There’s a reason why after a great tragedy we are called to never forget. Humanity has a tendency to make the same mistakes over and over.
What a difference three decades make. When the Berlin Wall was torn down on November 9, 1989, it symbolized the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the liberation of more than 300 million people from the tyrannical grip of communism. We in the west celebrated the start of a new era of democracy and freedom, one we were told was possibly endless. Yet a mere 30 years later, communist parties are gaining ground, and the free world is literally shrinking — in size and spirit.
Freedom’s retreat is evident from Asia to Africa to South America and even closer to home. Across the Pacific, the Chinese Communist Party is pursuing a policy of oppression at home and aggression abroad, cracking down on Hong Kong’s liberty and seeking to create satellites from Nepal to Djibouti. North Korea is threatening free South Korea and Japan and, with China’s protection.
Cuba’s expanding influence
In the Western Hemisphere, Communist Cuba is dominating Venezuela, propping up the Nicolás Maduro regime and siphoning off the once-rich nation’s oil. Havana is also supporting the increasingly brutal socialist dictatorship in Nicaragua, Evo Morales’ corrupt regime in Bolivia and is attempting to make inroads in Mexico as well. Perhaps most disturbingly, 30 years after the end of the Cold War, polling by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and YouGov finds that 52% of U.S. Millennials would prefer to live in a socialist or communist country.
What happened? The answer is that the free world has forgotten the lessons of 1989 — not just the fall of the Berlin Wall, but also the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing.
It’s common now to assume that communism’s collapse was inevitable, but the opposite is true. The Cold War demonstrated that victory over communism depends on three distinct components: an organic desire for freedom on the part of the oppressed; a loss of ideological will by the communist party; and clear moral leadership in the free world. All three were present in the years before the Berlin Wall came down.
CNN thinks that socialism is cool:My grandparents from the USSR would disagree.
The people of Eastern Europe were clamoring for freedom, forming human chains across multiple Baltic States in the USSR, rushing across the Austrian-Hungarian border to hold “friendship picnics,” and marching in the streets across the Eastern Bloc by the millions. While the Communist Party sought to dissuade them, its leaders had lost their belief in their own ideology, and therefore refused to massacre or otherwise oppress their subjects as they had in decades past. Finally, the free world, led by the United States, made clear that communism was morally bankrupt, inspiring the oppressed and shaming their oppressors. The combination of these factors made Soviet rule unsustainable.
The tide of freedom did not reach China’s shores
Yet while freedom prevailed in Europe, it was crushed in Beijing that same year. The yearning for liberty was obvious: the marchers in Tiananmen Square and similar protests in hundreds of Chinese cities and towns made that clear in the spring of 1989. So was the west’s moral condemnation, which was mainly directed at the Soviet Union but also tarnished Marxism in the Middle Kingdom. Unlike the Soviet leadership, however, Mao’s heirs held fast to their beliefs. They were, and still are, willing to kill in the name of communism.
In the face of Beijing’s brutal resolve, the free world needed resolve of its own. The United States and our allies showed the way forward in the wake of the Soviet Union’s crackdown on the Hungarian revolution, its invasion of Czechoslovakia and its attempts to repress the Solidarity movement in Poland. Sustained pressure, buttressed by sustained moral criticism, chipped away at the Kremlin’s ideological confidence. It showed the world’s most oppressive regime that we would never accept its actions, and we would always work against it.
Yet rather than launch a similar campaign to isolate and undermine communist China, the west sought ever-more engagement and integration following the Tiananmen Square massacre. There have been similar attempts to work closer with other communist nations, from Cuba to Vietnam, without making moral judgments about the regimes’ brutal natures. We are now at a point where the president of the United States reportedly promised China’s ruler that America will stay silent on Hong Kong’s desperate attempts to protect its freedom from Beijing’s tyranny. Is it any wonder that international communism is stronger now than at any point since 1989?
We’re in a new cold war:Hong Kong, like Berlin before it, is the first battle.
The struggle against communism is the most successful human-rights movement in history, yet it is far from over. The collapse of the Soviet Union liberated roughly a fifth of the one-and-a-half billion people who suffered under communist rule. Thirty years later, the communist parties in power are still the most oppressive force on Earth, and this problem is only growing worse. The sooner we remember the lessons of 1989, the sooner we’ll finish the work that started with the fall of the Berlin Wall.