November 9, 2009
Lessons of the Berlin Wall, 20 years later
Chris Gueffroy’s name is a mere footnote now, but Gueffroy has the dubious honor of having been the last of the hundreds of people killed while attempting to cross the Berlin Wall separating communist East Germany from the free sector of the city. Gueffroy was shot 10 times in a maze of concrete and razor wire, just a stone’s throw from freedom.
Gueffroy’s life is lost to history now, but we do have one small clue as to what kind of man he was. “In his passport photo, he wore a small hoop earring, an act of nonconformity in a country that prized conformity above all else,” Michael Moynihan said in a recent article for Reason magazine.
Nine months after Gueffroy’s death, and 20 years ago Monday, the Berlin Wall fell. The world rejoiced and millions were set free — but in the two decades since, the world has also moved on. When we finally peeled back the Iron Curtain, we found an inhuman cultural landscape rife with brutal totalitarianism, rampant poverty and death on a scale unprecedented in human history. Stalin alone killed some 40 million people in the Soviet Union, wrapping his capricious whims in the ideological camouflage of communism. It was a belief system based on the worship of totalitarian state power, negation of the individual and the denial of economic reality. It’s hard for many people to accept the fact that mere ideas can be so poisonous.