Tag Archives: allies

REMEMBERING THE BERLIN WALL

berlin wall-flag

It’s been almost fifty years since I crossed the border between West and East and entered communist East Germany. As students, we had spent some time in Nurnberg with German families, a truly memorable experience. Our school had also planned a short trip to Berlin, which was then an enclave in the communist part of the country.

The country was officially called the German Democratic Republic. Don’t let names mislead you. It wasn’t democratic or a republic and, as it was controlled from Moscow, it wasn’t really German either. It was a communist dictatorship and totally different from its western counterpart.

I remember there were no toilet facilities on the long drive from the border to Berlin. It was bad enough that we had to wait a very long time at the border before they would let us in. A couple of communist soldiers spent their time watching a game of chess that two of our students were playing, deliberately holding us up, in an attempt to show they were in control. When they did finally let us in, we had to wait a few hours for a toilet facility – they did, however, make a stop in the middle of nowhere and said, “Men that side and women this side” of the road. That was it.

I remember touring East Berlin after we crossed through the Wall at Checkpoint Charlie. The wall had been built in 1961 to keep out the degenerate undesirables from the west. At least, that was the official version. Of course, the reality was very different. The real reason for the Wall was to keep their own people inside the GDR, to stop them escaping to freedom.   That didn’t stop them, though – hundreds of people tried to cross the Wall. Some succeeded, some were caught and shot to death.

One vivid memory I had was of an evening at the Berlin Opera House. We had gone to see Puccini’s “La Boheme,” one of the most popular operas. The opera was written by an Italian, is sung in French and was being performed in Germany! It was the first time I had seen grown men cry (German men, remember!). During the interval we had gone out on to the balcony and looked east, at East Berlin. On the western side, everything was lit up, inviting people to go downtown and have a good time; the east was in total darkness. Touring the city had revealed that all was dull and drab, service in the museum restaurant was slow and surly, the food limited, dry and hard. Soldiers seemed to be everywhere. There were very few vehicles.

It was not too difficult for young people from the West to see which society was the better. At a time when many people were becoming left wing to one degree or another, this was a stark reminder of the failure of centralized planning.

It’s not surprising that, exactly 25 years ago this weekend, the Wall came down.

People want freedom. I should add “up to a point.”

Reflecting on Germany’s past, we should never forget that freedom can and will be rejected when times are hard. High unemployment can so easily lead to a dictator who promises to give the people what they want, everything that is except freedom.

Another great lesson from the past is that borders are constantly changing.   This has been particularly true of Germany. The country was divided by the allies after World War II. The German Democratic Republic was absorbed into the Federal Republic of Germany in October 1990.

THREE DOWN IN THREE DAYS

NSA

On Monday the French were angry at the US when they learned that the latter had been listening in to French citizens’ phone conversations.

Two days later the Germans were even angrier following revelations that the US government had been listening in to Chancellor Merkel’s cell phone conversations.

In between, the US managed to upset the Saudis.  The Administration in Washington had already lost Egypt.  The last time the US lost a major ally in the Middle East was in 1979 when the Iranian revolution led to the rise of the Ayatollah’s under President Carter.  Some claim this was the start of World War III – a struggle without end against Islamic fundamentalism.  Saudi Arabia is upset with the way the US has been handling (or rather, not handling) the Syrian situation and Iran.

Last night, a dinner was scheduled in Washington for the visiting Brazilian president, who cancelled, to show her anger at US surveillance of Brazil’s leaders.  Mexico has expressed similar concerns following similar revelations from NSA defector, Edward Snowden.

These are serious set-backs for the United States that could lead to the unraveling of alliances that go back decades.

A French think tank has written that “the de-Americanization of the world has begun – emergence of solutions for a multipolar world by 2015.” (Global Europe Bulletin #78)

“It’s one of those times when history accelerates.  Whatever the outcome of the negotiations on the shutdown and debt ceiling, October 2013 is one of them.  It’s the deadlock too far, which has opened the eyes of those who still support the United States.  A leader is followed when he is believed, not when he is ridiculous.”  (GEAB #78; October 16th)

The following paragraph is devastating, written at the height of the US government crisis:

“In fact, if the whole world is holding its breath before this pathetic game of the US elite; it’s not out of compassion, it’s to avoid being swept away in the fall of the world’s first power.  Everyone is trying to free itself from American influence and let go of a United States permanently discredited by recent events over Syria, tapering, shutdown and now the debt ceiling.  The legendary US power is now no more than a nuisance and the world has understood that it’s time to de-Americanise.”

This de-Americanization is partially economic – the dollar index has been steadily dropping as the currency loses value against other currencies due to nations no longer wanting to hold dollar reserves or trade with the currency.

Deuteronomy 28:25 says that the modern Israelites will “become troublesome to all the kingdoms of the earth” because of their sin.  This is what we see continuing to happen.

Germany has already suggested an overhaul of NATO, the 28-member alliance of western democracies founded 64 years ago, the oldest multinational alliance in the world and the longest lasting in history.

“German Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière wants to strengthen cooperation among NATO members and is calling for reform of the military alliance.”  (“NATO Reform:  German plan faces broad opposition,” Der Spiegel, October 22nd)

Under the German proposal, NATO countries would be divided into “clusters,” smaller groups of countries, to be led by a bigger member nation.  This would enable a small group of nations to be used in a military intervention in an area assigned to them.  The idea would give Germany more power within NATO.  It would, for example, allow Germany to lead a group of nations (ten?) in a military action in the Middle East.  The proposal is supported by the US and the UK, but opposed by France.  Washington is happy to see Germany doing more, so that the US can do less in a time of serious defense cuts.

Germany’s defense minister has been tipped to replace Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Danish NATO Secretary-General, who might retire in a few months.  This would also enhance Germany’s role in the alliance.

The GEAB newsletter is correct – the debacle over Syria and the impasse in Washington, possibly to be repeated in January, have both woken up the world.   Significant changes are likely to take place in the foreseeable future.

The US has seriously upset three allies in three days – the week isn’t over yet!

(The above was written earlier today, Thursday; at 3pm Eastern time, the news reported that Italy has today protested about US surveillance on Italians.  This is the fourth ally in four days; and we still have Friday to go!)

(Further – a later news program revealed that the US has been monitoring the cell phone conversations of 35 world leaders.)