Suppose I had asked you, in the mid-1980s, what you thought it would take to
bring down the Berlin Wall? What would you have said? I can imagine the answer.
Perhaps another world war. Perhaps some kind of multilateral, long-term
rapprochement between East and West Germany. At the very least, some kind of
intervention costing billions of dollars. Certainly that’s the kind of scenario
that was envisioned by all the world’s so-called experts on Eastern Europe. When
it came to predicting the life span of the Soviet Bloc, the CIA, State
Department, and Pentagon did not think in terms of months or even years. They
thought in terms of decades.
But what actually happened? In September
1989, a small group of dissidents in Leipzig, East Germany, held a protest rally
and – for reasons no one quite understands – the local police did not shut it
down. The next day, in the next town over, another group of dissidents held a
protest of their own, and it was a little bigger this time because they were
emboldened by what happened in Leipzig. The policy in that town didn’t stop the
protesters because, after seeing what happened in Leipzig, they thought that
maybe they weren’t supposed to do anything.
The day after that, there was
still another protest in the next town over – a little bit bigger than the last,
the police a little more passive – and on and on. All through East Germany, the
protests got bigger and bigger and the police grew more and more passive until a
million people gathered in the streets of East Berlin in October 1989 and tore
down the Berlin Wall as the police sat and watched.
This was the biggest
change any of us will ever see in our lifetime. It took a month, it cost
nothing, and it started with a handful of people in a town no one would ever
have pegged as the birthplace of a revolution.
Remember that the next
time someone says, “It can’t be done.”