Monday, November 09, 2009

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today

I'd like to talk a bit about the fall of the Berlin Wall.

I wasn't there, of course, in any sense. The actual fall took place after my bedtime, and truth be told, I didn't even know it was up in the first place. I was seven years old when it happened, and three days away from 8, so obviously my attention was elsewhere. And while I may have been precocious at that age, I wasn't quite socially aware. International communism just didn't register on my list of Big Bads. The villains of my world, the Decepticons, COBRA, and Flintheart Glomgold, were decidedly apolitical. (Okay, Glomgold was clearly a Reagan voter.) By the time I was ready to show up at the Cold War party, it was already over.

And that's the amazing thing about it, really. My parents, after all, grew up in the shadow of the bomb, mutually assured destruction, and the domino theory. It was practically ground into their psyches from the earliest moment they could remember (Dad was born just before the war ended, Mom in the summer of '46). You don't have to be Marshall McLuhan to see the impact in had on the culture of their lives, and the culture their generation produced. The Cold War was everywhere, from Star Trek to the Beatles to Dr. Strangelove to The Twilight Zone to Adam West's Batman. The concept that, for the first time in 100,000 years, the human race was in serious danger of self-inflicted extinction within a single generation was a simple fact of everyday life.

And now, a single generation later, it's not. Even the threat of international terrorism, the new and improved boogeyman of the 21st century, pales when you consider that hey, we actually made it to the 21st century. I, and millions of others, grew up in a decade of lacunar optimism, free from that spectre. The future was ours, to make of it whatever we wanted. The presence of that promise, and the fallout of its retraction in the tumult of this decade, will, I think, define us and our impact on the world, when the historians of the 22nd century sit down to figure out what we were all about.

And the beginning of it all was in the Fall of the Wall. An era that began with a mushroom cloud ended with a gigantic party, a celebration of freedom, perseverance, and the promise of tomorrow. It was probably one of the most important events of my life, even if I did sleep through it.

So that's what I'm thinking about tonight, twenty years later. Hell of a thing, isn't it?

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