Monday, November 10, 2008

The Fall of the Berlin Wall, Kristallnacht, Collective Will and Mob Rule

NEPA Conservative ran a chilling video on American Sentinel. The first part showed collective euphoria in the aftermath of Obama’s victory on election night. The second part showed a man wearing a McCain T shirt being arrested as a jeering crowd looked on. It was a chilling reminder that the quality of a political system is dependent upon the individuals within it. This is most readily apparent in the function of our jury system. In NEPA Conservative’s video, it was as though a jury had pronounced a “guilty” verdict upon a thought crime.

Today is November 10. November 9 and November 10 have for me personal historical resonance. This year, they mark the 70′th anniversary of Kristallnacht in Germany and Austria, when a nationwide pogrom was mounted against German and Austrian Jewry. It is also the 19th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. As the son of a proud Berliner, I was riveted by the events of that night and the process of reunification that follows. My brother, who lives in Germany and I debated the significance of the scenes of joy that unfolded before us.

My brother was certain that reunification would be a tidy and efficient process. I was far more skeptical. He noted the efficiency of German economists. East Germans were eager for the welcome money and the one to one parity of currency exchange that would take place when East Germany and its currency were junked.

I was extremely skeptical. East Germany was integrated into the Soviet bloc. Additionally, its infrastructure was totally outdated and out of sync with Western Germany. I thought that a ten year plan of gradual economic integration should have preceded political reunification, starting with immediate introduction of parliamentary democracy. It seemed that a tidal wave of German sentimentality was engulfing common sense.

History has shown that there were massive cost overruns in reunification. There is a disparity in unemployment figures and a social rift that persists to this day. It was easily foreseeable. The bright side of the story is that Koreans have the German experience as a case history to study in their own quest for reunification.

I see in NEPA Conservative’s post echoes of the breathless enthusiasm of Berlin’s crowds the night the wall came down. Even the border guards became amiable facilitators to the festive crowds. But the latter part of the video showed the underbelly of collective joy, how institutional safeguards can be swept away in collective hysteria and manipulated by a government with its own agenda.

The calendric coincidence of Kristallnacht and the fall of the Berlin Wall points to the instability of collective emotion, its potential for destruction as well as for collective resolve. There are people doing hard time for crimes committed as part of a mob. When the government leads the mob, there is no end to what is possible.

Obama’s victory has knocked down a racial barrier that would have been as unthinkable a generation ago as was the fall of the Berlin Wall in its time. What is equally relevant in juxtaposing the two events is the hidden costs of fulfilled hopes. Germany now lives with persistent economic and social barriers to their dream of a united Germany. It is far easier to redraw the map than to shape the landscape.

When hearing about Obama passing out “stimulus packages” or “relief”, it reminds me a great deal of some of the ill advised giveaways that paved the way for German reunification. The morning after, there is plenty of time for regrets and plenty of hangovers from the collective euphoria.

It is totally understandable for Obama’s constituency to have material hopes for a better future under his administration. The only way this can happen is if wealth is created. This is not the same as printing money. The loyal opposition will be doing Obama’s presidency a great favour by counseling caution, much like a mechanic advising a motorist to do costly repairs. Ignoring prudent advice comes at a high price. Germans learned this after reunification.

We now have a divided country presided over by a united government. The President and both houses of Congress are of the same party. This leaves little standing in the path of the majority party to do what they want. The only counterbalance is the “fourth estate”, the media. Reason and eloquence can swing the public who can in turn sway the government. The main stream of the media has abdicated its critical functions, becoming a cheering section for the Democratic Party. Only some sectors remain independent, such as talk radio and the internet.

The Democrats look at the map of the media and seek to colour it blue with the institution of the “fairness doctrine”. At no time have they discussed the unfairness so grotesquely caricatured by a Chris Matthews. Only People like Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage attract their notice. It is clear that the “Newspeak” meaning of “fairness” is at wide variance with its dictionary definition. “Pravda”, which translates as “truth” became emblematic of lies and deception. We must challenge the creeping distortion of our langauge yet again.

Collective emotion is a morally neutral force. On the one hand, it can sweep away a hated instrument of tyrany such as the Berlin Wall. On the other hand, it makes horrors such as Kristallnacht possible. In the majority of cases , it paves the way to expensive and regrettable decisions. When a demonstrator is arrested for wearing an opposition T shirt, it is a warning sign that our freedoms are in danger.

We still have a free press. We still have free choice and our G-d given human intellect. We are the only animal on the planet that studies history. We should, we must study history. Because it is only those who study their history who can guide their future.


I urge readers of this article to visit NEPA Conservative’s post and to watch the video he has posted. If possible, download the video before it disappears from You Tube. I have provided the link below to his post. Sphere: Related Content

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