I haven't commented much on the Berlin Wall pieces I've posted so far, but today's crop demands comment. Some illuminate, but others perpetuate some harmful ideas. Not the worst, but far too pervasive in my opinion, is the idea that one act makes all the difference. Even one little neocon has put aside his love for Reagan's speech in favor of today's anniversary making all the difference, but the implied quandry is one argument against what might be called the silver bullet theory of history. Find that one inspiring speech, make that one telling mistake, take that one decisive action, and all is changed. We can see it in the expectation that something magical will happen in the talks with Iran to make everything all right, remove the threat of Israeli attack, and end whatever desire Iran may have for a nuclear weapon or program.
History doesn't work that way. There were many actions in many places over many years that led to the events in Berlin of November 9, 1989. Hungary in 1956. Czechoslovakia in 1968. And many actions by many individuals behind the Iron Curtain. Solidarity in Poland in the early eighties. Environmental protests in Estonia in the mid-eighties. And more.
If there is one person to focus on, it is Mikhail Gorbachev. His interview with Stephen F. Cohen and Katrina vanden Heuvel shows some of his lines of thought that led to the events of 1989 and, eventually and not to his liking, the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991, two years later. Probably the single most important action was his refusal to use force against demonstrators. Imagine those photos of November 1989 with the East German guards shooting into the crowds.
Lots of photos. 1989, from the Boston Globe. The history of the wall, from The Guardian.
Some warring silver bullets. Robert Kagan is probably not the most reliable commentator to ask for an opinion, although if conflict is what sells, this article has it. It's useful as a survey of the range of opinions but doesn't give any indication of what actually happened.
Here's a more helpful article on events in Hungary. Now consider that the situation in the satellites and even the Soviet Republics was similar, that people were demonstrating and the Soviets were passing legislation that would lead to independence. November 9 looks more like a marker, not a turning point.
A retrospective of some American attitudes at the time. There were advocates of rollback in the 1960s, to destroy the Soviet Union with our nukes, but Kennedy was smarter than that.
And I can't quite let Ross Douthat go. He didn't learn a thing from the Iraq war, from Paul Wolfowitz's thoroughly incorrect reading of an instant turning from Communism to neocon values on November 9, 1989. He even resurrects "the end of history." Why even the more intellectual wing of the Republican Party deserves no consideration by serious people.