When the Wall came tumbling down
by Salim Mansur
Twenty years ago on Nov. 9, a captive people of a divided continent literally with their hands dismantled the Berlin Wall. This wall represented not merely the totalitarian tyranny of Soviet Communism, but the eternal ugliness and evil of that inherent disposition in man to deny the freedom of another to live his life as he wishes.
A whole generation has come of age since then with insufficient memory, or none, of that moment in history when the grounds shook and the false gods of Marxism-Leninism crumbled to dust.
But far more troubling is knowing how faded has become the memory of those who witnessed this event of freedom breaking out in Europe, how little recall there is on this 20th anniversary of one of the most momentous events in history and how the lesson of this history is deliberately overlooked at this moment when considering the troubles in those lands, such as Iran, where the yearning for freedom is a punishable offence.
In recalling this history, the amazing fact is how swiftly and unexpectedly the end of Communism came in Europe where an iron curtain had descended, in Winston Churchill's memorable words, soon after the Second World War ended. The previous decade, the 1970s, was for the West, and the U.S in particular, one of retreat and compromise with Moscow under the banner of detente.
America's withdrawal from Vietnam seemed to indicate the influence and gains of Communism globally could not be contained, while Washington turned inward from the self-inflicted wounds of the Watergate scandal.
It was providential that the years of malaise, as former U.S. president Jimmy Carter described the 1970s, ended with the elections of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla as Pope John Paul II, Margaret Thatcher as Britain's prime minister, and Ronald Reagan as the president of the United States.
Together these three individuals provided the sorely needed leadership to an almost rudderless west, while extending the critical moral and diplomatic support to the captive people of Eastern Europe in their struggle for freedom.
It is said that when Thatcher prepared to step into 10 Downing St. on Friday, May 4, 1979, she recited the famous prayer of St. Francis of Assisi: "Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope."
Little could Thatcher have imagined at that moment how pregnant with meaning and history in the making was her prayer. The Poles had one of their own as pope with first-hand experience of Communism and the Americans in electing Reagan as president voted for a man who did not hesitate to speak publicly of the Soviet Union as an evil empire.
The failed effort by Mikhail Gorbachev to open and restructure the Soviet Union proved that tyranny cannot be reformed, only dismantled.
In the end, it was the yearning for freedom of East Europeans that became unstoppable with the support of western democracies that the president, the pope and the prime minister made certain would not be wanting.
And it was a moment that reminded all who witnessed the Berlin Wall brought down that the noblest cause to serve at any time is giving full measure of support to those denied freedom.