The Year that Changed the World: The Untold Story Behind the Fall of the Berlin Wall
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A riveting, eyewitness account of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the end of the Cold War from the Newsweek Bureau Chief in that region at the time. Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, many still believe it was the words of President Ronald Regan, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!,” that brought the Cold War to an end. Michael Meyer disagrees, and in this extraordinarily compelling account, explains why. Drawing together breathtakingly vivid, on-the-ground accounts of the rise of Solidarity in Poland, the stealth opening of the Hungarian border, the Velvet Revolution in Prague, and the collapse of the infamous wall in Berlin, Meyer shows how American intransigence contributed little to achieving such world-shaking change. In his reporting from the frontlines of the revolution in Eastern Europe between 1988 and 1992, he interviewed a wide range of local leaders, including VÁclav Havel and Lech Walesa. Meyer’s descriptions of the way their brave stands were decisive in bringing democracy to Eastern Europe provide a crucial refutation of a misunderstanding of history that has been deliberately employed to help push the United States into the intractable conflicts it faces today.
the 79 percent in the 1975 parliamentary elections, when only communists ran. Most Poles were too tired, too dispirited, too fed up with politics and politicians to bother. Those who did vote crossed out communists with the flair and vigor—pfft, pfft, pfft—bred of decades of anger, frustration and disappointment. But few thought Poland would much change with Solidarity in the government, or that their own lives would improve. Yes, June 4 marked the death of communism in Poland. But it died as
meeting in Washington was a window on a more profound problem, with implications far beyond nukes. That was a question of mind-set: the inability to break free of a Cold War view of the world, even as the system was about to come unglued. I remember thinking this at the time, as if those of us on the ground in Europe inhabited one world and Washington another. Toward the end of winter, I visited the U.S. Army’s Eleventh Armored Cavalry Regiment in Fulda, the center of NATO’s most forward
not as editorial commentary but as literal observation. Ceausescu’s were huge. They sagged grotesquely in one trouser leg, squatting on his seat like misshapen tomatoes. Them so big, him so small. A more serious notation: we spoke of his “cult of personality,” but it was hard to discern any personality here. He gestured, talked, shouted, waved his arms. But who or what was he, beyond a hollow vessel for power? The man seemed utterly without presence, charisma, aura. If Erich Honecker was an
more so now. Freedom to do … what? Most immediately, it was the freedom to go shopping. East German noses pressed up against the storefronts of the West. My journals are full of images: traffic jams up to thirty miles long at border crossings. A new Berlin airlift—to get goods into stores, all the things Easterners could not for so long buy: stockings, decent electronics, sex magazines. An East Berliner riding around West Berlin on his battered old bike with big balloon tires, a map taped to his
government. The Berlin Wall speech gave Reagan cover, notes James Mann, author of Rise of the Vulcans, a definitive portrait of George W. Bush’s foreign policy team. To the hard-liners, it would sound like a traditional anticommunist speech of defiance and Cold War confrontation, which of course is why the State Department and the National Security Council tried so hard to get those four words out. In fact, the speech was a remarkably nuanced balancing act. It managed to acknowledge how far the