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One of the best essays I have ever read is P.J. O’Rourke’s “The Death of Communism: Berlin, November 1989” from his essay collection Give War a Chance. O’Rourke was the foreign correspondent for Rolling Stone in the late 1980s and early 90s and reported from many Cold War hotspots. In this essay, O’Rourke writes poignantly and humorously about the collapse of the Berlin Wall. First, he contrasts the free Germans of West Berlin with their communist brethren on the other side of the wall:
West Germans are tall, pink, pert and orthodontically corrected. With hands, teeth and hair as clean as their clothes and clothes as sharp as their looks. Except for the fact that they all speak English pretty well, they’re indistinguishable from Americans. East Germans seem to have been hunching over cave fires a lot. They’re short and thick with sallow, lardy fat, and they have Khrushchev warts. There’s something about Marxism that brings out warts–the only kind of growth this economic system encourages.
Upon seeing an East German border guard ask for a piece of the wall that was being torn down, O’Rourke writes:
I looked at that and I began to cry.
I really didn’t understand before that moment, I didn’t realize until just then–we won. The Free World won the Cold War. The fight against life-hating, soul-denying, slavish communism–which had shaped the world’s politics this whole wretched century–was over.
And the best thing about our victory was the way we did it–not just with ICBMs and Green Berets and aid to the contras. Those things were important, but in the end we beat them with Levi 501 jeans. Seventy-two years of communist indoctrination and propaganda was drowned out by a three-ounce Sony Walkman. A huge totalitarian system with all its tanks and guns, gulag camps and secret police had been brought to its knees because nobody wants to wear Bulgarian shoes.
I am beginning to wonder if the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was America’s peak. Nearly all Americans, left and right alike, could agree in 1989 that the American experiment was a righteous project worth defending and advancing. There was near-universal agreement that communism was not only an abject failure but also a great moral evil. The whole world knew that the good guys won the Cold War and that the United States led this global effort. Freedom beat totalitarianism and all Americans were justly proud of this victory.
I fear that too many of us have lost self-confidence and belief in the great American value of liberty. We have very short historical memories, and many in our society who should know better are now willing to champion totalitarian ideologies which have proven so destructive in the past. Our media and many elites indulge and promote the historically illiterate who think that capitalism and microaggressions constitute real oppression. Many of our political elites openly despise American values and the American people. These same arrogant fools think that increased centralization of political power and a command economy can somehow bring about the utopia that communism failed to create.
The Berlin Wall has fallen, but the totalitarian temptation remains more tempting than ever.Published in