A Wall Can Teach Us All

By Joe Rector

I watched the State of the Union message. Senators and members of the House mingled for several minutes before the official proceedings began. The cameras showed what one might have thought was a meeting of good friends. However, when the gavel struck, it was as if the bell for the first round of a prize fight had begun.

The GOP side interrupted the president. They blamed him for too many illegal immigrants, pooh-poohed his pledge to veto bills, and screamed “Liar” at the leader of the country. The Democrats proved to be rowdy as well when they whooped and cheered for some proposed legislation that the opponents find unacceptable. All in all, it was a night that lacked any signs of bipartisanship or respect.

The U.S. democracy lags in second place to a speedy, dark opponent: extremism. Leaders of the race are the fringes of both parties. The loss to either side is the death knell to democracy. The American people seem to have forgotten the importance of a democratic country, a free homeland. How sad and discouraging that is.

My son-in-law is responsible for the writing of this column. He developed a site on YouTube recently. His intentions were to save old VHS tapes from his youth. The title of the site is “darkWorkOne.” it is a compilation of touring by his family during the time the Air Force stationed his dad in Germany. The film covers those adventures in 1989. What is captured are the two worlds of that country one day and the reunification of it the next.

Nick’s family took a tour of Berlin. Part of the trip covered the Eastern section, the portion of Germany on the communist side. The bus stopped at Check Point Charlie, and Nick remembers the stop as a scary time.

On the other side of the wall, Berlin was stark. Old buildings stood, some of them leftovers from World War II. They were bombed-out shells. An eerie quiet filled their ears. Folks weren’t stopping to talk to visitors. Perhaps they feared the reactions of soldiers eyeing every move.

On the western side, life much more resembled what Americans enjoy. Shops and tourist attractions welcomed travelers. Still, the wall loomed across the city, and between sides lay “no man’s land,” a much farther distance than I had realized. Individuals had to cross that barren stretch of ground to reach freedom in the west. The names of those who failed were printed on large white crosses, and some were infants.

The next day, November 9, a different mood existed. The films that Nick’s dad recorded showed a slow drip of people swelling to a tsunami of individuals and vehicles swamping checkpoints used to cross into freedom. Escapees streamed to the west, and when a siren sounded, their paces quickened. At those crossing points, West German residents and tourists met them with smiles, hugs, and pats. Nick and his family handed out candy to children in cars and flowers to women who had finally found freedom.

It was that collection of films that made me feel so sad for our own country. I urge everyone to watch Nick’s films from the day before and the day of the knocking down of that wall. There you will see the great joy and unspeakable thanks for democracy. Those people who’d been captive in the WW II world of Berlin left the gray skies for sunny ones. They walked into a life of possibilities. Freedom became sacred, and it was worth defending.

We in the U.S. need to watch Nick’s YouTube channel www.youtube.com/@darkWorkOne and then think how little in recent times we have appreciated our democracy. Other forms of government are not close to what we’ve always enjoyed. Perhaps the happiness and smiles and dedication of East Germans can now inspire us to heal old wounds and once again become the last, best hope for freedom.