Twenty years ago this month, we were on the verge of one of America’s great victories: the fall of the Berlin Wall and ultimately the collapse of communism in Europe, our third liberation of the Continent in the 20th century. By the end of 1989 there was freedom once more in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania. Within a year, there was once more a united Germany. Within two years, the Soviet Union was no more.
If Nov. 9, 1989, was the D-Day of the Cold War, it’s true that Americans weren’t the ones breaching East Germany’s defenses. The heroes of that night were the Berliners who finally knocked down the wall after an East German Politburo member mistakenly gave them the green light, as well as the scores of their desperate countrymen who died or were killed while fleeing westward over 28 years.
Yet our country was critical to the survival of liberty in the divided city — from the Berlin Airlift to our soldiers’ fortification of its western precincts, from Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” to Reagan’s “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Germans take justifiable pride in the reunification of their country and its capital, and the reminders of our contributions are highly visible at places like Checkpoint Charlie and the Brandenburg Gate.
Our resistance to communism’s advance in Europe beyond the East German frontier was a largely bipartisan effort, in a way that few things in American history truly have been.
The talk instead is the self-fulfilling prophecy of American decline, of America the humble, of America the first among equals, at best.
We’ve heard a lot since Inauguration Day about America’s failings. President Obama has apologized to Europeans, Muslims, Latin Americans — most anyone unfortunate enough to have walked the earth before he took office.
Our president has granted indirect Ameri culpas to the Chinese, in his coolness to the Dalai Lama, and to the Palestinians, in his disproportionate blame on Israel for the continuation of a century-old conflict. Still waiting for words of contrition are the Aussies and Antarctica’s penguin population. But hey, it’s only been nine months.
What an opportunity this month’s anniversary in Berlin presents for him to be an American apologist instead of an American apologizer. To recognize and even celebrate that “the character and cause of [our] nation,” to which he referred in his September speech at the United Nations, have a greatness that predates Jan. 20, 2009. To express pride in his country that transcends himself or his ambitions.
It is a chance he is passing up by reportedly declining an invitation to the festivities in Berlin.
This is a curious decision for a man who as a candidate last year treated Berliners to a rally about himself, who jetted to Copenhagen last month to make an Olympic pitch for his adopted hometown, who will travel to Oslo next month to accept an award for not being George W. Bush.
While the Nobel committee puts its stock in soaring words and ambitions, our president’s authority does not come from the bien-pensant, nor even from our wealth or might. It owes to our history, however imperfect, of molding and standing behind heroes like those of Berlin, extending liberty like no other nation has done.
Those heroes and their victory are truly worth celebrating.