Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences Dedman College Research Faculty News History

We were lucky to survive the Berlin Wall’s fall

Dallas Morning News

Originally Posted: Nov. 9, 2019

Thirty years ago this week the impossible happened: the Berlin Wall fell. More accurately it was crushed by Berliners both East and West who’d had enough of the scar across their cityscape. Like crowds before them, in Leipzig and Dresden in East Germany, in Budapest and Warsaw too, demonstrators demanding change stared down soldiers and police, and won.

We were lucky to survive. Crowds can be dangerous. Call that same group a mob and one immediately understands why. They spasm often without coordination or regard for their organizer’s peaceful intent, easily undone by a single protester who breaks rank to toss a brick, or by a trembling young recruit gripped by fear and too tightly gripping his rifle’s trigger, instantly transforming a show of force into a massacre. Sometimes the massacre is intentional. Tiananmen Square had transformed overnight from a place into an event only months before.

We were lucky the night the Berlin Wall fell, but also well led. No single person can claim sole credit for ending the Cold War, and of all potential contributors the Soviet Union’s Mikhail Gorbachev leads the pack. It was his call for reform in 1985 that ultimately led not only to eradication of a barrier in Berlin, but more profoundly the demise of European communism the following year. Keep in mind Gorbachev never intended communism’s collapse, but plans, like crowds, sometimes have minds of their own. READ MORE