I sat in my grandparents’ family room, my eyes glued to the television. There were crowds gathered at the base of a concrete wall covered with graffiti in a language I couldn’t read. Camera flashes were going off so much that it looked like the worst lightning storm in the earth’s history. The peoples’ breath fogged in the cold air as they sang songs, wept, and hugged each other.
Some of the men swung sledge hammers, the heavy metal heads bouncing off the concrete face and sending chips flying in all directions. The people around them scrambled on the ground and scooped up fragments and chips wherever they landed. Whenever one of the men grew weary, his arms too heavy to lift the mallet, another stepped in to take his place.
The hammers never stopped swinging.
Atop the wall guards dressed in military clothes, rifles slung over their shoulders, danced and sang and wept with each other. Some of the crowd in neon colored wind-suits and track pants were pulled on top as well and they hugged the guards and laughed. When one section of the wall finally came slowly toppling down, the entire crowd stopped as if taking a collective breath, and then erupted in cheers and songs and new rounds of weeping.
I didn’t understand what I was watching at the time, not really. I was only eight years old, but I knew it was something big. All of the channels had cut away from their regular programming and were showing similar images. This was it. The fall of Communism had arrived at long last.
The Berlin Wall was coming down.
I remember watching the guards’ faces as the crowds poured through the new openings in the wall from both sides. At first they were a mixture of fear, uncertainty, even despair. When the crowds first moved, they gave those guards on the ground a wide berth, trying not to come within arm’s reach of them at any cost. They were isolated islands in a flowing river of humanity.
Then, one at a time, the people approached them hesitantly. They offered a hand, a word of encouragement, a hug. And slowly the guards began to change. Soon they were laughing, clapping each other on the back, hugging people as they walked by. One I saw dropped to his knees and began praying, tears streaming down his face.
For twenty eight years the Berlin Wall had stood as a physical symbol of the ideological and philosophical divide that separated the “East” from the “West.” For some, letting go of that barrier was difficult. For others, it was a long-awaited release. When the wall came down, families that had been split were reunited, friends that had lost each other were able to reconnect, and a country that had been wounded since the end of World War II finally had a chance to really begin the healing process.
The fall of the wall was not the end of the process; rather it marked a new beginning. On Christmas Day two years later, the Soviet hammer and sickle would be lowered for the last time over the Kremlin, marking the official dissolution of the Soviet Union. For a brief moment, the world rejoiced as Socialism and Communism seemed to be breathing their last breaths.
Now, twenty seven years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and nearly twenty-five years after the breakup of the largest single Marxist nation and regime to ever exist, there are valuable lessons to be learned. We are seeing a new rise of Marxist thought and ideology in many areas of the world. Socialist parties are gaining support and power in Europe, Asia, South and Central America, Africa, and even here at home in the US. For the first time our nation had a major political candidate in the primaries who was openly Socialist and who nearly won the nomination for the Democratic Party. Marxism and Socialism in particular are seen as favorable by millenials in alarming numbers. Nearly 60% of millenials aged 18-24 see Socialism as favorable according to some polls. What’s more troubling is that only 16% of millenials in that same age bracket could accurately define what Socialism is.
As our nation celebrates (or laments) the election of a new President it is important not to lose sight of our recent history. We must do a better job of educating young people as to what Marxism and Socialism truly are and the evils of both political philosophies. If we do not, and we allow these damning trends to continue unchecked, we may find ourselves thirty years hence weeping and singing as another wall is pulled down—and lamenting the time we spent trapped behind it.