09 November 2009

When the Wall came tumblin' down

It doesn't seem like that long ago-but it was twenty years ago that the Berlin Wall came down and the Warsaw Pact dissolved like a cookie dunked in coffee.

I never thought I'd see the day that happened. Almost all of the scenarios for dismantling of the Iron Curtain (at least on this side of it) involved a massive attack of West Germany ending (depending on the author) in nuclear holocaust or a counterattack and pushback by the reinforcing wave of American forces. It would appear that the other side was given much the same scenario but involving a NATO foray into East Germany.

I do remember the summer and fall of 1989, when Gorbachev essentially said to the Pact nations, 'If you want to, you're free to leave the Pact'. And those countries said, 'OK. You guys have been dicks for the last forty years anyway. Thank you very little for sharing communism with us.' Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, East Germany, and Poland all essentially tossed off their communist regimes. Romania was the last Eastern European country to be involved in the Revolutions of 1989, odd, since Mr. Ceaucescu kind of marched to the beat of his own drum. I also remember his trial and 7.62 mm retirement party, when his and his wife's body were somewhat unceremoniously pulled out of a BTR-60 and displayed to the world. Sic semper tyrannis.

Some of you military buffs probably remember some of the watchwords and acronyms of the era-SACEUR, REFORGER, Pershing, tripwire forces, Fulda Gap, Inner German Border, Stasi, Foxbat, Alfa. The list goes on. But now it seems like there never was such a place as 'West Germany' or 'East Germany' or even 'The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics'.

I had at the time some hopes that the U.S. and whatever was left of Russia could have cooperated more on a mutual military and economic basis. I suspect our combined power in those arenas would have allowed us a fair amount of say in world affairs. Such an alliance might be interesting fodder for alternate history writers. Alas, the US kind of drew in on itself in the 1990s and the much-reduced Russian Federation under Yeltsin devolved into a giant third-world gangsterland.

Many conservatives celebrate the day. They see it as the day Reagan, Thatcher, et al, pushed a plodding communist system to bankruptcy, and forced Gorbachev and the Central Committee to cave. Strange-I remember it being a bit more moderate. Reagan and Gorbachev did learn to get along personally and negotiate in some measure of good faith. Looking back, in many ways the Cold War era was similar to 'The Great Game' between the British and Russian Empires of the 19th century-a game with rules and clearly defined boundaries of behavior.

I almost miss those days. Almost. Our current crop of adversaries are more insidious-and don't believe in rules. A street fight as opposed to a chess game.

Still, the relatively peaceful dissolution of an empire is a rare event in history, and I suppose we all can say that the fall of the Wall was quite an era to live through, and quite a sight to see.

I'll have to dig up my old copy of Red Storm Rising sometime and give it a read. Why do I think it'd be as dated as Wells' The Land Ironclads?

As I went through the photo archive, who in 1986 or 1987 would have thought that the Polish Air Force would be flying F-16s instead of MiG-29s in 2007?

Or the US Army would have T-72s in the inventory (at least with the OPFOR at Ft. Irwin)?

Strange days indeed, Lennon used to sing. Most peculiar, mama.

yankeedog out.


  1. I also remember that lovely idea they flung around "a survivable nuclear exchange". If the thought of nuclear obliteration wasn't bad enough the thought you may survive only to starve to death, die of radation posioning or have hordes of radioactive mutuant zombies gum you to death (their teeth fall out due to the radition). Never would have guessed that the iron curtain would come down the way it did.

  2. The Soviets just ran out of cash. The more they had to play in the free market economy of the world, the more and more broke they ended up. In the end they couldn't afford their empire any more - couldn't afford the cost of maintaining its borders and crushing its dissidents - and so they lost it. Interesting that out-and-out capitalism as practiced by Reagan is now about as popular as week-old borscht left out in the sun...

  3. Somehow I feel ripped off and that Europe owes me a nuke war dammit!

    Interesting that China seems to have learnt from the USSR's economic mistakes, perhaps too well. Will the expanding middle class end communism there?

  4. Bangar-T.S. Eliot decribed the fall of the Eastern Bloc long before it happened. 'Not with a bang but with a whimper'.

    Doc-Well written. Reminds one of the old Russian joke: 'Capitalism is the oppression of man by man. And communism is the exact opposite.'

    Naut-I think China's government will eventually morph back into the Imperial system. They did fair with it for several millenia.