Monday, November 10, 2014

Dream the Impossible Dream In Borderlands

I'm not much of a dreamer or one for politics. But there are those who, for years, dreamed that the Berlin Wall would fall.  My father, an American who served in WW2, was one. When the wall came down he was deeply moved. 

Words like the Cold War, Iron Curtain, and nuclear holocaust aren't as familiar to today's generation, but for those who lived through years of those terms in the news, it was a tense and scary time.  Most of us have a good laugh today when we think of duck and cover-- under our school desks.  Thinking of our Japanese friends who actually experienced the horror of two  nuclear bombs and knowing there was no where to hide reminds us that for all of our fears, we (the United States of America) were the ones to deliver that horrible fate, not the "enemies."  (And before someone cries, "USS Arizona," let's be clear that that was a military target; Hiroshima & Nagasaki were cities of people, and, "Of the city's 200 doctors before the explosion; only 20 were left alive or capable of working. There were 1,780 nurses before-only 150 remained who were able to tend to the sick and dying" ( I've heard the arguments for why, but one can hope that we, with all our advances, can do it differently in future.

What is so striking about the Berlin Wall is that the people on both sides of the wall brought it down.  You may look up the history online, but the effect of the wall going up was to divide families and neighbors along a political boundary, not unlike a fence that has been constructed between the US and Mexico.  Neither wall was/is just cement; there were/are armed guards.  Those desperate to cross were/are shot or jailed.

Angela Merkel, German Chancellor, remarks that it was the "yearning for freedom"(Reuters) that brought the wall down. Scott Neuman writing for NPR frames it this way:      
In an iconic moment that has come to symbolize the end of the Cold War, on the evening of Nov. 9, 1989, an East German announcement that it was easing travel restrictions to West Germany prompted a gathering at the Wall. East German border guards, apparently confused by their orders, allowed thousands of East Berliners to pass through a checkpoint to the West for the first time since the Wall was erected. Soon after, crowds began physically dismantling the structure. 
The action of easing the travel restrictions was due, at least in part, to a number of large protests of the people. Although there had been this easing of travel restrictions, I don't think anyone argues that those who began to dismantle the wall had solid assurance they wouldn't be shot.  There was great courage on both sides of the wall as they chiseled and hammered the wall away. What an incredible, beautiful image.

Governments differ in their structures and rules.  And if governments wish people to stay in their country, then rather than build walls, govern in such a way as to keep people from wishing to leave.  And if a country says, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..."  don't build a wall and shoot them as they take you up on it.

Bringing down the Berlin Wall wasn't just wishing or hoping, it was people taking action.  It started with dreams for unity and the freedoms that are mankind's birthright, but it took people acting on that dream.  As we celebrate a victory of the everyday man influencing his government and borders, let's look at other walls that have been built to divide humanity and see how we can find unity. Good fences make good neighbors; but solid walls divide. Bring them down!

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