a parallel between the global security threat the world faced 20 years ago and the one posed by a changing climate today. And just as few thought 20 years ago that the Wall would ever come down, he argues meaningful progress can be made in tackling the causes of climate change and addressing the gap between the world's rich and poor if people and governments are willing to commit to taking action.

Finally, for a personal view of the time surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall, and an excellent movie to boot, check out the film "Goodbye Lenin!"
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