25 yrs after the Berlin Wall: Who really won the Cold War?
Back then we thought the world would never be at war again, as we thought the Iron Curtain would never obscure our potential again.
Two and a half decades later, and the generations have witnessed only a tenuous peace, and illusive economic gains. So today we must consider; “How could this be?” Here’s one attempt to explain our current state of affairs.
Let freedom ring
This anniversary of the “fall of the Wall” comes with a striking irony. In retrospect, for millions who dreamed of freedom, there’s only a hollow echoing chime highlighted by some balloon ceremonies in Berlin. Thinking back, I’m reminded of what President John F. Kennedy said in Berlin on 26 June, 1963. Most people my age remember his call for humanity to be one with Berlin: “Ich bin ein Berliner.” That poignant moment for Americans, it set the world firmly in German shoes back then. I quote from his speech, which some say was his greatest:
“Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was civis romanus sum ["I am a Roman citizen"]. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is "Ich bin ein Berliner!"... All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words "Ich bin ein Berliner!"
How could JFK have possibly known how his words that day would echo in time? What if he’d known his dream, our dream of peace would end that November 22nd in a hail of gunfire in Dallas? Today, many Americans have learned to miss the “Camelot” promised by JFK’s administration. We’ve been even more so disappointed since the perpetual wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere on around the globe since 1990. What JFK called “the greatest symbol of communism’s failure,” it’s clear it still divides us, only not as brick and mortar. This is easy to see, as easy as the legend of lost Camelot.
For those too young to remember, tales of post-World War II conflict seem distant. A dream of peace between West and East, it does not resonate today as it once did. This generation can only imagine the defectors and refugees desperate to escape a communist boot, clambering over a barbed wire topped wall past machine gun nests. Not many in the United States can grasp what an America-Eastern European integration meant for Moldovans, Romanians, Bulgarians, and others. Recent evidence of America and Western Europe manipulating for their own benefit other EU states come to light as the American administration refuses financial responsibility to Ukraine, heaping the financial burden onto Germany, and the rest of the EU. The Barack Obama-leveraged anti-Russian sanctions from the EU, these too would seem bent on counterproductive goals where Germany and the EU are concerned. As for the dignified way of life promised when the Wall fell? For most EU citizens the American dream is in many ways farther off than ever.
Taking a solemn look back at East and West Berliners, at capitalism and democracy in contrast to communism, the Berlin Wall fell not because of overt American or British intervention, but out of a deluge of hope by the people behind it. The Berlin Wall fell because of an American idealism evangelized by men like Kennedy, it’s true. People behind the Iron Curtain longed for what became known as the American dream. Unfortunately for the masses, it’s a revelation that the two-car garage and picket fences just don’t match the landscape in Zagreb, Tirana, or Bucharest. What does blend in with the landscape, the only tangible avatar of westernization we see dominating (besides blue jeans and McDonald’s franchises), is news of the spread of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). If Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s erecting the Berlin Wall was to keep the best and brightest in the Soviet Union, then NATO militarism’s spread can easily be seen keeping citizens within the western fold. Let’s face it, it’s impossible to defect from the western alliance once your military is solidly encamped.
Faster than any defector could run into West Berlin, even before the Wall fell, plans to expand the “allied” military arm eastward were carried out. No sooner had President Ronald Reagan’s promise NOT to expand NATO had passed earshot, western military influence spread to the borders of Russia. With the reunification of Germany in 1990, the so-called “Two Plus Four Agreement” had to be ratified by the original powers that occupied Germany at the end of WWII. This is significant because that agreement was made between the then Soviet Union, France, the UK, and the US contingent on NATO not being deployed further eastward. At least this is what then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev swears was agreed upon. We need not debate the validity of this claim, however. For now that NATO has pushed progressively to the doorstep of Moscow, threatening to spread to Ukraine just as it did the other Soviet Bloc nations as below:
• 1999 – Hungary, Czech Republic and Poland join NATO
• 2004 – Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia join
• 2008 – Ukraine and Georgia are told at the Bucharest Summit they can join
• 2009 – Albania and Croatia join
Watching former Soviet bloc nations join up to NATO, at the height of European recession, is an interesting exercise some laureate should undertake, too. Just after NATO held the Bucharest Summit mentioned above, that country was revealed as the hardest hit of all European nations economically. In the first half of 2009 it was revealed Romania’s trade deficit had plummeted, and unemployment was staggering. It’s fair to say here that NATO’s moves forward have not spelled prosperity for most European nations. Beyond the striking militarism the west has shown since 9/11, a Europe without an Iron Curtain is no better off financially, than with one.
Given the “Great Recession’s” impact on places like Greece, Spain, and even the UK, families in those countries are almost exactly where they were in 1989. This article by John Bingham in The Telegraph tells of middle class UK families having lost six full years to the recession. As for Greece, the middle class there was teleported financially back to the year 2000 income wise.
Zero Hedge contributor Phoenix Capital Research reported on the coming dissolution of the euro zone on the horizon just the other day. On the micro-level, a Romanian school teacher with 40 years’ tenure was forced this year to return to teaching to supplement a €250 euro a month pension. That tenured professional joins retired military colonels and other public servants who are beginning to think they were better off under Nicolae Ceaușescu. While some Bulgarians, Romanians, Moldovans and Croatians moved to greener pastures in Germany and in the UK over these 25 years, it’s clear UK and other leadership no long lays out the welcome mats.
What is the cost of a fading freedom?
I had envisioned a timeline here, a graphic to show how progress in Europe has really been received and perpetuated these last 25 years. However, with western mainstream media’s more recent onslaught against all Russia, it seems unlikely for me that historical perspective will “get it done” for convincing any reader. However, reading the Wall Street Journal on November 7, 2014 provided me with ample evidence to show just how divided Europe has been and is. Usually as Russophobic as MM gets, on this occasion the WSJ’s article entitled; “After Fall of Berlin Wall, German Reunification Came With a Big Price Tag,” it could not have been more relevant. For the cost of reuniting Germany, the ensuing years of preferential economic strategies with German bankers in mind, nations from Ireland to Romania have suffered a bitter disappointment.
For Germany to reinvent East Germany in 1990, as the WSJ author says; “take the stage as Europe’s political and economic centerpiece,” the monetary cost alone has been staggering. The article also mentions West German Finance Minister Theo Waigel’s being stupefied back then at how leadership even assumed the financial feasibility of reunification, without even planning for the long term. So back then, as now, we see western leadership as reactionary, rather than proactive. From Wall Street speculation in Greek bonds before the recent financial crisis, to the most recent sanctions levied on Russia by the US and her allies, it’s a small wonder western economies haven’t crumbled long before now. As for East Germany, 25 years after reunification and the economy there still lags behind the west. In fact, Germany as a whole is now suffering stagnation, after once having been Europe’s economic centerpiece.
The definition of winning
In 1989 in America we all cheered final victory in the Cold War. The evil Soviet empire President Reagan created a massive arms race challenge, that Soviet Union apparently went broke before the Star Wars initiative went into effect. As a proud member of the crew of USS Iowa myself, Mr. Reagan’s 600 ship navy was truly a sight to behold. From a personal perspective, the shipbuilding efforts on IOWA and the other navy shipbuilding projects from Spruance destroyers to Aegis cruisers, they put food on the tables of millions. Building Ohio class Trident submarines transformed coastal ghost towns into thriving resorts. Every town from San Diego to Pascagoula Mississippi, and around to Norfork, Virginia benefited.
Taking a look back now, I wonder “did America just buy some time?” Like the Romanian teacher who once cheered a waving American flag signaling a salvation of sorts, what of the American Afghanistan vet waiting hours in a VA hospital? I wonder quizzically; “Is he better off than a Russian Afghanistan vet?" There’s another Pulitzer piece for you. This leads me to wonder too, “who really won the Cold War?” Right now it seems Russian leaders may have planned for the long term, while western strategists continued their short term reactionary profiteering. The cost of freedom for hundreds of millions right now no doubt seems very high. Not many are willing to sacrifice everything for an illusion.
Today the headlines in Europe tell of parts of Brussels set ablaze when peaceful protests turned violent over right wing conservative austerity measures. Earlier this week celebrity Russell Brand led the London contingent of the Million Mask March, which also escalated into violence. From Madrid to Bucharest people are not just protesting political issues, they’re not just boycotting railroads, they’re crying out for jobs and bread. The same capitalistic west that outspent communism in the Cold War, has left most of Europe woefully insolvent. Worse still, that American dream JFK seemed to epitomize, it’s morphed into a public so apathetic two-thirds failed to vote in the recent Republican rout of Democrats in the US. Meanwhile, a Russia led by Putin owes nobody and seems ready to emerge as the world’s dominant economic force right along with China. America, on the other hand, is led by a Nobel Peace laureate borrowing more trillions to fund perpetual war.
I leave you with a quote from a speech by Winston Churchill in 1946, in which he coined the term “Iron Curtain” for the world. This excerpt reflects what became the predominant western philosophy:
"From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent."
It’s time we think about our progress, about the rise and fall of freedom. Did we in the west win a Cold War when the Berlin Wall tumbled? Was an iron curtain between peoples dissolved? It seems to me the curtain is being drawn closed again, only this time by the NATO nations and not Khrushchev. It’s as if our roles are reversed somehow. Vladimir Putin acting like JFK, and western leaders bent on some convoluted socialism.
Phillip Butler for RT
Phil Butler is journalist and editor, and a partner at the digital marketing firm, Pamil Visions PR. Phil contributes to the Huffington Post, The Epoch Times, Japan Today, and many others. He's also a policy and public relations analyst for Russia Today, as well as other international media. You can find Phil's blog at http://www.phillip-butler.com.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.