The Berlin Wall came down 25 years ago. All over the western world, people are celebrating this event, and why not. It is a compelling symbol for what’s Right With The West. It makes us feel good even if we know nothing about the details and what actually transpired. Interestingly, this anniversary is cheek by jowl with another one, equally loaded with symbolism: Remembrance Day.
These two events bear a connection: they are both about our supposed superiority. We won, we’re the good guys, so we honour those who helped the cause. But the hidden story linking these events is worthy of serious thought bubbles. Perhaps it’s time to ask: what is it really about?
I believe that the Berlin Wall is about Revolution, Disobedience and lucky mistakes. When the Wall ‘fell’, it didn’t just topple over. Up to that day, some 1300 people had been killed fleeing from Eastern Germany, shot by the border guards as they ran like rabbits across the death zone between the divided country. And here is a strange fact: the flood of people across the Wall began because of a mistake! Someone had announced that it was okay to cross over, and so they did. But this wasn’t true and when Honecker, the all powerful Dictator of East Germany, gave the order to kill all those people, something new happened: the guards, the policemen and the army refused to obey orders. They became ‘traitors’, technically speaking. They would not shoot their own people. Not anymore. They became aware of their power to disobey, to say NO.
What gave them the moral courage to do that? How was it possible that within a week, the entire Honecker government fell? This is a fascinating question, and it is not simply about politics. It’s about being human and acknowledging this instead of letting your officer, your boss, your superior, tell you otherwise. It’s about finding common ground, of being part of something we used to call the public. This public is now being systematically divided and set against each other by our Elites. Yes, the One Percent know that the only real enemy they have is a Public that is self aware, that knows its own power. That knows what it wants. It’s a form of democracy we saw briefly flicker with the Occupy movement only to witness it flame out for lack of a cogent, well presented framework of values and objectives. A grand plan, in other words. The Elites heaved a sigh of relief, and we went back to ‘business as usual’.
But the Fall of the Berlin Wall stands for everything that is not ‘business as usual’. It stands for a rare moment in the twentieth century when people woke up and understood their own power as a political force. It is worth noting that the aftermath, when East Germans and West Germans found each other strange and irritating, nearly undid that moment. There was a candid recognition that walls exist in people’s minds and unlike brick walls, are much harder to tear down.
War is more resilient than the Wall. The increasing militarization and constant fear mongering of our governments is a sign that all is not well. War is always a failure said Lao-Tsu, the greatest military strategist of all time.
As a civilization, we are headed for failure. Like all empires,the US is waging perpetual war. It’s business as usual.
The two world wars and the millions that died happened because our Elites wanted wars; they manipulated their people into marching. If you objected, if you decided that you didn’t believe the carefully constructed narrative of heroes and ‘good wars’, you were a traitor. Conscientious objectors were anything but heroes. Nowadays, it’s the whistleblowers, Julian Assange and Edward Norton et al, who are the conscientious objectors of the things done to us without or knowledge or consent. They’re doing their bit to remind us that we are The People. That we have power. They’re paying a high price for it.
Revolution is a dangerous, bloody word. Radical Disengagement from the lies we’re being peddled might be a better one. Whichever words you prefer, the Berlin Wall and the millions who died during two world wars demand that we wake up and refuse to shoot at our own, like those border guards. To recognize that we live in a moment in history that demands more than acquiescence. To say NO to walls and wars, no matter where they are. To say Yes to our common humanity and to lay down our arms, once and for all.
Just remembering the Wall and the Wars is not enough.