Twenty years ago today, the Berlin Wall fell — and joyful Berliners drank champagne and danced on top of the Brandenburg Gate. 1989 was called the Year of Miracles because communism, the dark tyranny that controlled more than 40 nations, suddenly collapsed in Eastern and Central Europe without a shot being fired.
The Victims of Communism
It is important to note that the deaths and oppression caused by communism worldwide are unparalleled in human history. Nothing else — no war, no plague — has come close. In the name of communism, the Soviet Union murdered 20 million people through purges, famines and the infamous gulag. In the name of communism, Mao Zedong and the other Chinese Communist leaders slaughtered an estimated 50 million people through the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, the Tiananmen Square massacre and other socialist experiments. In the name of communism, more than 100 million have been killed worldwide.
In just two years–from 1989 to 1991– the Berlin Wall fell, the Soviet Union dissolved, and Marxism-Leninism was dumped on the ash heap of history. Because of inspiring leaders such as Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II and Margaret Thatcher, and because of the millions of anonymous soldiers who served in the front lines across the decades, communism is in decline. But, alas, not everywhere:
- In Cuba, Fidel Castro has silenced any opposition to his rule, placing political dissidents in concrete jail cells with no light and no furniture for as long as 20 years.
- In China, thousands of dissidents are imprisoned in the laogai, slave-labor camps that are the Chinese equivalent of the old Soviet gulag. Others are shot down in the streets, much like the thousands killed in Tiananmen Square 20 years ago.
- In North Korea, the entire populace lives in a totalitarian nightmare, marked by starvation and mass public executions.
- And in Venezuela, freedom of speech and expression are oppressed, and Chavez supports terrorist groups in other countries.
The Fight for Freedom Must Continue
The Cold War was as much an intellectual war as anything else, and freedom won. But freedom must be protected in order to remain safe.
Indeed, it seems that Communism and support for the Marxist movement has lost its negative connotation. Che Guevara t-shirts are now in vogue on college campuses and our own President is appointing self-avowed Communist Van Jones to high-level positions in the White House. In addition, nearly all of Senator Ted Kennedy’s obituaries refrained from mentioning his proposed anti-Reagan alliance with former KGB boss and then-leader of the Soviet Union Yuri Andropov, a move that could have derailed support for the Cold War at the time.
Today, we need to reclaim the high ground in the contest of ideas if we are going to convince the world of the goodness of liberty and self-government. Reagan never naively believed that victory was automatic or inevitable. He understood that to win, it was necessary to make arguments from principle. If we are not to squander what Reagan passed on to us, we must remember how he won the Cold War without firing a single shot, because of the power of the ideas he defended.