Thursday, November 19, 2009

Gary Palmer: Give thanks for the faith, courage and vision that brought the Wall down

  As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, there is one thing that you should add to the list of things we should all be thankful for… the fall of the Berlin Wall.

  Twenty years ago, on November 9, 1989, a remarkable moment in the history of mankind took place when the East German government abruptly announced that their people were free to cross into West Germany. By evening, thousands from East and West Germany had gathered at the Brandenburg Gate, singing, crying and rejoicing. Some brought picks, chisels and hammers and began chipping away at what was perhaps the most visible symbol of the Cold War.

  Here in the United States, Americans watched in near disbelief as NBC-TV broadcast live what was happening at the Wall. How quickly the face of history was changing. Just ten years earlier, many Americans believed we might lose the Cold War and that the Soviet Union would be the world’s dominant power. Yet, the Wall was coming down right before our eyes.

  What we didn’t realize at the time was that the Berlin Wall had begun to crack ten years earlier.

  In 1979, America was at a low point. We were in the midst of an energy crisis and a recession. We faced double-digit inflation, double-digit unemployment and interest rates were over 20 percent. And in his famous “malaise” speech, President Jimmy Carter warned of a crisis of confidence that was “… threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.”

  To make matters worse, we had just lost the Viet Nam war and the morale of our military as well as our national morale was very low. Moreover, the Soviets were on the move in Africa, in the Caribbean (through their Cuban surrogates) and in Central America. And in December 1979, they invaded Afghanistan. In another humiliation, on November 4th Islamic radicals took over the American Embassy in Tehran, Iran and were holding Americans hostage.

  However, other events were taking place in 1979 that would set the stage for the end of the Cold War and for the resurgence of America.

  First, on May 4th of that year Margaret Thatcher became the British Prime Minister. Thatcher was virtually alone among Western European leaders in her support and encouragement of President Ronald Reagan’s “peace through strength” approach to dealing with the Soviets. Lady Thatcher and President Reagan, elected in 1980, were two of the three most important figures involved in ending the Cold War… the other was Pope John Paul II.

  On June 2, 1979 , Pope John Paul II returned to his homeland of Poland. The Soviet-dominated government of Poland did all that it could to keep the Polish people in the dark about his visit, hoping to limit the numbers who would assemble to hear him… but they failed. By the time he reached Warsaw almost a million people had turned out along the streets and highways to greet John Paul II and in Victory Square where the Pope conducted a mass.

  In a nation under the iron rule of atheists, the people were shouting “We want God! We want God!”

  On June 10th, two to three million Poles gathered in Blonie Field in Krakow. This was the largest assembly in the history of Poland, and they came for a mass. Peggy Noonan wrote that in his sermon, John Paul II called upon the people to “… be strong with the strength that faith gives.” He said, “You must be strong with love, which is stronger than death… When we are strong with the Spirit of God, we are also strong with the faith of man… There is therefore no need to fear… so… I beg you: Never lose your trust, do not be defeated, do not be discouraged….”

  These were powerful words spoken by a courageous man to a people hungry for freedom and longing for God. His words and his courage were blows to the Communists and they represented the first cracks in the Berlin Wall. The course of history had turned and hardly anyone realized it.

  Eight years later on June 4, 1987, President Ronald Reagan stood outside the Brandenburg Gate and challenged Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.” Seventeen months later, it came down.

  The fall of the Berlin Wall should inspire hope in everyone concerned about the future of America. Just ten years before it fell, America seemed to be in irreversible decline; yet, in less than ten years, our economy was strong, our military rebuilt and its morale restored, and America stood as the world’s only superpower.

  In his farewell speech, Reagan said that whatever else history said about him, he hoped that it would record that he appealed to our best hopes, not our worst fears; to our confidence, rather than our doubts. I believe this is the key to the next American revival.

  What Reagan taught us is that the right ideas, properly implemented and supported can change the world and the fact that there is no longer a Berlin Wall is proof he was right. What John Paul II taught us is to not be discouraged, for there is no need to fear for those who are “…strong with the strength that faith gives.” So when you sit down at your Thanksgiving table, give thanks for the faith, courage and vision of the leaders that brought the Wall down.

  About the author: Gary Palmer is president of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families, which are indispensable to a prosperous society.

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