25 years….don’t they go by in a blink.
A quarter-century ago, the Wall between East and West Berlin finally came down, and a divided city and country began growing back together after 45 years of enforced separation.
I was in the military at the time. When the Iron Curtain became porous, and the flow of refugees went from a trickle to a steady flow and then a tidal wave, I was a young private, barely 18. It felt momentous at the time, but it was mostly a punch-drunk rush, so many things of such magnitude happening so quickly that you lost your sense of being firmly anchored in history. We didn’t know what was going to happen in the following years when those first Trabis came across the border, but we knew that things would never go back to the way they had been.
Whenever some starry-eyed campus Marxist waxes on about the failures of capitalism and the free market, I know that they never got to cross from West Germany into the East, and have their world turn from color to gray. And I tell them that the truth of the matter is this: no capitalist free market society has ever had to use walls and guns and barbed wire to keep their population from leaving, but every socialist or communist country does.
The East German legal system had a term for the felony committed when trying to leave the country without (almost impossible to get) permission: Republikflucht, “flight from the Republic”. Tens of thousands were arrested and imprisoned for the offense, and many hundreds were killed attempting to cross.
And that’s why I flinch whenever someone runs their mouth about putting a similar border fence up along our southern border. When you advocate that sort of thing—when you call for armed guards on that wall—you have to be aware what “closing the border” would entail. Who is going to machine-gun unarmed men, women, and children trying to cross that river and climb those fences? Will it be the people who wanted that wall there? Will it be their children? Or will they just pay some barely-out-of-high-school kid twenty grand a year to do that unpleasant work for them? And to what end?
Free people and free markets don’t require fences and armed guards, whether it’s to keep people in or out. I’ll never be a fan of walls and fences, no matter which way the barbed wire on top is pointed.