October 14, 2016

Tom Hayden and the Wall

Bau der Berliner Mauer am Postdamer Platz

Tom Hayden, one of the great 1960s left-wing political leaders and later a longtime California state legislator, died today.   I intersected with Tom over the years in several ways, see my post here.  But it’s interesting to note that as the originator of the famous “Port Huron Statement” that launched the Students for a Democratic Society in 1962 he included the following commentary on the coming of the Wall to Berlin.   My book The Tunnels explores (beyond its focus on the tunnels under the Wall and the controversy over JFK attempting to suppress the CBS and NBC coverage of them) the reasons President Kennedy quickly accepted the coming of the Wall to reduce tensions with the Soviets.   Hayden and others on the Left blasted East German leader Ulbricht but also hit West Germany chief Adenauer, as you will see in this excerpt.  See my new book for much, much more.

[We] should recognize that an authoritarian Germany’s insistence on reunification, while knowing the impossibility of achieving it with peaceful means, could only generate increasing frustrations among the population and nationalist sentiments which frighten its Eastern neighbors who have historical reasons to suspect Germanic intentions. President Kennedy himself told the editor of Izvestia that he fears an independent Germany with nuclear arms, but American policies have not demonstrated cognizance of the fact that Chancellor Adenauer too, is interested in continued East-West tensions over the Germany and Berlin problems and nuclear arms precisely because this is the rationale for extending his domestic power and his influence upon the NATO-Common Market alliance.

A world war over Berlin would be absurd. Anyone concurring with such a proposition should demand that the West cease its contradictory advocacy of “reunification of Germany through free elections” and “a rearmed Germany in NATO”. It is a dangerous illusion to assume that Russia will hand over East Germany to a rearmed re-united Germany which will enter the Western camp, although this Germany might have a Social Democratic majority which could prevent a reassertion of German nationalism. We have to recognize that the cold war and the incorporation of Germany into the two power blocs was a decision of both Moscow and Washington, of both Adenauer and Ulbricht.

The immediate responsibility for the Berlin wall is Ulbricht’s. But it had to be expected that a regime which was bad enough to make people flee is also bad enough to prevent them from fleeing. The inhumanity of the Berlin wall is an ironic symbol of the irrationality of the cold war, which keeps Adenauer and Ulbricht in power. A reduction of the tension over Berlin, if by internationalization or by recognition of the status quo and reducing provocations, is a necessary but equally temporary measure which could not ultimately reduce the basic cold war tension to which Berlin owes its precarious situation. The Berlin problem cannot be solved without reducing tensions in Europe, possibly by a bilateral military disengagement and creating a neutralized buffer zone. Even if Washington and Moscow were in favor disengagement, both Adenauer and Ulbricht would never agree to it because cold war keeps their parties in power.

Until their regimes’ departure from the scene of history, the Berlin status quo will have to be maintained while minimizing the tensions necessarily arising from it. Russia cannot expect the United States to tolerate its capture by the Ulbricht regime, but neither can America expect to be in a position to indefinitely use Berlin as a fortress within the communist world. As a fair and bilateral disengagement in Central Europe seems to be impossible for the time being, a mutual recognition of the Berlin status quo, that is, of West Berlin’s and East Germany’s security, is needed. And it seems to be possible, although the totalitarian regime of East Germany and the authoritarian leadership of West Germany until now succeeded in frustrating all attempts to minimize the dangerous tensions of cold war.