Today is the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall — an event which marked the beginning of the end of the Iron Curtain, the Cold War, and the divisions between Eastern and Western Europe. Germany commemorated the day with a tremendous celebration attended by the heads of state of Germany, Russia, France, and Great Britain and thousands of German citizens. The United States was represented at the event by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a videotaped address from President Obama.
The fall of the Berlin Wall is an extraordinarily memorable historical milestone. Anyone who grew up during the Cold War, as I did, recognized the Wall as an iconic physical symbol of the fundamental differences between democracy and communism, freedom and repression. The Wall was a ready, irrefutable response whenever the supposed accomplishments of the Soviet Union were touted. There was no more powerful evidence of the grim reality of the failed Soviet system than a wall built by a government not to keep others out, but to keep its own citizens in.
Still, the barrier of ugly grey concrete, marred by graffiti, harshly lit by spotlights and patrolled by armed soldiers and dogs, seemed permanent — until the day it wasn’t. The scenes of Germans East and West scrambling up the Wall and over it, dancing, shouting, weeping with joy, besotted with the heady taste of freedom after so many years of separation, are unforgettable to anyone who witnessed them. It was a day that deserves to be remembered and celebrated — as the many attendees at today’s festivities in Berlin, including the head of the Russian government, clearly recognized.
I also stand by what I wrote several weeks ago: I think President Obama exercised poor judgment by not attending in person. I found myself wondering what he is doing instead of joining in the ceremonies, and found his daily schedule for today here. The White House website has a “photo of the day” that shows the President sitting alone, reading, in the Rose Garden. (I’ve attached the photo to this posting.) Was he really doing something so important that he could not leave Washington, D.C.? Would it really have been so difficult for him to travel to Berlin on such an auspicious occasion, which was brought about in significant part by America’s steadfast support for freedom, and opposition to Soviet tyranny, over a period of four decades?