On a November evening back in 1989, it was impossible to take one’s eyes from the television screen. There it was, the seemingly impossible – the Berlin Wall falling as East Germans, intoxicated by the promise of freedom, scaled its once-forbidding face. Americans heard the singing, saw strangers singing, crying and embracing, and realized they were witnessing history. The end of the Cold War was at hand, and the United States – and the forces of freedom – were victorious.
The fall of the Berlin Wall was part of a chain reaction, as repressive Soviet-satellite dictatorships in Hungary, East Germany, Romania, Czechoslavakia and Poland fell. Even a year or two earlier, no one would have foreseen the rapidity and thoroughness of the Iron Curtain’s disintegration. It marked a glorious moment in the history of the world, when liberty replaced tyranny, and dictators yielded to democracy.
Next week, Germany will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s fall – recalling the peaceful events that sparked a new birth of freedom for a country that had been split in half, dividing family, friends and even the world since 1961. The commemorations will go forward, however, without America’s president.
Remarkably, President Obama, who could find time to fly to Copenhagen to lobby for Chicago’s Olympic bid, declined the invitation from German chancellor Angela Merkel to attend the festivities. That’s notwithstanding the central role that America played in the ultimate destruction of the Iron Curtain – and the bipartisan nature of its efforts, from the Berlin airlift to President Reagan’s famous exhortation to his Soviet counterpart to “tear down this wall!”
No one but the President and members of his inner circle know the real reason that President Obama has refused to go to Berlin. It’s hard not to suspect, however, that his reluctance springs both from a misplaced sensitivity to the feelings of our former Soviet adversaries – and worse yet, from a misguided sense of shame about America’s Cold War triumph.