Thursday, November 6, 2014

All fall down

Twenty-five years ago this weekend, the Berlin Wall began to fall. I remember relief — this formidable but tangible symbol of the dark threat to the world, joyously destroyed. It's what I tried to convey in this cartoon from that time.

I drew more cartoons than I had clients to publish them, and looking back I wish the top one could have been published instead of the one (left) that ran in The Stockton Record.

Taken together, they reflect that I operate, then as now, on a volatile mix of unreasonable hope and earthbound cynicism.

Geographic neophytes (read also: Ugly Americans) like me didn't really understand at the time that divided Berlin was deep inside Soviet-allied East Germany.

The wall dividing the city had separated friends and family overnight in 1961, and kept them apart for three decades. East Germany said the ever-reinforced fence-turned-menacing-wall was meant to keep Western fascists out — of course!

East Germans yearned, upon threat of death, to clear the Berlin Wall and gain their freedom — within a totalitarian territory. Nearly 200 people died in the attempt; some 5,000 East Germans, including 600 border guards, escaped, tunneling under, hot-air ballooning over, jumping across, running through.

It seems almost quaint now, as stolidly distant as the films starring Joel McRea and Robert Young of arrogant but ultimately bumbling Nazis trying to sniff out the Resistance. It was the stuff of stories, not real.

When President Reagan in 1987 told Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, "Tear down this wall!" I thought, "Yeah, right! Never gonna happen."

Then it did. First, East German officials allowed Germans to pass through the wall's gates unfettered, 25 years ago. Immediately, people began tearing down sections of the wall on their own. East Germany became no more. Glasnost pried loose the reach of the Soviet Union.

I began to think all would be right with the world.

Pause for effect.

Of course, all is not right. Perhaps more is wrong since. Perhaps that's because technology literally has broadened our view of the world and what goes on — even as news vigilance, of sussing out truths on our behalf, seems to wane. Perhaps it's these scales that have fallen from my eyes as I age.

Germany is unified, the traces of totalitarianism fading with time. Other barriers remain around the world, though, even more menacing despite their invisibility.

Worse regimes remain. Baser regimes have arisen elsewhere in the world. Our own freedoms have diminished at the cost of two airplanes, two buildings and more than 3,000 lives.

I used to think the world was moving toward that depicted in V for Vendetta, the movie based on the Alan Moore/David Lloyd graphic novel which is commentary on Margaret Thatcher-led Great Britain. I used to think the world would descend beneath a regime that manufactures fear and salvation over it.

Now I see that the world is not a graphic novel, would not be so tidy, would not fit between the pages of a novel. It's too complex in its simplicity, too glacial for a sentence to sustain.

I see instead that money moves the world. Ideology exists to the extent it can move and concentrate money. Money, I'm seeing, trumps Democracy, trumps Communism, trumps caliphates. Money concentrates the power in the United States, power that games the system, that begets groups like Citizens United (no Orwellian irony there!) which gives concentrated money more power to control elections, that lets our bankers bungle our money scot-free and profitably. Concentrated power allows stupidity to be legislated into school curricula and science policy.

I'm just starting to learn about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, an agreement the European Union and the United States are negotiating, ostensibly to streamline policy and break down walls blocking trade.

Critics — mostly from Europe; I have not heard anything about this agreement despite news dripping into my ears through the day — are raising outcry over whether the TTIP is a Trojan horse, giving corporations greater power to sue against government safeguards and policies.

I'm no expert, of course, but it would not surprise me that money motivated this agreement — concentrated money — and that what is touted as beneficial for working people really isn't.

Canadian Broadcasting has an interesting story about a 1988 Bruce Springsteen concert in East Berlin — sponsored by the East German government — that drew thousands of young East Germans and heralded the fall of the wall, perhaps by a show of how many longed to knock it down.

Maybe so. Despite what you may think of Springsteen and whether his persona is pure freedom, the story highlighted East Germans who lament the fire for young people to protest for their freedoms anymore, to fan their fire with protest music.

their lament resonates with me. Protest against what? The target is shadowy and complex and nimble and patient. It's not a wall anymore. It's not a symbol.

What we need is a new kind of sledgehammer and the patience to build a long, slow, sustainable burn. And maybe a nice song to set the rhythm as we swing.

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