Alec Weisman, Editor-in-Chief
On November 9th, 2009 the College Republicans at UCSD commemorated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall by building their own wall and displaying it prominently on Library Walk, the main walkway on campus. On the Eastern side were facts and figures about the evils of communism, as well as quotes by well known communist leaders. The Western side was available for people to demonstrate the free expression of ideas by allowing students to spray paint it.
I’m including the article that will be printed in the issue of the California Review that will be available tomorrow.
Also I have included a link for the pictures taken at the event:
A Celebration of Freedom
Inez Feltscher, Content Editor
Twenty years ago, on November 9th, 1989, the Berlin Wall – the concrete barrier that divided the Communist world from the free – was torn apart by East and West Berliners in a tearful reunion. The fall of the Wall represented a hope for freedom, which for East Germans, and the people in the Eastern Bloc, would have been unthinkable just a decade earlier.
In 1946, in a speech at Westminister College in Missouri, Winston Churchill spoke prophetically when he declared that the Soviet threat would be the next global conflict. “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an ‘iron curtain’ has descended across the Continent.” In 1961, the iron curtain became physically manifest in the form of the Berlin Wall, which encircled West Berlin and separated it from Communist East Berlin. For the next 28 years, the Wall became the defining symbol of Communist oppression to millions in the Eastern Bloc.
The Wall, officially called the “Anti-Fascist Bulwark” by the East German Communist government, was initially erected to stop the flood of emigration out of the GDR and into West Berlin, from which émigrés could continue on to anywhere in the free world. So many talented, intelligent and skilled people were leaving the GDR that the government feared a “brain drain” would deprive East Germany of all its bright young minds – those who were, or would become, the GDR’s teachers, engineers, doctors, lawyers, scientists and other important workers. The Wall was built, and corresponding statutes prohibiting emigration enacted, to try to stem the flow of refugees escaping from East Germany.
Initial constructions of the Wall went up in the middle of the night, and its consequences immediately came to bear on millions of ordinary East (and West) German citizens. Many families were split apart, prevented from visiting each other by the Wall, while others, who worked in West Berlin, merely lost their jobs and livelihoods.
But not all people were deterred from escaping the oppressive Communist regime in East Germany by the Wall’s armed guard towers, anti-vehicle strips, barbed wire, attack dogs and “fakir beds” of nails. During its 28 years in existence, over 5,000 people managed to escape over, through, or under the Berlin Wall, using a number of astoundingly creative methods. Successful attempts were made, among other techniques, by the following: jumping over the wall from nearby high-rise apartment buildings into nets on the Western side, flying narrowly over it in homemade ultralight airplanes, drifting over in hot air balloons, tunneling underneath the Wall, and escaping through pre-existing sewers. My personal favorite is a group of four who escaped by driving a specially-modified sports car at the barrier checkpoint, the windshield and roof of which was designed to come off easily upon impact with the guard rail. The four just lay flat and continued straight through into freedom.
On a more sobering note, not all escape attempts were successful, and failure often meant death at the hands of the border guards. An estimated 200 people attempted to cross, and died in their attempts. The most famous case of these was 18 year old Peter Fechter, who bled out from his bullet wounds in the so-called “death strip,” while people in the West could only look on in horror. Fechter’s death was captured and televised in the whole Western world by the onlooking media.
America’s response to the Berlin Wall was initially muted. Although the Wall violated the Potsdam agreements, which gave the Allies a voice in the government of all of Berlin, President Kennedy recognized the unfortunate reality of the situation – in 1961, the US was nowhere ready to go to war with the Soviet Union for the sake of the East Berliners and other Eastern peoples. This containment-style policy remained more or less in effect until, in 1987, President Ronald Reagan voiced, for the first time, the US’s loud and vigorous opposition to the tyranny that had been imposed on Berlin, and the entire Eastern Bloc, by the Soviet Union. In front of the Brandenburg Gate, he declared our intent to advocate for freedom everywhere, even in previously “untouchable” Soviet Eastern territories. “We believe that… the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace…. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity…if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”