SYNDICATED COLUMN: Why I Miss the Berlin Wall

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This week’s coverage of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall brought me back, not to warm fuzzies about peace and freedom and Gipper Ron Ron and winning the Cold War, but the reaction of my former BFF Dan (whom I miss for his talent for lightening-quick, wicked-brilliant repostes).

The Berlin Wall has fallen, I informed him. Germany is reunited.

Thoughts?

“This,” he replied as usual without missing a beat, “is like the reunion tour recently announced by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. I didn’t care for any of their previous collaborations, and I’m not looking forward to the next one.”

The former two Germanies haven’t given us another Hitler. Not yet. But Germany 2.0 did revive and realize the Führer’s dream of uniting Europe into a unified trading bloc, with a common currency, big enough to give the United States a run for its devalued money. The new euro was, naturally, pegged to the old Deutsche Mark. Germany is by far the most powerful nation in Europe.

Which is a good place to start my List of Reasons I Miss the Berlin Wall.

As usually-correct economist-professor-columnist (and usually ignored) Paul Krugman has pointed out over and over, the German-dominated European Union — which would never have come into being had the Wall remained standing and the Soviet bloc continued to exist — has been an unwieldy amalgam of political autonomy and fiscal union, dragging relatively poorer nations like Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain (“PIGS”) into a vicious cycle of austerity, budget cuts and seemingly endlessly rising unemployment. “The creation of the euro was about politics and ideology, not a response to careful economic analysis (which suggested from the beginning that Europe wasn’t ready for a single currency),” Krugman wrote in May.

Why should hard-working Germans bail out lazy, corrupt Mediterranean nations? Protestant pundits ask. Scratch the surface of the Eurozone crisis and you find that the Germans aren’t the victims here. Far from propping up their swarthy southern partners, Germans are using their control over the euro to turn the PIGS into trade debtors.

Adolf blew his brains out but Germany won the war. Cuz: reunification.

The most important consequence of the fall of the Berlin Wall was, of course, the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union. “Economic shock therapy” — U.S.-backed Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s misbegotten attempt to convert the USSR’s state economy to neoliberalist capitalism overnight — led to the infamous Russian Mortality Crisis, when death rates soared 40% in Russia, and even higher in other former Soviet republics.

It has been estimated that 30 million people either died or will die as the result of the catastrophic dissolution of the USSR.

Socialism was destroyed but not replaced. The power vacuum opened by the collapse of the Soviet system was quickly filled by gangsters. Corrupt former factory managers forcibly seized state property and industries whose profits might otherwise have been used to create a blow-softening social safety net for the millions who lost their jobs. Hard drugs from Central Asia and Afghanistan, set free to fall apart after Gorbachev stepped down, supplemented rampant alcoholism. The infamous Russian oligarchy rose during this period, widening the gap between rich and poor, and set the stage for Putinism supported by traumatized Russians who happily chose authoritarianism over the anarchy of the post-Soviet period.

No wonder most Russians tell pollsters they miss the Soviet Union.

Former Soviet client states lost their financial and military backing. Nations like Somalia and Congo disintegrated into bloody civil conflict.

But hey. The demise of the Evil Empire was good for the United States, right?

Not really.

American and European citizens paid trillions for the Cold War. After 1991, pundits promised a “peace dividend” — lower taxes, more public spending on infrastructure and social programs. Barely two years later, the peace dividend was gone — spent, ironically, on the high costs of the Soviet collapse.
“Defense cuts and reductions in military forces have brought in their wake a series of job losses,” Britain’s Independent newspaper reported in 1993. “The transitional costs of the end of the Cold War, combined with the inadequacy of government responses across Western Europe, have meant that we are worse, not better, off.”

You’d think that, as believers in the magic of the marketplace, Americans would see the value of competition in the world of ideas, militarily and politically, on the international scene. Whether or not they admit it, however, citizens of the United States have gotten softer and dumber after assuming their status as the world’s last remaining superpower. Unchallenged ideologically and otherwise, Americans questioned themselves and their beliefs in capitalism and American exceptionalism even less after the 1990s than before. But now, as de facto rulers of the last empire, Americans became the obvious targets of choice for opposition forces that want to change the new order, like fundamental Islamist movements.

It’s tough to disagree with the French writer Nicolas Bonnai, who noted in Pravda in 2012: “The US oligarchy [went] berserk, started new wars everywhere with the Bush dynasty and ruined [its] finances. Drastic inequality became the lemma of this crazy society driven by lunatic leaders and wars. Today America leads to nowhere; America is just a [locus] (Al Qaeda) of the new global matrix made of wars and terrors, manipulation and deregulation.”

The fall of the Berlin Wall created at least as many hardships as blessings.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

13 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: Why I Miss the Berlin Wall

  1. Thanks for that.
    I was teaching German when the wall “fell” – I didn’t know if it was a blessing or a curse.
    I still don’t.
    🙁

      • Entschuldigen Sie, bitte.
        Ich glaube, Sie haben nicht gemeint, diese Bermerkung an mich zu direktieren.
        Geben Sie Acht und versicheren Sie, dass Solche an. die richtige Stelle kommen, wenn Sie sie ernst meinen. Danke. 🙁

  2. Two things going on.

    1. the global economic picture that Ted has touched on very thoughtfully

    2. the specific moment of a revolutionary moment tearing down a tyrannical wall in Berlin.

    It’s still important to celebrate #2. Even more progressive is to point out the connection between that cool little revolution in 1989 Berlin with the much larger and probably more significant peaceful revolutions in Brazil and South Korea that same year. Those don’t get talked about like Berlin because the US client states having a revolution is a bit outside of acceptable discourse in US politics. Now it is so far in the past in can be remembered. It’s quite a radical thing to celebrate.

    The mainstream media storytelling tends to tell a BS pro-capitalism story about #1 with some fake references to #2. Kudos to ted for telling a more honest story.

    • There was no revolution in Brazil that same year. We held elections, though. That elected a guy who got impeached later. Still prefer the little Eastern European revolution.

  3. In short, before the Euro, the PIIGS borrowed in their own currencies, which they constantly devalued. So no one was fool enough to lend to them, knowing they’d get back only a small fraction of the loan.

    Then they signed up for the Euro, which they could not devalue.

    And banksters made huge loans to their leaders that the leaders could not (or would not) repay.

    So now the ordinary PIIGS citizens are stripped of almost everything so their countries can repay those loans.

    For those who read John Perkins (or who are not completely blind) this is what the banksters have been doing to Asian, African, and Latin American countries for years. Now they’re doing it to European countries, something everyone thought was impossible, but the banksters pulled it off!

    Another great day for Capitalism.

    And we have a Germany that is doing more damage to Greece than the Germany of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.

    • “Another great day for Capitalism.”

      I’d call it fascism or perhaps something else. In a true free society and market, there could be no banksters in the sense you are talking about. This all stems from fiat currency and the government’s nerve to think it has the right to issue it. Without it, no one could devalue a currency. There would be no unfair advantage in this way to exploit borrowers. A free market would actually mean the government would favor no one. These unholy marriages wouldn’t be possible. In America, it goes back to the first administration. Alexander Hamilton flooded the nation with paper money and speculation was rampant as shysters used the government to make money off the common man.

      • Man’s lust for power and control has never allowed it to exist. A limited government would mean real liberty. It would also mean most powers it claims today would be illegal. Which in turn would mean no mob or another could wield government as a club against other interests. Men seem to prefer the possibility of screwing their neighbors over freedom from such.

  4. Ted,

    Don’t forget the biggest reason for missing the Berlin Wall.

    Put aside all the fear of thermonuclear disaster and all the Communists force-converting the children (Chorus: Won’t Somebody Think of the Children!!?), and who were the enemies? People for whom the ideological fight was secondary. Even at the height of the Cold War, the risk of a global nuclear winter was almost zero. Why? Because the Russians had the same concerns we did AND had the same infrastructure more or less: cities and farms and ports.

    Now? We have religious fanatics, fanned by decades of western interference. They hate us and they have nothing for us to bomb. No cities, no roads, nothing. And for the cost of a few suicide bombers who manage to pull something in this country, they are turning us into a police state. Even worse, they’re turning us into cowards. Confront the police? Right. And I’ll pick up the bits of my teeth and limp off to the dentist on two broken legs …

    That’s the big reason to miss the Berlin Wall.

    • I’m reading about Thomas Jefferson, the original American. In the 1800 election, Federalists were thinking of any trick to keep him out of the President’s House. Some Republicans were ready to storm government buildings in arms if the Federalists indeed subverted the Constitution. Fortunately we all now know violence is never to be considered.

  5. Tell me Ted,

    Did you ever visit The Wall while it was still in its prime? You know, when it was all unapproachable. Well, I did my Sr. year in high school at Frankfurt-American Military Dependent High School … one of the best times of my life that I ever had. Back then, America’s military bases were still considered American soil, and I had an American Military Dependent I.D. Card, damned-well nearly a better license to kill than James Bond had, except I never killed anybody (I don’t think).

    One time after scoring some GTH at Gruneberg Park, I hopped on a Berlin-bound train in the middle of Frankfurt and for the next couple of days I had a blast. Of course, one thing you NEVER did back then once you got inside the city of petrified Nazis was to approach the wall(s). Only if I had smoked a little less, maybe then I would remember a bit more about my experience there. Sigh.

    Anyway, I feel you. the world was a bit — uh — simplier (I guess) then, the politics of “Good” and “Bad” just a bit more defined. On the other hand, last year I visited Budapest. During the Cold War, that would never have happened. Budapest still has a very 1970s feeling to it.

    DanD