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Bill Kennedy: On building walls and tearing them down

Right Here, Right Now!

Posted: November 26, 2009 8:14 p.m.
Updated: November 27, 2009 4:55 a.m.
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall”

In his poem “Mending Wall,” Robert Frost makes an implied plea for people to tear down any fences between them for the sake of better understanding and cooperation. Good advice. Yet, there are those who will purposely close themselves off or try to keep others away.

The Berlin Wall was perhaps the best modern example of an ill-conceived wall and this month marked the 20th anniversary of the dismantling of that divider of free destiny, something for which we can all be grateful at this time of thanksgiving.

For those too young to remember the circumstances of the Berlin Wall, a historical review may be in order.

Immediately following World War II in 1945, the four prevailing allies — the United States, the United Kingdom, France and the Soviet Union — signed the Potsdam Agreement, a legal framework placing Germany under the sovereignty of the four allies until a government acceptable to them could be reconstituted for Germany.

Subsequently, Germany was divided into four sectors, each assigned to one of the Allies. But the divisions were more than geographic — in the sectors controlled by the U.S., the United Kingdom and France, democracy prevailed; in the sector controlled by the Soviet Union a socialistic system was imposed.

Thus, the division of Germany provided a living laboratory in which two distinctly different forms of government could be compared side-by-side.

In the years following the parceling of Germany, the contrast in the two forms of government became quite stark, as reflected in the lifestyles of the people.

Those governed by democracy enjoyed ample freedoms, jobs, a burgeoning economy and a grand lifestyle, while those in the socialist sector lived a bare existence of limited freedoms and goods shortages in a state-controlled economy. Many of the latter illegally defected to the democratic sectors to seek a better quality of life.

To stem the emigration, in August 1961 the Soviets and East Germans constructed along their sector boundary a high concrete wall bordered on their side by “death strips” of plowed earth and minefields. Unable to convince their people of the virtues of socialism over the nearby democracy, the Soviets elected to impose it upon them by force.  

While they may have temporarily subdued the people’s quest for freedom by using lethal means for more than a generation, the Soviets could not triumph over it. In the years following the erection of the Berlin Wall, some 5,000 people attempted to flee socialism by crossing it, and many died in the attempt.  

In November 1989, after several weeks of growing civil unrest and just 29 months after President Ronald Reagan demanded in Berlin, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” the Soviets opened crossing checkpoints to free travel between the two sides.

In the weeks that followed, people on both sides of the wall joined to deconstruct it, leading to formation of the unified and flourishing  Germany we know today.

The Soviets might have avoided nearly three decades of strife for the people in East Germany had they only heeded one of Frost’s admonitions:

“Before I built a wall I’d ask to know,

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offence.”

Perhaps we all could learn from the works of Frost and the history of the Berlin Wall. Within our own country there is developing an ideological wall formed by political party extremists.

“Red or Blue, all the way in or all the way out” seems to be the mantra of the day, an attitude that leaves little room for well-meaning moderates to cooperate across party lines.

This potentially destructive attitude has roots in both parties, but it is particularly worrisome as practiced by the Democrats because, as the party in power, they are prone to act as if they have a mandate to impose their will without compromise — hardly the case, given that President Barack Obama garnered only 52 percent of the vote.          

This lack of regard for reasonable cooperation needs to be checked and it should start with the party in power. President Obama, tear down that wall ... Right Here, Right Now!  

Bill Kennedy lives in Valencia and is a principal in Wingspan Business Consulting. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Right Here, Right Now!” appears Fridays and rotates among local Republicans.


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