Tag archives: Berlin Wall

The Ghost on the Wall

by Robert Morrison

November 10, 2014

I remember the incident in August, 1962. It was televised all over the world. A 17-year old carpenter’s assistant named Peter Fechter from East Germany was trying to escape across the plowed earth separating the inner and outer structures of what had become known as the Berlin Wall. Communist border guards known as Volkspolizei (People’s Police, or VoPos, for short) shot Peter in the back. He bled. And he cried. And cried. He begged someone to come and help him. He lay there for hours, whimpering like a child. This video clip says it was as if his life was ebbing away. No, it wasn’t as if. His life was ebbing away. I saw it. I hated Communism because of that. I never wavered in my belief it was fundamentally evil.

Those were happy days in America. I remember the carefree days at the beach that summer, going sailing on the Great South Bay, and the almost new Oldsmobile my parents helped me buy. Like Peter Fechter, I was just 17. Happy as I was then, I never forgot witnessing Peter Fechter’s real-life murder on TV.

Ronald Reagan never forgot Peter Fechter, either. He spoke of the Berlin Wall for many years thereafter. He always personalized that grim gray obscene concrete Wall (“die Mauer”) by including the story of Peter Fechter.

While President Richard Nixon went to Moscow in 1972 and gave Soviet Communist Party boss brand new American-made cars as gifts, Reagan continued to speak out against the inhumanity of a system that could build a Berlin Wall and shoot down teenagers who simply sought to escape Communism’s “Workers’ Paradise.”

After Nixon’s disgrace, President Jimmy Carter went to Vienna to meet with Brezhnev in June, 1979. He let Brezhnev kiss him on their first date! Brezhnev took the measure of the man. Six months later, he kissed off Carter when he sent Soviet troops into Afghanistan.

President Carter went on national TV to explain that he had learned more about the USSR in the previous three days than in the previous three years.

I later interviewed Amb. Malcolm Toon, the career diplomat whom Carter had sent to Moscow. Amb. Toon told me that no elected leader in Western Europe could have made such a stunning statement. If he had admitted to such incompetence, that Prime Minister or Chancellor would have been voted out of office the very next day in parliament!

As President, Ronald Reagan remained true to his convictions. In 1987, the American press corps was in its full-gush mode over Soviet Communist Party boss, Mikhail Gorbachev. The chin-pulling opinion writers who pass for serious analysts in our prestige press were all agog over Gorbachev’s new liberalization schemes for the USSR and the Soviet bloc. They repeated Gorbachev’s spin with practiced ease.

President Reagan wasn’t buying it. He went to the Brandenburg Gate, in the shadow of the Berlin Wall, on June 12, 1987.. He took with him the speech text he and Peter Robinson had crafted, the one our State Department had rejected three times. Sec. of State George Schulz, White House Chief of Staff Howard Baker, and National Security Advisor Gen. Colin Powell all tried to dissuade the President from saying anything that might upset U.S.-Soviet relations. Reagan was quiet, but firm, with his staff. “I think I was elected,” he mildly told Peter Robinson and that line “Tear Down this Wall” stayed in the speech.

Today, we are celebrating twenty-five years of freedom for the people of Germany and Eastern Europe. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the crumbling of that Evil Empire began this day in 1989. Reagan never claimed to have been the one who brought about this stunning change. But he was the one Western leader who never lost faith that Soviet Communism could be brought down. He told his aides: We win; they lose.

The Atlantic’s website provides this helpful remembrance of the Berlin Wall. It contains, unfortunately no references to President Kennedy’s great speech there in 1963, or President Reagan’s inspirational address of 1987.

This most interesting monument—is called the “Lichtgrenze” or Light Border. It’s well worth seeing. Thanks to the liberal editors of The Atlantic, the former Soviet dictator, Gorbachev gets a bit part in the photomontage. Thank you, General Secretary Gorbachev for not shooting any more of Peter Fechter’s countrymen!

Today, I will remember the Berlin Wall and the joy of the Germans—and all of us—when we heard young people there exclaim “Die Mauer ist Gefallen!” The Wall is Down!

My friend and colleague, FRC Senior Fellow Peter Sprigg was in Germany when the Wall came down. Then a young liberal, our Peter was honest with himself and his friends. “This is Reagan’s doing,” Peter Sprigg said then. Peter has been a recovering liberal ever since.

Ronald Reagan never claimed credit for the Fall of the Wall. But he did go there and challenge Gorbachev to prove his liberalization schemes by tearing down the Wall. Reagan was the first President since John F. Kennedy to draw a bright line between freedom and tyranny. “Lass’sie nach Berlin kommen” the young President had said—Let them come to Berlin.

President Reagan did something there that even brave young Kennedy did not do. He described a radio tower built by the East German Communists to overshadow all of Berlin’s church steeples. The President noted that the tower had a defect that the atheist rulers of East Germany had desperately tried to etch out with acid, sandblast, or paint over.

Still, Ronald Reagan said, when the sun struck the globe on that tall tower, it reflected the Sign of the Cross.

November 9, 1989: The Fall of the Wall

by Robert Morrison

November 9, 2010

The Fall of the Berlin Wall, 1989Retired Gen. Colin Powell came to the Naval Academy a few years ago. He bounded onto the stage, looking fit and trim, and very energetic. He launched into a prepared addresshis Forrestal Lecturewithout notes, without the slightest hesitation, and without a teleprompter. The 4,000 Midshipmen who are required to attend and some of whom, frankly, doze off during these Bore-us-all lectures, were sitting on the edge of their seats. Gen. Powell is a polished orator and a most engaging speaker. His use of self-deprecating wit is most effective.

He related his great careerfrom Army Second Lieutenant all the way to four-star General and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He didnt have to mention that when he was born, nearly seventy years before, no black man could have aspired to lead the greatest military in the world.

He said that his career was defined by one word: containment. Containment of the Soviet Union was what he was doing when, as a junior officer in the Army he was stationed in West Germany. Ten years later, as a major, Powell was told again. Go to the Berlin Wall, turn left. Stop at the Fulda Gap. And dont let any Soviet tanks come through.

Finally, he said, as a four-star general, he was still engaged in containment. Except now, under President George H.W. Bush, his job was to oversee the entire scene of the East-West face-off. Gen. Powell was responsible for making sure that the United States and NATO would not be surprised by any Soviet thrust into Western Europe.

All of this was most impressive. Gen. Powell is the kind of smart, courageous, skilled professional you would want guarding the Fulda Gap, standing watch for our freedom at the Wall.

If that is all we wanted to do.

For nearly fifty years, that is all we wanted to do. Containment was our goal until Ronald Reagan became President. Reagan was not content with containment. Ronald Reagan did not consent to a permanent division of Europe into captive and free nations. Ronald Reagan was all about prevailing. He was about Freedom Rising.

Twenty-one years ago today, the Berlin Wall came down. It seemed a miracle at the time.

Tom Brokaw, the former NBC news anchor, was in West Berlin when the Wall fell. He thinks it was all an accident, that some East German Communist official mixed up his instructions and erroneously opened the floodgatesand the puppet regime couldnt put it back together again.

President George W. Bush doesnt see it all as an accident. He recognizes what Reagan meant. He said Reagan never urged the Soviets to knock the three top bricks off the Berlin Wall; instead, Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gate and publicly challenged the Soviet ruler. He proclaimed to the whole world: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall. Open this gate.

He did more than that. When President Reagan delivered his famous speech at the Berlin Wall, he also described the East Berlin radio tower the Communists built to overshadow all the church steeples in their sector. There was, the President pointed out, an unfortunate defect in that tower. The Communist authorities had tried, with paint, with acid, by sandblasting, to get rid of the defect.

Still, when the sun shines on the globe of that radio tower, it reflects the Sign of the Cross.

Ronald Reagan was the only President in our history to invoke the Sign of the Cross in a public address.

Americans love Babe Ruths called shot. We love the story of the bambino pointing to the right field stands and hitting a home run on the next pitch, just where he had pointed.

We also love the story of young President John F. Kennedy pointing to the Moon and saying we would get there first, we would land a man there before 1970. We did it and we beat the Soviets in the process.

Ronald Reagans speech at the Berlin Wall was the third in this trilogy of called shots.

Twenty-one years ago today, his great purpose was achieved.

Explaining the Inexplicable

by Robert Morrison

November 11, 2009

President Obama spoke to an interviewer about the Ft. Hood shootings. He had just come from the Memorial Service for the fourteen people whose lives were taken by the terrorist, Nidal Hasan:

OBAMA: In a country of 300 million people, there are going to be acts of violence that are inexplicable, even within the extraordinary military that we have. I think everybody understands how outstanding the young men and women in uniform are under the most severe stress. There are going to instances, in which an individual cracks.

Forget, for the moment, this confused part of the statement that seems to psychologize the killers actions. I want to focus on the inexplicable part.

This is a serious problem for liberals. They are forever finding such murderous acts inexplicable. They often employ words like random and senseless acts of violence. One of their favorite bumper stickers is Practice random acts of kindness. Random is okay if its kind. But if kindness and terror are truly random, whats the moral difference?


Historian John Lukacs can help these confused people. Lukacs has developed deep insight into the mind and character of Adolf Hitler. In books like The Duel and The Hitler of History, Lukacs enables us to understand some of what is inexplicable to President Obama.

Hitler, Lukacs writes, was not a monster. He certainly did monstrous things. Think of all those childrens shoes in the Holocaust Museum. Thats enough to appreciate monstrous acts. But if we think of Hitler as a monster, then there really is no lesson to be drawn from his life. Monsters are like aliens. Theyre inhuman. They are not like us.

Nor was Hitler insane. It may seem insane to us for anyone to plan to murder all the Jewish people, enslave all the Poles, and sterilize all the Ukrainians. Simply to dream that anyone could invade Russia and give orders to shoot millions on sight partakes of madness. But if Hitler was insane, Lukacs teaches us, then he is not morally responsible.

We do not hold even mass murderers responsible for the actions. He was not mad.

No, Hitler was evil. Not a monster, not a madman, but a very, very evil man. We need to understand mans capacity for evil. Didnt the Twentieth Century teach us anything? Lets all take time off and read Dostoevskys Crime and Punishment.

This week, weve seen another great public ceremony, the celebration of the anniversary of Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Retired NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw managed to hold forth for 1 12 hours at the Newseum last week about the great events of that November evening. He never mentioned Reagan. Well, we understand why. Nor did he mention Communism. Or the KGB. Nor did he use the word evil.

Similarly, President Obama hailed the coming down of the Wall. But his remarks seemed more to be commemorating the removal of an architectural barrier than the end of something cruel and unjust. After all, the Soviet puppet regime in East Germany managed over twenty-eight years to shoot 136 people who tried to escape. Is it somehow more explicable to kill ten times as many innocent people as the Ft. Hood shooter if we stretch out the killings over three decades?

According to the Zentrum fur Zeithistorische Forschung (ZZF) (Center for Research on Contemporary History) in Potsdam, East German border guards were given these inhuman orders: Do not hesitate to use your firearm, not even when the border is breached in the company of women and children, which is a tactic the traitors have often used.

Germany has worked hard to reconcile its people, or peoples. But avoiding mention of the evil implicit in orders given to armed young men to shoot women and children will not help national reunification.

What happened at Ft. Hood was evil. What happened at the Wall was evil. We need to face reality. It is especially important that our President understand reality. Three hundred million lives depend upon it.

Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down this Wall!

by Robert Morrison

November 9, 2009

Ronald Reagan brought two things to Washington that were very much out of fashion, I enjoy telling student interns at Family Research Council: brown suits and freedom for a hundred million people in Eastern Europe. When Reagan swept into office in a landslide in 1980, the reigning view of Washingtons foreign policy elites toward Eastern Europe was that expressed in the Sonnenfeldt Doctrine. State Department Counselor Helmut Sonnenfeldt in the 1970s was a disciple of Henry Kissinger. TIME Magazine explained Sonnefeldts ideas:

He was quoted as saying that U.S. policy in Eastern Europe should “strive for an evolution that makes the relationship between the Eastern Europeans and the Soviet Union an organic one.” The use of the word organic seemed to imply that he was advocating that the Soviet Union and its satellites should form one wholea position calculated to infuriate not only G.O.P. conservatives but also ethnic groups with roots in Eastern Europe.

In simple American English, the U.S. policy toward Eastern Europe should not rock the boat.

Ronald Reagans view could not be further from those espoused by the Kissingers, Sonnenfeldts, and the foreign policy establishments of both political parties. Reagan had told Richard Allen, who would one day serve in the White House as Reagans National Security Adviser, that his idea of East-West relations was simple: We win. They lose.

To say such a thing about the Soviet Union seemed stupid. Clark Clifford, one of the certified Wise Men of the Democratic Party, called Reagan an amiable dunce. Others thought him dangerous. The USSR had hundreds of heavily armed divisions, tens of thousands of rumbling tanks, artillery pieces without number, not to mention 27,000 nuclear warheads atop intercontinental ballistic missiles ready to launch against Western Europe and the U.S. Was Reagan insane, they asked?

Of course, the actual acronym for U.S. strategic deterrence in those days was MADMutual Assured Destruction. An entire cult of arms control had grown up since the 1960s designed to manage the East-West relationship by having both sides agree not to defend themselves from nuclear attack. Both sides had to know that their cities and countries would be utterly laid waste, that a nuclear winter following World War III could extinguish all life on earth. Only if such was the alternative, the deep thinkers thought, could a nuclear holocaust be averted. By all means, nothing should be done by the West to incite rebellion behind the Iron Curtain.

In those years, it was always East-West, as if the argument between freedom and Marxist totalitarianism was simply a dispute over directions. Using terms like the Free World horrified the sophisticates of Georgetown cocktail party circuit. They shuddered at the naivete of the rubes who spoke of captive nations in Eastern Europe, and satellites of the Soviet Union.

Ronald Reagan came to Washington widely viewed by this set of people as a political Neanderthal. Reagan, they shuddered, actually believed in God and talked about freedom. He thought in terms of black and white. He had not forgotten the incident in 1962, for example, when 17-year old Peter Fechter was shot by East German border guards as he made his escape attempt from the Soviet-occupied zone that the New York Times referred to as the German Democratic Republic. Young Fechter lay bleeding to death in the minefield leading up to the ugly wall built by the East German Communists in 1961 to complete their imprisonment of their own people. As the young man whimpered, East German Volkspolizei shot at his would-be rescuers.

Reagan thought such a system was evil. And he said so. He called the Soviet bloc an evil empire. When he spoke to Britains House of Commons in 1982, he said that Marxism was even then fated to wind up on the ash heap of history, a bizarre chapter in human history.

Reagan was the first President since JFK to speak of the Soviet Union and Communism as evil.

And Reagan was the first President ever to use humor as a battering ram against the inhuman Berlin Wall. Asked if Communism might work, President Reagan said it might work in Heaven, but they dont need it. And it surely would work in Hell, but they already have it.

When he went to West Berlin in June, 1987, President Reagan overruled his own Secretary of State George P. Schultz and National Security Advisor, Gen. Colin Powell. They did not want him to challenge the reforming Soviet ruler, Mikhail Gorbachev, directly. Dont embarrass Gorbachev and make our negotiations harder, they and the foreign policy establishment said.

But Reagan was determined. He had seen how the liberal media had swooned over the charismatic Gorbachev. It was Gorbachev, not the 77-year old Reagan, whom Western reporters saw as the hope for the future.

Reagan was having none of it. He knew that a hundred million people in Eastern Europe were still enslaved by the Soviet system. He knew that if Gorbachevs reformed Communism worked, it would still mean decades before the peoples of Poland, E. Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and a dozen other statesincluding the Baltics and Russia itself—could breathe free.

Reagan knew there was one place on earth to test the sincerity of Gorbachevs liberalizing claims: the Berlin Wall. So Ronald Reagan went to the Wall and threw down his famous challenge. He made it personal and pointed:

There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

Today, twenty years after the Fall of the Wall, we can remember Reagans brave words.

We can thank God that courage and determination brought down this monument to Communist inhumanity.