Wednesday, November 09, 2005

What were you doing 16 years ago today?

As I emerged from the subway this morning, I saw the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedaenkniskirche (Church of Remembrance,) a Berlin landmark that I look at every day on my way to work. Bombed by the allies in 1943, the church stands in ruin as a memorial. Seeing the church often makes me think about German history, but this morning was different.

I thought about what I must have been doing 16 years ago today-- a 4th grader at Brewster Elementary School in Rochester, Michigan. I was probably watching Jem, puffing my bangs to give myself mall hair, and wondering whether Emily Johnston and I would be wearing the same outfit at school. Though I was already an avid news watcher at the age of 9, foreign news to me was what happened across the river in Canada. I was certainly not focused on Germany, a country I knew about only because my Papa had been there once and brought back lederhosen that were now in the dress-up box at my grandma's house.

I also found myself thinking about all the people who emerged from the Wittenbergplatz subway station 16 years ago today, to begin a "normal" work day. And I thought about the million or so East Berliners who also got up this morning 16 years ago, having never seen the Church as a memorial and unknowingly being just hours away from having the opportunity.

November 9, 1989, is of course the day the Berlin Wall began to fall, which brought about the reunification of Germany and the eventual end of the Cold War.

As I walked down the street this morning, I must admit that I got a little choked up thinking about what today means. Did I walk past a former East Berliner who never dreamed that in 2005 he would be working in the West? Did I walk past a German who 16 years ago tonight was reunited with a family member she hadn't seen in decades? Did I walk past someone who has lost his job because reunification has been harder than expected?

I don't know that enough attention is paid to what actually began to happen 16 years ago tonight. Citizens literally and figuratively tore down a wall! That is truly incredible! Amid double-digit unemployment, I have read many articles saying that German spirits are low and concern about the future is high. It is my hope that somehow people can remember the spirit and determination with which, on this night 16 years ago, they tumbled a wall. The world is a better place because of their actions.


At 9:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good thoughts.


At 11:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...



At 3:44 PM, Blogger kelly said...

am i a bad german resident because i did not once the entire day realize that today was the 9th? i hope they don't kick me out. i mean, they talked about the anniversary of cristallnacht on the radio this morning, but that was 6:30 and way too early to process anything.

At 10:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Erin, your blogs have been fanstastic and well written as we would expect. The news junkie in me did not see a single reference to November 9 in the media. Concord may have started the shot that was heard around the world, but Berlin broke through the wall and sent an awesome tremble througout the world and we should never forget those brave efforts.

Recently you expressed in an email to me that you would like to see your blog spur more discussion so here goes.

For 229 years America has understood the challenges of freedom and democracy, not only for ourselves but for the whole world. Looking beyond our own shores we share our cash, resources, medicine, knowledge and our youth in the quest for freedom, democracy and peace.

The despite the events that took place 16 years ago, the memories of both the German's and the French are apparently very short lived. They have witnessed the explosion of democracy on their doorstep over the past 25 years and today democracy has spread to areas throughout the world heretofor unimaginable.

If only three years ago they had spent more time looking outward vs. inward and contemplating the meaning of freedom, the world just may be a safer place today.

I suppose the PC police are now shouting that one isn't supposed to stereotype entire nations as if every individual thinks the same way. Believe me, I know the feeling. Those who want to feel insulted, agree to disagree, or maybe even agree, are all allowed on my block.

Poland and several other Eastern Block countries were remarkable in how quickly they figured it all out. It wasn't until after 1800 that the American experiment was given a chance and Russia is bravely working through their second decade of efforts.

It is important to 'give peace, and democracy, a chance'. Amazing steps have been taken in a few short years and it may even take 16 more years. Memories of freedom and unity may have been in short supply in Germany and France, but it's not too late to jump in and make a difference.


At 9:57 AM, Blogger Erin said...

Thanks for your comments DT-- my response is forthcoming. Kelly, thanks for posting as well. November 9 is a day of the highest highs and the lowest lows in German history. What were you doing on Nov. 9, 1989?

At 4:57 AM, Blogger Erin said...

Thanks for your comments. I love (most) of what your wrote and your words remind me anew why I am proud to be an American. But to add a different spin on your comments, I offer the following:

What frustrates me most about persisting trans-Atlantic tensions is that both sides are still talking past each other. Leaders need to be more careful about not only what the message is, but how it is delivered and how it will be perceived.

From the US side, we saw 9/11 as a challenge not only to the physical borders of our nation, but also to our economy, values and beliefs. We think that no one understands the pain that we experienced on 9/11 and that as a country we have a moral obligation to help those who do not live in freedom. The US says Iraq had years to overthrow Saddam, he was threatened with multiple UN resolutions, he was conspiring with terrorists and had WMD. Everyone will be better off when he is gone. We now of course have to say that the terrorist argument is shaky and the WMD argument is just wrong. But as Americans we don't see a problem with the freedom argument because of our history and because of what we did in WWII.

From the German side, the argument goes that because of the lessons of two world wars and because Germany was able to achieve unity 16 years ago without violence, the US needs to be more careful before it launches war. Remember history when looking to the future, they might say. They would argue precisely, "give peace a chance." By the same token, they would also say that their active and continuing role in Afghanistan shows that they are not afraid to use force when absolutely necessary.

If the US had to go to Iraq, I would have liked it if Germany had been involved. The country has values, experiences and resources that would have been helpful. But Chancellor Schroeder saw that being anti-war was the key to salvaging his chancellorship. Let me pull out the world's smallest violin and play it for him that he is now out of office! That said, the German people were overwhelmingly against an invasion and a leader should represent the will of the people.

Here we get back to how a message is delivered. Schroeder was not a strong enough leader to influence his people. And I don't think the German people realized how traumatized Americans were by 9/11 and that when Bush said we need to protect against the next 9/11, the people were willing to stand behind the president.

But Bush was also too stubborn to appreciate the German point of view based on their history. He also did balance his rhetoric between what the American people needed to hear and how that message would be perceived overseas. I think he also was not wise enough to realize that if he had dug his heals in a little less, there might have been wiggle room in the German position. The Schroeder government saw a permanent seat on the UN Security Council as a key to its evolution as a "normal" nation. If I were president, I would have said, "the war in Iraq is an important moment in the development of democracy in the world. Just as after WWII, there will be seats at the UN table for the victors." Maybe that was said, but somehow I doubt it. German support wouldn't have meant that German troops needed to be on the front lines; they weren't in the first Gulf War. But support comes in many ways. Both Bush and Schroeder could have framed a relatively small amount of German support in a very positive way. Post-invasion, it would have opened doors and made things exponentially better!

There is now a new chancellor in Germany. France will likely have a new president in a couple of years. Like Bush or hate him, it will also be healthy that we will have a new president in 3 years. In a best case scenario, the US could then suck it up and say "we have made mistakes and miscalculations in Iraq, but for the sake of the people of Iraq, we need help." German and French politicians could in turn say "we disagreed with you in 2003, but we believe in the principles of democracy and we want to help." European media would make a huge stink out of the fact that the US looks weak--"oohh, big America finally on their knees asking for help." American media would say, "the Europeans have finally come around and realize what is right." But it would be the job of politicians on both sides to look past the talking heads and let the results of collaboration speak for itself. Admitting a mistake and helping for the sake of the larger good can be the ultimate signs of strength.

At 10:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


We're such losers. We each write the longest comments of your blog and can't get anyone to bite. Or are they afraid? ;) I guess I'll have to make my comments off web.

My only last comment would be, what "mistakes"?

At 2:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What 'mistakes'?" Ummm, have you been following what's going on over there in Iraq? Or do you only watch Fox "News"?

At 4:19 PM, Blogger Erin said...

The mistakes to which I was referring begin with the actual invasion. The Pentagon did not correctly anticipate how quickly Saddam's troops would melt away. This meant the US was unprepared for post-war reconstruction. The lack of preparation has led to problems such as the insurgency and difficulty restoring basic services and utilities to pre-invasion levels. I am not saying that the military always has all the answers, but I believe that there was too much group-think pre-invasion, which prevented multiple contingency plans to be developed for the post-war period. The mission has NOT yet been accomplished!

While it could be argued that the citizens in Germany had a long road to recovery, it is important to remember that Germany had a democratic tradition before 1938. German citizens knew what they were working hard to get back to. Iraqi citizens, by contrast, know that they want democracy, but don't really know what is involved. It is only natural than that when a person who has never lived under democracy knows that he had a job, apartment, electricity and water before and now does not that he would become frustrated at the occupation. Someone in the administration had to have known this fact and yet problems remain.

The other problem is of course Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. As Sen. McCain (R-AZ) said last week, our detainee policy must reflect who we as a people and not who the terrorists are. As the world's remaining superpower and a country with a vast pool of brillant minds, we must be able to come up with interrogation methods that extract information to keep the country safe without abusing people within an inch of their life before they have ever even seen a court of law. I know we can do better!

At 11:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You said it sister! :)


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