Enlightened Conflict

the day began the building of the cold wall

August 13th, 2014

berlin wall border



“Sometimes our walls exist just to see who has the strength to knock
them down.”


Darnell Lamont Walker





Today I have a historical note.



Because today marks the day the Berlin Wall was established.



In the early hours of Sunday August 13th in 1961 there was a sudden swoop upon the demarcation lines of the border between east and west Berlin by Russian and East German <DDR> troops and tanks with barbed wire and mesh <ironically bought from the British>.



This was the true harbinger of the cold war.


berlin wall watchtower no mans land

The blocks and bricks and steel traps and watch towers.






14 foot height.


96 miles long around West Berlin.


302 watchtowers <always posted by 2 men from different parts of the country – so they could check on each other – the guards at the wall had permission to shoot at any time>.



The East Germans called it “the anti fascist barrier to protect the DDR” and in their propaganda the barrier was promoted as a victory.



But in those early hours there was no wall <yet>.



Apparently the first people to know anything was wrong were the cab drivers of Berlin as they were unusually being stopped and searched when they crossed the boundaries between the allied zones and the Soviet zone.



This was something that on every other night would be routine.



But for one last night in the early morning hours the East let people back to the West … and most of these were the bar crowd who found themselves stuck in the East and parted from families.


That is the night the cold war truly began.

Berlin Wall 1


Over the next four nights, as barbed wire and temporary mesh & concrete fences fell across what were once busy streets … there was little East Berliners <some separated from family & friends in the West> and the Americans <of which it was mainly their zone initially affected> could do but watch or, in rare cases, make a last bid for freedom.



The building of the Berlin Wall <which began not with concrete but rather steel barbed wire> … ‘stacheldraht’ in German … stretched across roads, parks, through buildings, even crossing rivers.



The wall included electrified fences, fortifications, and guard posts.
The Soviet named ‘anti-fascist protection rampart’ would not look like the Wall we typically remember until the concrete version was put up in 1965 <updated in 1975>.



The Berlin Wall was just the most famous portion of what was called ‘the iron curtain.’



The DDR build this wall in the eastern part of Berlin and later this was a part of what Churchill called an Iron curtain from the Baltic to the Adriatic.


berlin wall constructie



Today, August 13th, in the morning that the Berlin Wall came into existence after the East German government closed the border between east and west sectors of Berlin with barbed wire to discourage emigration to the West.


The barbed wire was replaced by a 12 foot-high concrete wall eventually extending 103 miles (166 km) around the perimeter of West Berlin.



It was the symbol of the Cold War … in real life … and in fiction.



I admit that one of my favorite reading genres is espionage fiction.



John Gardner’s Herbie Kruger series.


Bill Granger Devereux series.


Le Carre Smiley series.



Others I can’t remember as I write this …


And if you read these books you would recognize that much of socialist East Germany was not exactly an idyllic situation.


Checkpoint Charlie 1965

Checkpoint Charlie 1965




In spy fiction and in spy movies the Wall has provided one of the greatest of dramatic backdrops especially with Checkpoint Charlie which was the one designated cross over point between East & West Germany <in the American zone>.



In reality … Checkpoint Charlie was the scene of a number of real escapes from Communist East to capitalist West Berlin.



In one of the most dramatic and tragic incidents, an 18-year-old East German man was shot by Communist border guards and left to bleed to death in no man’s land.



berlin checkpoint stand off
It was also the spot where Soviet and American tanks faced each other, engines running and aimed at each other, for six days in 1961 only weeks after the building of the Berlin Wall.



<historical note: this was overshadowed by the Cuban missile crisis … and yet … one could argue this event brought us closer to war with the Soviet Union than anything else>



Through espionage fiction the Wall has been crossed in any number of imaginative ways … tunneling, crossed by foot, smashed through, crossed by improvised plane or balloon, driven through as hidden passengers … and been the source of swaps of numerous captured agents.



Visually and in the written word the Wall represented danger, secrecy, ‘the other side’ < ‘druben’> … a symbolic metaphor for the meeting of the US <and The West> and the Soviet Union and the impasse of the Cold War.




Last note.



A pensive thought.


While this was historical … and hopefully interesting … I cannot help but think about what would take place if this happened today.
How would we respond?



Would there be the shouts of a ‘weak America’ if our tanks stood down as they did at the end of the 6 days in 1961?



Would there be shouts of ‘failed foreign policy’ as the iron curtain fell from the Baltic to the Balkans?



Watching media in today’s world the outrage of the pontificators seem to suggest obvious solutions.




“Sometimes, I feel the past and the future pressing so hard on either side that there’s no room for the present at all.”


Evelyn Waugh




The outrage suggests lack of immediate response is the sign of lack of direction.



The outrage suggests no action is weak.




I am not smart enough to know if action or inaction is the right, and best, course of action.




I take solace in the fact that the greatest diplomatic and foreign affairs minds can only truly be that smart in hindsight.




I take solace in the fact that in 1961 there was a wall that seemed impenetrable … and 50 years later … there was no wall.Mauerbau 1961 / Sebastianstra§e



We can only wish foreign policy could always be so simply summarized.




Because I am not sure if the true foreign policy lesson is found in the summary … or in reviewing the second guessing and gnashing of teeth of those “who know, and knew, better” what to do … within those 50 years.



Enlightened Conflict