I didn't realize it until I watched the Colbert Report this evening (and, boy, hasn't he surpassed Jon Stewart?) but this was the 20th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's famous "Mr. Gorbachev...tear down this wall" speech.
Within a couple of years of that speech, the Berlin Wall had, indeed, been torn down and the world was, for at least a short time, transformed.
Sadly, there was not a single mention of this on the news networks I watched or newspapers and Web sites I read today. It probably should have been front and centre in many of them.
It comes at a time when I'm reading Natan Sharansky's book "The Case for Democracy." In it, Sharansky pays a lot of attention to Reagan's speech; it marked a clear reversal from the policy of detente that allowed the Soviet Union to pretend to be peaceful while still funding violent movements and crushing civil rights internally. Sharansky, himself, at one time faced trial for a charge that could have brought the death penalty.
Sharansky argues that you cannot have peace without freedom, that the Western world should not yield its knowledge, economic advances and military capabilities to non-democracies without attaching conditions of demonstrated improvement in its external and, particularly, internal policies. The Soviet Union, he says, could have have been forced into collapse earlier by increased isolation and pressure from the West rather than the legitimacy it was offered through allowing it to remain a "fear" society.
I was in my late teens when Reagan came to office. I was young and naive and subject to the normal tendencies of people that age, believed Reagan was a nut who stood a good chance of getting us all killed by getting in the face of the Soviet Union. I was totally wrong and have known, without question, exactly how wrong I was since the start of the second palestinian intifailure.
I can only say that, thankfully, 19-year-olds can't be President unless it's of a frat house. Reagan, for whatever faults he had, helped bring an end to the Soviet Union which was a great boon for the world. If there was a candidate for '08 who would approach the current situation in Russia and China in much the same manner, it would be a good thing.
At any rate, the West really does need to stand up to tyranny and to tie its aid and support to nations that are striving to give their citizens a better life.
Unfortunately, that means a lot of people would have to stop acting like teenagers - believing that any sacrifice is too much sacrifice and that all people can be swayed by words.
There may not be that many things worth fighting for but our freedom is unquestionably one of them. And, if we act intelligently (ie. before a crisis), all we have to sacrifice is some of our economic largesse along with some diplomatic niceties.