Twenty-five years ago today, Reagan gave his famous speech at the Brandenburg Gate in still-divided Berlin, challenging Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”
I post this not out of raw nostalgia for Reagan or the 80s (although it’s too bad the end of the Cold war meant the end of any decent Clancy novels), but more because of my existential perception of the historical distance (twenty-five years already!) from today back to what was a major and formative event in my life, and the lives of many of my peers, as I was a teen when Reagan issued this challenge, when the wall actually fell, and when the Soviet Union collapsed.
Growing up in Minot, North Dakota, in the 1980s (I was born in 1974) our eyes were always on the Cold War, as Minot Air Force Base (“Only the Best Come North”) was on the strategic front lines: long-range bombers and fighter escorts ready to go north over Canada to obliterate Moscow on the far side of the North Pole, if need be, and missile command ready to launch the nukes whose silos populated our farmers’ fields to do the same.
Students of history know that it’s often been brutal, that Hobbes’ description of human life as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” has all too often been correct. Piritim Sorokin calculated that the twentieth century was the most violent of all, given not only the two World Wars but also the violence in the Asian world in places such as Cambodia and China.
History may not always turn on a dime, but at the very least it rotates on a quarter, and so a lot of people, I remember, were absolutely shocked that Communism in Europe and Eurasia collapsed so suddenly; many of us were resigned to what we thought was the fact that sooner or later the US and USSR would engage in a hot war, World War III, nukes and all. For us children of the 80s, whose high schools had fallout shelters marked with the radiation symbol, Red Dawn was more prophecy than entertainment. (“Wolverines!”) And then the End didn’t come.
When I think about it, I have no idea how. The intercession of the Blessed Virgin? Pure dumb luck? The Soviets, like the Americans, having a fundamental sense of shame preventing them from actually launching a war?
And so in the fall of 1991, history stopped for ten years, while people made money and figured out new ways to indulge in pelvic circuses and liquid bread, often with government funding. But history returned with a vengeance in the fall of 2001, turning on a dime once more, and while we face a new challenge from a certain brand of Islam from without, we in the West also face new challenges to freedom and family from within.
Tempus fugit, indeed; already twenty-five years since Reagan’s challenge at the Brandenburg Gate. Here’s a short clip of his famous words; the video below is the speech in full.