On November 9, 1989, the Soviet Union announced—instructed by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev—a permanent change to the ban on the movement of East German citizens. The Cold War was finally coming to an end in one big way: those trapped in the East were now free to leave their communist captors. Starting at midnight, the citizens of the East were free to exit the country’s border (otherwise known as “the Berlin Wall”).
The physical personification of the oppression of the Soviet Union was the concrete wall that separated East and West Berlin. The Berlin Wall divided families, a city, a country, and the world. It stood between freedom in the West and captivity in the East.
Winston Churchill dubbed the ever-growing Soviet tyrant “the iron curtain”. The oppression and fear of an expanding authoritarian regime was a real and constant threat. Today, this era is just a remnant of history represented by a piece of concrete that stands on the grounds of Ronald Reagan’s Presidential Library.
Looking down upon the dry and sunny Simi Valley, California is a slab with colorful flowers and graffiti painted on the side that faced the West. The bleak, grey, blank concrete side formerly stared down the East. It appears small and meaningless in the open California sky and surrounded by liberty of trade and movement that has reigned supreme for decades.
Communism has killed nearly 100 million people throughout the world. These deaths were due to starvation, genocide, torture, and those simply attempting to escape to liberty. Numbers are disputed, but anywhere from 80-1,000 people died attempting to cross the Berlin Wall. One study found records of 327 individuals killed by East German authorities as they attempted to cross into the West.
When the Cold War ended, many writers, philosophers, and political thinkers thought that the great political philosophy debate was over; classically liberal democracy (I.E. Western society) had won. Free, liberal systems had proven to be greater than the titan of oppression—the Soviet Union. But that euphoria soon passed and the world soon shown itself to be an imperfect, chaotic, and sometimes brutally harsh place.
Classical liberalism is still being opposed and people question if capitalism is really better. Those who risked their lives to escape communism in East Berlin prove something. West Berlin definitely wasn’t perfect, but sometimes imperfect freedom is worth risking your life for.
On midnight November 9, 1989, people flooded the streets of East Berlin and tore down that wall. The wall that represented destruction, misery, and death. So tonight, raise a beer in their honor… and make it German.