The Fall of the Berlin Wall 30 Years Ago
Gary K. Shepherd
Editor of the review United World
Much of the history of Berlin relates to the city’s darker past. This is particularly true of the Berliner Mauer, or the Berlin Wall. We have now reached the point where the time since the fall of the Berlin Wall is greater than the time it actually existed. But there is a widespread effort to make sure it is not forgotten.
The German Democratic Republic, or East German government, went to great lengths to make sure the Wall was as impervious as possible. It was actually two walls: a smaller inner wall, and an outer, larger one near the official border. The area between the two walls was a kill zone, filled with guard towers, mines, barbed wire, sharpened metal stakes, concrete vehicle barriers, floodlights and alarms. It was constantly patrolled by border guards and dogs, and the guards were authorized to shoot anyone trespassing in the zone.
In addition, the East German secret police, known as the Stasi, maintained an extensive network of 100,000 full time agents, bolstered by 100,000 more part-time informants, to monitor and infiltrate dissident groups and turn in anyone planning to escape across the Wall. East Berliners had a saying, parodying the words of Jesus, that went, “Where three or four gather together, one of them is Stasi agent.” Apartments closest to the Wall were assigned to regime loyalists, who kept an eye on their neighbors and reported suspicious activity.
And it was all a complete failure. The East German government managed to arrest or kill a great number of people who attempted to escape, but it never was able to stop them from trying. When internal and external pressure finally forced them to open the Wall, people went flooding through. The Wall was torn down, and the government that built it soon followed. East Germany ceased to exist.
The first lesson from this is that building walls doesn’t work. People will always find a way over, under or around them. This is true no matter how strong they are, and no matter whether they are physical or simply psychological in nature. Mr. Trump would do well to pay attention to this lesson.
Yet there is an even larger lesson to be learned from all this. The national security state has only one purpose – to preserve its own existence. The myth that nation-states exist to protect their citizens is so transparent as to be laughable. National militaries exist to protect the nation, not the people. If citizens’ lives must be sacrificed for the ‘greater good’ i.e. the survival of the nation, then that is an acceptable loss. No expenditure in blood or treasure is too great if it assures national survival, and no act is too reprehensible or immoral to be undertaken if it serves to protect the state.
All the vast efforts of the East German government failed to save their nation-state. And in fact it never does. All the enormous military might of the Soviet Union, including the most powerful hydrogen bombs every produced, could not preserve it from dissolution. The legions of the Roman Empire could not prevent its fall. The Janissaries of the Ottoman empire, the Immortals of ancient Persia, and the Waffen SS of Nazi Germany all fought valiantly for their respective regimes – now all consigned to the dustbin of history.
Nation-states are not permanent. They come and they go. Yet people continue to extend their primary loyalty to them, and indeed, do not seem to even consider the possibility that there might be something less transitory that deserves their allegiance. The world, and human kind itself, remain permanent. Perhaps it is time that people gave their loyalty to things that last, rather than will-o-wisps that are here today, and gone tomorrow.