Thursday, November 12, 2009

Of The Wall

In an article posted November 6 on foreignpolicy.com, contributing editor Christian Caryl blasts five myths about the fall of the Berlin Wall. It did not come down, Caryl argues, because of the C.I.A. or the K.G.B. It was not all about economics, nor was it inevitable. And there is one more myth, an article of faith within the Repub Party, and rarely questioned in the mainstream media. To get the explanation, we go to our favorite dissembler, Rush Limbaugh, who on Monday claimed

Today does mark the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall starting to come down. It was midnight 20 years ago that East Germans were allowed to travel past the wall from East Berlin and West Berlin, and exercise their freedoms. When Ronald Reagan demanded of Gorbachev in 1987, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," it came true, two years later on this date. President Reagan is all but forgotten, it seems, in media coverage of this event.

Mr. Caryl, however, explains

On June 12, 1987, in front of the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin, Reagan issued a challenge to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to make good on his promises of liberalization. "Come here, to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" Reagan's supporters claim that this speech played a key role in sparking the events of 1989, but there's little evidence to back this up.

In fact, Reagan's words left little obvious imprint on the thinking of dissidents behind the Iron Curtain. The opposition movements in East Germany and Czechoslovakia were more peacenik than Grand Old Party; in Poland, Solidarity activists already had their own pope as a moral beacon. Neither the Washington Post nor the New York Times even ran Reagan's speech on the front page. Some Reaganites tended to regard the speech as a grand bit of political theater, intended mainly for consumption back home, with limited real-world repercussions. Reagan's own national security advisor, Frank Carlucci, later recalled thinking, "It's a great speech line. But it will never happen."

And in West Berlin itself -- where the late-1980s population included a disproportionate number of Greens and counterculture refugees from West Germany's draft -- the applauders were outnumbered by the rioters, who chose to protest against Reagan's conservative policies rather than applaud his chutzpah. If anything, it was Reagan's willingness, throughout most of his second term, to meet Gorbachev halfway that helped the Soviet leader back away from the use of force -- an achievement that led British journalist Victor Sebestyen to dub Reagan "America's Leading Dove."


If Ronald Reagan “is all but forgotten…. In media coverage of this event,” think of how Harry S. Truman, Dwight David Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush must feel (or would, in the case of the deceased) upon being neglected. Every American president contributed to the ultimate disintegration of the Iron Curtain, aided by the oft-derided MAD (mutually assured destruction) policy and, as appropriate, conciliatory outreach. And that’s without consideration of Solidarity’s Lech Walesa, Pope John Paul II, and the major contributor, Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

So it’s not a media conspiracy against the Republican Party, though Limbaugh, ever claiming the GOP as victim, would like to mislead his audience into thinking otherwise. Nor should correction of this myth be of interest merely to historians and academicians. Young adults of today were much younger, or not even alive, during the Reagan Administration and are a ripe target for the disinformation spread by Rush Limbaugh and his fellow propagandists.

1 comment:

Dan said...

so is Kennedy given too much credit for saying we will land on the moon by the end of the decade? i don't think people simply assume that Reagan saying to tear down the wall or Kennedy saying get to the moon just made it happen. Rather it was their policies and the tone they set: "if anything, it was Reagan's willingness, throughout most of his second term, to meet Gorbachev halfway that helped the Soviet leader back away from the use of force"

Of course the Russian's had internal factors that led to the decision. Still, Reagan largely made the right moves in his Soviet policies and rejected the recommendations of advisers (such as Powell) who said not to say that. Every president gets too much or too little credit depending on one's point of view.

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