By STARRS Member, Col, USAF (Ret), USAFA 1987
In late 1989 I was a young first lieutenant stationed at Comiso Air Station on the island of Sicily. I joined a group of junior officers for a few days of skiing in the Alps. The Berlin Wall had just opened, and East Berliners were tasting freedom for the first time since WWII. I decided to take a day off from skiing and travelled by train to Berlin to see the historic event firsthand.
After traveling all-night, I arrived in Berlin mid-morning and found my way to the wall. People were climbing all over it. Others were working hard to chisel off their own piece of history. Already, huge holes were appearing that we could look through to see East Berlin. Even though I was obviously seeing in color when I stuck my head into one of the holes, it almost looked like black and white on the other side. Everything was dirty and drab.
The buildings looked awful, grey and dreary. Turning my gaze toward the nearby open gate, there were people lined up as far as I could see, dressed in drab clothing, waiting to process through the gate and experience the west, maybe even meet up with family members they had not seen since the wall cut off East Berlin from the west. After asking a man if I could use his crowbar and taking my own personal piece off the wall, I headed for McDonalds for breakfast. I think everyone from East Berlin was there! It was packed.
A couple years later, I went back to Berlin and could not find any remnants of the wall except those that had been preserved as memorials and testaments to the horrors. Looking across to where I saw the dreary buildings through the wall, there was now a brightly colored, clean Toyota car dealership. A major change in a very short time!
When the news spread like fire around the world that the wall had opened, my parents were hosting a foreign exchange student from Kazakhstan. He had arrived with eczema all over his body. His mom had spent years trying to get medicine for him. One trip to an American doctor yielded a cream and a couple other medications that cleared it up quickly.
He described life in the Soviet Union in detail. If someone had a problem with a tooth, they just pulled it; no fillings, caps, etc. He was overwhelmed at the fully stocked shelves in huge grocery stores, not to mention all the choices! If you needed shoes there, you took what was available regardless of style, color or even size.
He stated that the government decided what your educational focus would be and what job you would have. My mom often tells of going on a walk with him through one of the nicer parts of town and how amazed he was at the huge houses. Mom explained to him that with the jobs his parents had (his father was an electrical engineer and mom was a university math professor), they would live in such a house if they were in the US. Instead, they lived in a one-bedroom apartment. He had grown up mostly with his grandparents because they were high up in the “Party” and therefore they had a second bedroom.
When the wall came down, his teacher noticed all the excitement confused him. She brought in an officer from the nearby Air Force base to explain what the Berlin Wall was, the oppression it enforced and the horrors that befell anyone trying to escape through or over it. He was horrified. He had had no idea about any of it. That is the result of governments controlling the media and silencing any dissenting narratives.
President Ronald Reagan said, “Socialism only works in two places: Heaven where they don’t need it and hell where they already have it.”
As for our future, he said “If we lose freedom here, there is no place to escape to. This is the last stand on earth.” We must not let this be the generation that brings down the “shining city on a hill!”