Monday, November 09, 2009

Just another word for nothing left to lose?

When I was sixteen years old, I spent half a summer on a foreign exchange program. It was a big deal for me at the time- the first time I spent more than a fortnight away from my folks, the first time left the USA, the first time I drank beer and got tear-gassed. And the first week of that trip involved a rail trip to West Berlin.

It was an overnight train, and when we crossed the DDR border, they stopped the train, pulled us out of our bunks, and checked our passports and visas in the dead of night. The border guards were not friendly men, and when my friend Rahul had an irregularity with his visa, things got a little bit nervewracking. In the end they decided to let him stay on the train, and we spent the next 5 days in the walled city, with an excursion into the East on the final day.

We spent one morning staring into the empty no-man’s –land of Potzdamer Platz, and another afternoon leaving the haunted exhibits of the Reichstag museum, walking down a neglected stretch of the wall, and turning back towards the living part of the city after reaching the barrier in front of the Brandenberg Gate.

While there, we attended a history lesson given by a local college professor. In his closing statement to us, he said, “I don’t know if I will ever see the end of it, but hopefully in your lifetimes the wall will come down.”

Four months later it was gone.

Today is the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. In te 20 years since then, it has become easy to take freedom for granted. The idea that people would be imprisoned for pursuing their dreams and aspirations seems barbaric, and the idea that they would be shot for trying to see the rest of the world seems absurd. But 20 years is just an instant- one 200 millionth of the history of the Earth. For most of that time there were no people at all, of course. But the idea that our lives are ours to live as we please is a very recent development even when you only consider the 200,000 years that we have walked this Earth.

Sadly, communism does not appear to be as dead as it seemed to be headed in the early 1990’s. While military parades and red flags have fallen out of favor in most places, many of the fundamental ideas that made the Eastern Bloc so vile have become entrenched in Western culture. The left’s political correctness and the Right’s truthiness are both examples of communist style diktats demanding that the universe conform to a group’s bland paradigm. The brutal treatment of “persons of interest” in the name of security is horrifying. And the slow and steady nibbling of little rights by zoning boards, risk managers, and lazy regulations is depressing.

But today is a day to put all those little things in perspective. To look back on the days of the cold war and celebrate just how far we’ve come towards being a unified pale blue dot for our brief stay here on planet Earth.

1 comment:

Chris Phoenix said...

I posted a hat-tip and some further musings here...