The rise and fall of the Berlin Wall

Saturday marks the 50th anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall, which divided the city–and by extension Germany and Europe itself–between Communism and freedom.  You have simply got to read this account by the Lutheran journalist Uwe Siemon-Netto, who not only saw the wall built and torn down, but was himself with his family personally caught up in the division between East and West.  Most notable in his account is the role Christianity and specifically Lutheranism played in the tearing down of the wall and the fall of Communism.  Alas, though, he says, the Christian revival under Communist persecution has faded, as the former East Germany, now that it is free, has become godless to the core.  But read what he has to say:  Uwe Siemon-Netto’s Blog: And the wall fell down flat.

HT:  Jordan J. Ballor

20th anniversary of the collapse of Communism

Twenty years ago today, the Berlin Wall–the icon of the “Iron Curtain” that separated nations under Communist rule from the free West–was torn down by exuberant citizens from both sides. It thus is a convenient date to celebrate the fall of Communism. The totalitarian, oppressive, murderous system, protected by an extensive secret police and a panoply of nuclear weapons, came tumbling down when its citizens saw through the propaganda, said “no” to its claims, and chose freedom. That was surely one of the most remarkable revolutions in the history of the world.

The idealism that kills

Paul Hollander is a Harvard scholar on Eastern Europe and Russia and is himself a refugee from communism, having escaped from Hungary during the Soviet suppression of that country’s freedom movement. He discusses why we today still vilify the Nazis while giving the communists more of a break.

The different moral responses to Nazism and communism in the West can be interpreted as a result of the perception of communist atrocities as byproducts of noble intentions that were hard to realize without resorting to harsh measures. The Nazi outrages, by contrast, are perceived as unmitigated evil lacking in any lofty justification and unsupported by an attractive ideology. There is far more physical evidence and information about the Nazi mass murders, and Nazi methods of extermination were highly premeditated and repugnant, whereas many victims of communist systems died because of lethal living conditions in their places of detention. Most of the victims of communism were not killed by advanced industrial techniques.

Communist systems ranged from tiny Albania to gigantic China; from highly industrialized Eastern European countries to underdeveloped African ones. While divergent in many respects, they had in common a reliance on Marxism-Leninism as their source of legitimacy, the one-party system, control over the economy and media, and the presence of a huge political police force. They also shared an ostensible commitment to creating a morally superior human being — the socialist or communist man.

Political violence under communism had an idealistic origin and a cleansing, purifying objective. Those persecuted and killed were defined as politically and morally corrupt and a danger to a superior social system. The Marxist doctrine of class struggle provided ideological support for mass murder. People were persecuted not for what they did but for belonging to social categories that made them suspect.

In the aftermath of the fall of Soviet communism, many Western intellectuals remain convinced that capitalism is the root of all evil. There has been a long tradition of such animosity among Western intellectuals who gave the benefit of doubt or outright sympathy to political systems that denounced the profit motive and proclaimed their commitment to create a more humane and egalitarian society, and unselfish human beings. The failure of communist systems to improve human nature doesn't mean that all such attempts are doomed, but improvements will be modest and are unlikely to be attained by coercion. . . .

The failure of Soviet communism confirms that humans motivated by lofty ideals are capable of inflicting great suffering with a clear conscience. But communism's collapse also suggests that under certain conditions people can tell the difference between right and wrong. The embrace and rejection of communism correspond to the spectrum of attitudes ranging from deluded and destructive idealism to the realization that human nature precludes utopian social arrangements and that the careful balancing of ends and means is the essential precondition of creating and preserving a decent society.