Sunday, May 13, 2012

A different perspective on the Berlin Wall

I remember seeing the wall come down on television. Back then, I was just a kid, and I had the impression that the Wall separated West Germany from East Germany, that it went across the country, and that Berlin was on the border. Berlin itself was far in East German territory, in the northeast of the country, though. Because it was the capitol of both Nazi Germany, Weimar Germany, and Kaiser Germany, Berlin was occupied by all of the forces who won the Second World War, and divided into zones controlled by them. This meant that within the territory of East Germany there was a city that was another country, that was controlled by the West, by the United States, Great Britain, and France. The Berlin Wall didn't just cut through Berlin, it totally surrounded Western Berlin, cutting it off from the rest of East Germany. 
Now, you could say to yourself, what a terrible thing for a city to be divided in half like that, and indeed I'm sure it was, but as the Cold War heated up some sort of division like that was inevitable. NATO was formed with the express purpose of fighting the Eastern Bloc and with West Berlin you had three of the NATO powers resident within the Eastern Bloc itself. Not only that, but a porous border between East and West Berlin allowed not just people but spies and information to go back and forth. With the border between West and East Germany hardening and becoming militarized everywhere else, why should a border between East and West Berlin have remained open? As unfortunate as it was, and as arbitrary as the division of the city was for people who had lived their lives there for generations, once the Soviets set up their own state something like this was bound to happen. 

What a divided Berlin signified, though, was the ultimate arbitrariness of the division between the Eastern Bloc and the West, between the Communist world and the capitalist world. The countries that became Communist were simply the ones that the Soviet Union occupied in the wake of World War II, regardless of whether they had any sort of Communist movement before the war and the Nazi occupation before that. East Germany was East Germany because that's the territory that the Red Army occupied. East Berlin became East Berlin because of international agreement. The people of East Berlin, of East Germany, became citizens of the new state by historical chance. 

Additionally, moves such as the starving of West Berlin by the Soviets, countered by the Berlin Airlift, were very illegitimate. 

But the wall, taken as having no rationale but as a symbol of oppression, has to be balanced against the many military bases the United States had in West Germany whose purpose was to prepare for war against the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc. Those bases are still there today. 

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