August 2021 marks the 60th anniversary of the building of the Berlin Wall. For 28 years thereafter, that ugly barrier divided the city of Berlin and closed off the only remaining escape hatch for people in the communist East who wanted freedom in the West.
No warning was given before East German soldiers and police first stretched barbed wire and then began planting the infamous concrete wall, guard towers, dog runs, and explosive devices behind it on August 13, 1961.
By one estimate, a total of 254 people died at the wall during those 28 years—shot by police, ensnared by the barbed wire, mauled by dogs, or blown to bits by land mines. Just two months earlier, the lying First Secretary of the East German Socialist Party had declared at a press conference, “No one has the intention of erecting a wall!”
In my home hangs a copy of a famous photo of a poignant moment from that sad sixty years ago. It shows a young, apprehensive East German soldier glancing about as he prepares to let a small boy pass through the emerging barrier.
No doubt the boy spent the night with friends and found himself the next morning on the opposite side of the Wall from his family. But the East German government ordered its men to let no one pass. The inscription below the photo explains that at this very moment, the soldier was seen by a superior officer who immediately detached him from his unit. “No one,” reads the inscription, “knows what became of him.”
Only the most despicable tyrants could punish a man for letting a child get to his loved ones but in the Evil Empire, that and much worse happened all the time. It happens today, and for the same sick ideology, in places like Cuba, North Korea, China, and Venezuela.
We should never forget this awful chapter in history. Nor should we ever forget that it was done in the name of a vicious system that declared its “solidarity with the working class” and professed its devotion to “the people.”
The Wall represented socialism’s very essence, which is force—concentrated power in the hands of corrupt mortals. The government that built it called itself a “democratic republic.”
We who embrace liberty do not believe in shooting people because they don’t conform, and that is ultimately what socialism (and its cousin, communism) are all about. We do not plan other people’s lives because we’re too busy at the full-time job of reforming and improving our own. We believe in persuasion, not coercion. We solve problems at penpoint, not gunpoint. We are never so smugly self-righteous in our beliefs that we are ready at the drop of a hat to dragoon the rest of society into our schemes.
All this is why so many of us get a rush every time we think of Ronald Reagan standing in front of the Brandenburg Gate in 1987 and boldly declaring, “Mr. Gorbachev, TEAR DOWN THIS WALL!” This is why we were brought to tears in the heady days of 1989 when thousands of Berliners scaled the Wall with their hammers, picks, and fists and pummeled that terrible Wall and the Marxist vision that fostered it. I love what the French film direct Luc Besson said about the occasion:
It’s always the small people who change things. It’s never the politicians or the big guys. I mean, who pulled down the Berlin Wall? It was all the people in the streets. The specialists didn’t have a clue the day before.
In a few weeks, on the 60th anniversary of the most vivid illustration of what happens when government is unlimited, let us remember the 254 whose only crime was that they wanted to live free. Let’s honor the memory of the more than 100 million killed by the isms of the Left. Let’s spread the good word everywhere about the freedoms we too often take for granted, and why it’s vital to restore the ones we’ve foolishly abandoned. And let’s remember something else that Ronald Reagan told us: