Originally Published: January 8, 2019 9:46 p.m.
Sometimes our world these days seems like such an unfriendly place, with trouble seemingly waiting around every corner and a fog of malaise hanging over everything.
Before you start to think this is all about pointing fingers over what is going on in Washington, the atmosphere I am referring to really began with the advent of the Cold War. Since then, the Soviet Union, and now a stand-alone Russia, has loomed against the United States as a consistent adversary.
But I remember one brief moment when it seemed like real change was coming and peace could actually descend on our world. I was reminded of all that the other day when a certain song came on the radio while I was driving.
The history is familiar to most. The Cold War started a couple of years after World War II. Following more than a decade of tensions between the two superpowers — which included the Korean War and U.S. school kids doing duck-and-cover drills just in case the Russians dropped the big one -- construction of the Berlin Wall began in August 1961.
The barrier of concrete and barbed wire became a symbol of this period in history. It was there when I was born in 1963, and stood for the first few decades of my life as we went through the continued buildup of nuclear stockpiles, and hostilities between the countries ebbed and then strengthened.
But then things began to change. To (over)simplify things: The Soviet Union’s economy began to stumble after years of military buildup and a morass in Afghanistan. General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev moved to loosen Soviet control over Eastern Europe in the late 1980s, and relations with the U.S. warmed.
Then, in November 1989, the gates of the Berlin Wall were opened and people flooded through to celebrate the sudden freedom of movement between East and West. While heavy equipment was used to pull down sections of the wall, people used hammers and chisels to chip away at the barrier, taking away chunks of history. I remember watching on TV as people perched on top of the wall, celebrating the reunification of East and West Germany that became official the next year. Could everything we went through for decades really fade so quickly?
In 1990, the German rock band the Scorpions released a song called “Wind of Change,” which addressed the ongoing changes in the Soviet Union and featured lyrics like “Did you ever think, That we could be so close, like brothers,” and “The wind of change, Blows straight into the face of time, Like a stormwind that will ring the freedom bell.” The song spoke a new hope for peace and hope, as if the Iron Curtain was sinking into the horizon before us.
On Christmas Day 1991, the hammer and sickle flag over the Kremlin was lowered for the final time.
Of course, the movement toward democracy in Russia hit a wall, if you will. The period of hope was relatively brief — it was less than a decade before Vladimir Putin rose to prominence — and now the Soviets again loom as an enemy seemingly willing to use whatever means they have to undermine the U.S., leading to a return of an atmosphere of gloom and doom.
I guess we should have seen that coming. But it was nice in the moment, this idea that our enemy could step out from behind its curtain and link arms with us as we all sang about peace on earth.
But why shouldn’t “the children of tomorrow” dream of a world of peace, like the Scorpions sang about? I know I have tried to pass that idea on to my kids, and now my grandson, this idea that whoever is our opponent now could become a friend if we work to find common ground.
The “wind of change” is still there, waiting. Listen for it.
Doug Graham is a copy editor for The Daily Courier. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.