Today everyone is marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall—the signal event of the end of the Cold War. I find that students today, all born after the demise of the Soviet Union, have a hard time grasping the depth and vividness of the conflict. The Cold War might as well be the Boer War, and the Berlin Wall is as hazy as Hadrian’s Wall.
It is amusing to watch the liberal establishment observe this glorious anniversary with a binge of subtle revisionism that adds up to: Reagan had nothing to do with it. Pay no attention to that 1987 speech at the Berlin Wall (the one these self-same fashionable people all ridiculed at the time). It was . . . anything but that!
Exhibit 1 is Cold War historian Melvyn Leffler, who writes in Foreign Policy about the confusion and bureaucratic blunders in East Germany that led unwittingly to the sudden collapse of the Wall 25 years ago today. Much of this is correct, but Leffler can’t leave it at the comedy of Communists in their fully decrepit state, or draw the right lessons. Instead, he wants to do as much as he can to minimize the deliberateness of American anti-Communism:
We Americans like to think that the dismantling of the Wall confirmed the redemptive role of United States, the correctness of containment, the efficacy of the arms buildup initiated by President Ronald Reagan, and the universal appeal of freedom. The Wall’s fall reified Americans’ exceptionalist view of themselves. . .
With what we now know about the history of the Wall coming down — the contingency of the event and the agency of ordinary people — we should draw different lessons, ones that are not about the universal appeal of freedom or the munificence of free markets or the efficacy of strength, power, and containment.
All that “peace through strength” stuff, the “evil empire”speech, and the rest? Nah. It was . . . NGOs. Seriously?
We need, first, to acknowledge the role of the human rights revolution and the agency of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), like Helsinki Watch, the Workers Defense Committee (KOR) in Poland, and Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia, and many others. These groups, though diverse in ideology and tactics, all clamored for change, openness, free expression, individual opportunity, religious liberty, and human dignity.
Historians are now coming to appreciate the energy and agency of these NGOs in the fall of communism.
Hurrah for NGOs! Why hasn’t the Obama administration thought to send NGOs to Syria and Iraq? I can imagine those ISIS guys shaking in their desert tents: “Oh no! NGOs are coming! We’re doomed!”
It gets even better, finally with a straw man that will embarrass every scarecrow in Kansas:
When we think about the collapse of communism, we should emphasize and celebrate the attractiveness of a social market economy — not free enterprise. Indeed, it was the principles of the social market, regulated competition and a commitment to social equality and a safety net, that were incorporated into the law establishing the economic and monetary union of West and East Germany. In the ideological competition between free enterprise and communism, the social market won the Cold War. Notwithstanding the Reagan-Thatcher assault on government and regulation, social safety nets did not erode in the 1980s, not even in the United States and Great Britain. (Emphasis added.)
Is there really anyone out there saying “free enterprise brought down the Soviet Union”? (Though one is tempted to ask of Leffler’s beloved “social market economy” in Germany: how’s that working out for the former East Germany? Ask a former West German, and get ready for an earful of complaints.)
Keep spinning liberals. It’s fun watching you guys get dizzy and fall over.