EDITOR’S NOTE: This was WFB’s November 10, 1989, “On the Right” column.
When the news came in, President Bush sat quietly in his large chair in the Oval Office and said in grave tones that we must not overreact . He is absolutely right about this. JINGLE BELLS! JINGLE BELLS! JINGLE ALL THE WAYYYY! It is proper to deem it a historical development, but its significance must not affect our judgment. OH WHAT A BEAU-TI-FUL MORN-ING! OH WHAT A BEAU-TI-FUL DAY!!! After all, there is tomorrow to think about in Germany. GERMANY?!?! WHAT DO YOU MEAN, `GERMANY’? YOU MEAN WEST GERMANY OR YOU MEAN EAST GERMANY?–the score allows for many variations. Calmness is in order.
I remember the day in 1973 when, as a delegate to the General Assembly of the United Nations, occupying the chair, I had to sit there and listen to the ambassador from the German Democratic Republic lecturing to the Third Committee (Human Rights Committee) on the differences between life in his own country, where the pastures of the people were evergreen and life was pleasant, just and equable, in contrast to life “elsewhere” in Europe, dominated by strife, competition and all the vexations of bourgeois life. I interrupted the speaker to make some reference or other to the Berlin Wall, which obscured the view of the communists’ green pastures, but all the professional diplomats of course knew all about the wall and about communist rhetoric–I learned early during my brief service in the United Nations that the thing to remember is that nobody pays any attention whatever to anything anybody says in the United Nations, which is one up for sanity . But as a freshman diplomat, who never graduated, the insolence of the East German diploma t
stayed with me.
And so I wrote a book about the United Nations that fall and made reference to the special hypocrisies of totalitarian states, which, instead of isolating in such secrecy as is possible what goes on there, actually go about the world boasting about their civil depravity. But the wall and what it represented stuck in the mind, as it did with so many people–the antipodes of the Statue of Liberty; the great symbol of Gulag life. A few years later I wrote a novel based on a young idealist’s determination in 1952 to attempt to reunite Germany, a political effort finally frustrated by an assassination of the young, upward-bound idealist. By the KGB? No, by my hero, Blackford Oakes, under orders from Washington, because Stalin had said the alternative was a Third World War . I dramatized that novel (Stained Glass), and in March of this year, on Good Friday, it was splendidly produced by the Actors Theater in Louisville, Ky.
Still, the ugliness of divided Germany hadn’t left me, and in 1978 I went to Berlin actually to look. It is hard to describe the impacted loathsomeness of it. Every season , the communists added one more obstacle to stand in the way of the occasional Houdini who got through . That was the winter they added the dogs. It had begun with a concrete wall. Then barbed wire. Then watchtowers with machine gunners. Then huge spotlights. Then land mines. Then mountains of sharded glass. It is a comment on the limited resources of the communist imagination that they forgot to plant poison ivy alongside the wall.
And so I wrote a novel based on another young German idealist, determined to prevent the construction of the wall when on Aug. 13, 1961, all of a sudden it began to materialize. My young German, who as a Jewish child had been secreted to England for safety, leaving his parents to die in a Nazi camp, had his contact in East Berlin, a secretary to the monster Ulbricht, predecessor to Honecker. And the word was that if three NATO tanks charged through the wall that first day during its flimsy stage, the East Germans, backed by the Russians, would make a great show of opposition: but, actually, they would yield, as Khrushchev did not want a showdown with the West–not in August 1961, a full year before the missile crisis in Cuba . But . . . the U .S. military, under orders, seized the little column of tanks that had been secretly pulled out from the U .S. armory by young, trained
resistance Germans–and so we never knew what would have happened if we had asserted our rights to co-governing East Berlin. My young German hero, Henri Tod, did not live to see the sun set on the growing wall .
It was a great day, Nov. 9, 1989, and one day must be nominated for international celebration. JOSHUA FIT THE BATTLE OF JERICHO, JERICHO, JERICHO! JOSHUA FIT THE BATTLE OF JERICHO! AND THE WALLS CAME TUMBLIN’ DOWN!