Prized possession…

Among the most prized possessions is a two inch by two inch chip of concrete. Its multi-hued layers of spray paint on one side contrast starkly to the dirty gray pebbled other. It’s altogether fitting that the two sides are so different. This small piece of otherwise unimpressive construction material bore witness to one of the 20th century’s great follies when it was a part of a much larger engineering project – the wall in Berlin that once stood as the most visible possible reminder of the long cold war between east and west.

It was brought back not long after the wall’s demise by a friend of the family. With all the audacity an 11 year old could muster, I asked if I could have it and he graciously said yes. Wherever I’ve traveled from then until now it’s always the piece given pride of place – a reminder of the monumental stupidity that can and does grip the world and those who would lead it.

Ultimately that wall came down not because of permission from Moscow or brave decisions on the part of the East German government, but because thousands of people showed up at the gates demanding passage from east to west and there they stayed refusing to take no for an answer. Sure, political conditions were just right for such bravery in late 1989, but ultimately it was the people who showed up demanding their freedom who overwhelmed the wall.

Twenty five years ago tonight, we watched live pictures from Berlin of sights no one every really expected to see. Within a year Germany was reunified. In little more than two, the mighty Soviet Union itself would cease to exist. The end of that long nightmare didn’t start in Berlin, but it was there when we all knew, really knew, for the first time that its ending was in sight.

My little piece of the wall may be worth next to nothing in dollars and cents. If I ever find this joint on fire with time to save just one thing someone reading this post will find me on their doorstep with nothing more than a little chunk of concrete in my hand because to me it’s worth far more than its weight in gold.

In the streets…

I was a kid when the Berlin Wall fell. I watched it, like the rest of the world, from on the living room television on the still new medium of 24-hour cable news. A few years later, on Christmas Day 1991, I watched the red banner of the Soviet Union lowered atop the Kremlin for the last time and the Evil Empire vote itself out of existence. It was supposed to be the “end of history” and a new era of peace and prosperity as the cold war between superpowers ended with a wimper and not a bang. And it seemed that way. For a while.

With the benefit of hindsight, we all know now that history was mostly just taking a breather. An operational pause if you will. Instead of stable, peaceful, and decidedly American, we discovered that without the weight of two competing superpowers, the world was a complex and and downright messy. The price of winning the Cold War was learning to live in a much less certain world full of unintended consequences.

I’m once again watching unimaginable events beamed from space into the comfort of my own living room. Twenty years have passed, the names and places have changed, but it’s the same old story. A change is gonna come. In Egypt. In Libya. Perhaps in Saudi Arabia and across the whole Middle East the world is proving, once again, that it’s still a complicated place. After all, we’re still America and it’s our long-held obligation to midwife democracy wherever in the world it might take root. We must, together, stand with these people who are rising up against decades of ruthless tyranny – not to dominate them – but to help them on the path to real and lasting democracy crafted to suit the particular needs of their country and their culture.

We have a moment, and just a moment, where history hangs in the balance. We’ve proved our mettle in two grinding wars to defeat a ruthless enemy on the battlefield. Now let us show our mettle as peacemakers and diplomats to take away the very chaos, instability, and hatred that sustain our enemies.