I cried when the Berlin Wall fell. But we’ll get to that in a moment.
Back in my long-ago youth, my übercool friends and I disdained the highly popular and hugely overrated Saturday Night Live comedy sketch show for the less viewed but vastly superior SCTV, a series produced by the Toronto, Canada based Second City troupe. The conceit was that SCTV was a really lousy independent television station and the sketches were programs broadcast on that station. Very, very late on Saturday nights (not even VCRs existed in this era), as my underage friends and I schemed ever more elaborate more plans to obtain beer, we chortled knowingly as Rick Moranis impersonated Dick Cavett interviewing himself. (Money line: “Woody and I tend to shy away.”)
On one memorable episode, a Soviet television station hijacked the SCTV signal, forcing westerners to endure braggadocio about the wonders of Soviet technology, represented by new Russian “mini-cams.” (Each could fill a house.) YouTube has preserved a sketch that nearly sent me to the hospital from uncontrollable laughter a quarter-century ago: I give you “What Fits Into Russia with Feliks Dzerzhinsky.”
Even in the late 1970s, it seems, the Soviet Union was something of a joke, and Dave Thomas is very funny as the Soviet blowhard. Except it wasn’t, and he isn’t. The real Dzerzhinsky, we might recall, founded the Cheka, the Bolshevik secret police, which, as Wikipedia rather primly puts it, “performed mass arrests, imprisonments, and executions of ‘enemies of the people.’” Nor was the Soviet Union was a joke during the SCTV era. As an important book about that time is entitled, from the Soviet viewpoint, The World Was Going Our Way. Before the microprocessor changed the world, a nation that excelled at refining iron and steel, at fashioning nuclear warheads, at forcibly imposing its ideology on other nations was a real force. The world changed in ways that made it impossible for the inflexible communist system to keep up, but that did not become clear for a while longer. It never was inevitable that the Cold War would end the way it did.
As the world celebrates the Berlin Wall’s demise, a brief history lesson is in order. The Soviet Union was evil. Like any regime dedicated to an ideology rather than the needs of real human beings, it murdered with abandon. Stalin killed millions more even than Hitler—his own people and others. And this does not count those who survived the gulag, those whose lives were mutilated by the lack of basic freedoms, and the entire nations deprived of their freedom and self-determination by force of Soviet arms and Soviet-controlled “indigenous” communist movements.
So yeah, I cried when the Wall came down. I was 27 years old, had never set foot in Europe, and in truth had never endured any loss of freedom greater than working in an air-conditioned office five days a week. I cried, and I was ashamed of every person I met that day who didn’t.
A personal note: I’ve been kicked upstairs to a position of greater “responsibility.” (This means less time in Microsoft Word and more in Microsoft Outlook.) I’ll be stepping back from this blog. But I’ll be reading it. And if the genius kids who run this space—I almost surely am older than Tanya and Michelle combined—get out of line (NOTE TO GENIUS KIDS: history did not begin with the election of Barack Obama), well… to quote a leading contemporary American political philosopher, “I’ll be back.”