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I have heard the argument that the US is not on the path to totalitarianism.  But what creates the environment that allows for the creation a totalitarian state?  Hitler held the belief that nationalism and socialism should be identical.  Other historical voices tell us how there was a need for Germans to feel a real sense of community during the period following World War I.  It seemed to some that solidarity and comradeship might create a feeling of community that could facilitate the rebuilding of Germany.  My experiences tell me that a shared sense of isolation and danger can also create an intense feeling of solidarity and comradeship between people who were once strangers.

When the Berlin Wall was still falling, I was stationed with the United States Army in Schwabach, Germany - a small town near Nürnberg.  I was affected greatly by pictures of Germans dancing on the Berlin Wall that I saw in the Stars and Stripes and wanted to go dance on the wall myself.  Luckily, I and another soldier with the same last name, had just won awards and I was mistakenly issued his tickets to Berlin.  Because the other soldier didn’t want to go and I because had just received a medal, my commander authorized me to go on this week long trip to Berlin.  

In order to get to Berlin, I had to take a train through East Germany.  I made this trip with other American soldiers whom I had never met before and who had also somehow earned this trip.  We were forced to make this journey at night by the East Germans so that we would see as little of East Germany as possible.  It was very disturbing to see so many uniformed East German and Russian soldiers patrolling these train tracks.  At times, we would sit motionless for what seemed to be hours as other trains with more important missions were given the right of way.  At one of these stops, a Russian soldier motioned through the window to me that he would like to exchange belt buckles.  However, prior to boarding the train, we had been warned to avoid contact with these soldiers.  Anything we did out of the ordinary could possibly be held against us.  I did not acknowledge this enemy soldier and recognized that I was really afraid of his motivations for trying to get me to open my window and not by the possible exchange of belt buckles.  It was then that I realized that the slightest miscalculation on my part could result in consequences that I did not fully comprehend.  Could I be arrested as a spy during my stay in Berlin?  After all, I worked at a job that required a security clearance and might possibly have information that the communists wanted.  All of the American soldiers became quiet and sat down in their seats.  A new mood seemed to have entered our car.  We all now avoided eye contact with the soldiers standing just outside of our windows.

During the first couple of days in Berlin, we attended classes and toured West Berlin.  It was an interesting diverse, and, most of all, fun city.  However, evidence of the World Wars was still apparent in some places of the city.  We rode the U-Bahn to the bars at night and we were constantly cautioned about the danger of traveling into East Berlin on this train.  I talked to American soldiers who were stationed in Berlin about the affect of being stationed in a city where travel to the outside world was so difficult.  Many of these soldiers felt isolated from the real world.

I made as many trips to the wall as possible and watched citizens of many countries work on destroying the walls with whatever tools they had brought with them.  They used chisels, hammers and other tools.  One enterprising West German (who had told me that he was spending his time tearing down the wall because he hated it) had even brought a ladder.  I wanted to help them tear down the wall, but as an American soldier I was forced to stay five meters away from it.  I payed an Italian teenager 10 marks to spray paint my name on the wall and took a picture of him.  Finally, I stood next to the wall and payed him to take a picture of me next to my purple name on that symbol of hatred and distrust that dominated the picturesque scenery of Berlin.  At one point, I watched a white couple carrying a child calmly walk through a hole in the wall while a large Asian family, possibly Vietnamese, were roughly grabbed by East German soldiers and led away.  I still wonder what happened to that family.  A feeling of fantasy, or a perception that life was more real here, hung over this city that was still fighting the cold war.

On the third or fourth day, our group entered East Berlin.  In preparation, we had exchanged our West German marks for East German marks the night before.  Some of us had  gotten a more realistic exchange rate by exchanging our marks on the black-market.  This was an offense that could have lead to arrest.  It seemed unrealistic to think that some of us had participated in the black-market.  All of the occupants of our bus had their papers checked by American and East German soldiers when we went through Checkpoint Charlie.  We wore dress uniforms with no rank or other markings on them that would identify us in any way to the East Germans.  We were simply generic American GI’s.  The East German soldiers in their clean, pressed uniforms and highly-buffed boots coldly stared us through this ritual.  It was an eerie feeling that was multiplied by the effect of noticing video cameras trained on our vehicle from the tops of surrounding buildings.  In addition, our route through East Berlin and itinerary had been preapproved by the Communist regime.  We were now officially in enemy territory - all of our army training had been aimed at stopping these people from destroying our way of life and from eradicating our very existence.

As we traveled through East Berlin, we were constantly stared at by civilians.  Once, as we were walking down the sidewalk of a business district, a toddler strayed too close to our group and her worried mother hurriedly pulled this little girl away from us.  When we entered stores, the shoppers who were already inside would become noticeably quieter and every eye would follow us as we traveled through the business.  In particular, I remember a trip up an escalator where the whole store full of people watched us ascend to the next floor.  Even the heads of the shoppers on the escalator traveling back down to the first floor rotated to observe us as we were silhouetted against the wall.  We felt more on display than even the merchandise in the store was.  

Sometimes the storekeepers, who still kept their accounts in big leather books, would not allow us to buy the items we wanted.  Some did this because there was a shortage of this particular product in East Germany while others made it clear that we could buy nothing in their store.  Most disturbing were the occasions when we encountered Russian soldiers as we walked down the street.  At times, we would nearly brush our uniformed shoulders against theirs.  Both groups of soldiers walked in tight compact groups and attempted not to display any emotion.  I felt that they were as intimidated by us as we were by them.  However, I felt a closeness to these other American soldiers who walked by my side that I had never felt with American soldiers before.  This feeling came although I had known them only a short time.  In addition, I would probably never see them again once this trip was over.

I can only define this feeling as comradeship.  Here we were, isolated within a society where we were made to feel unwelcome.  The feeling I shared with these soldiers in East Berlin was not even equaled during my participation in Desert Shield and Desert Storm although I spent a great deal of time within the borders of Iraq.  The perception of real danger combined with a total sense of isolation was something that always seemed to accompany us during our stay in Berlin.  I can only wonder what the feeling in Berlin-and the rest of Germany-was like after World War I.

The period after World War I in Germany was a unique place in time that will never be recreated.  The US is currently in a unique historical space.  We have Permanent War we call The Global War on Terror.  Our government tells us that, because of the GWOT, we need to sacrifice liberty in the interest of security.  There is even a secret court that decides law that affects our liberties.  In Wisconsin, “observing is now participating” in protests - tourists are threatened with arrest for watching people sing in the capitol-building.  “Enhanced Interrogation” is blase.  Collecting and storing data on everyone - literally - is “nothing new” and not worthy of discussion even for many on the left.  

How do Americans react when they see people from the Middle East in their neighborhood mall?  Do we surreptitiously watch them or blatantly stare at them?  Do we get nervous if our toddlers get too close to them for our comfort?   Do we care when US drone strikes kill innocent people in Pakistan?  Or, are those people not really people, but merely “collateral damage” in the GWOT?  When we lose our sense of humanity and our belief in justice for those who are not members of our community, what does that make us?  

If we lose our will, or are just simply too disinterested to personally fight for our civil liberties, where will we end up?  No, of course we aren’t Nazi Germany or East Germany; but does this country now uphold the values you believe it should?  I watched the videos of people being arrested in Wisconsin with my kids yesterday, and the first thing we all wanted to do was get in our car and support those brave citizens of our country.  What are you, personally, willing to do to help make this country what you believe it should be?

Originally posted at Voices on the Square.

Taking The Wall down one piece at a time

Originally posted to SpecialKinFlag on Sat Jul 27, 2013 at 01:31 PM PDT.

Also republished by Hellraisers Journal, Voices on the Square, The Rebel Alliance, and That Group.

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Comment Preferences

  •  A moment in history I was lucky enough to see in (45+ / 0-)

    in person.

    One parallel to these totalitarian states is our unwillingness to put our money into the infrastructure of the nation while we have unlimited money for war and surveillance.

  •  The signs are all there. Those that ignore them (13+ / 0-)

    or discount them are fooling themselves.  In some ways it's hard to believe what's happened to this country and the world in the last fifty years since I was a small kid.  In other ways it's a logical progression and what happens when people are given too much power.  As Carter said, we don't have a democracy and many of us have been saying that for years.  A oligarchy, a plutocracy, or is it even worse than that?  I agree with Chris Hedges.  If we don't stop them, they're going to kill us all.
    Personally, I'm willing to speak the truth and expose the lies.  

    "America is the Terror State. The Global War OF Terror is a diabolical instrument of Worldwide conquest."

    by BigAlinWashSt on Sat Jul 27, 2013 at 01:55:28 PM PDT

    •  I agree. (10+ / 0-)

      Imagine if 10,000 people went to Wisconsin with the intent to get arrested for singing in the capitol?

    •  Democracy cannot last in a perpetual state of (7+ / 0-)

      war. I've forgotten who said that. But it's obvious because with war--even unnecessary war, even war that is not called war because we are invulnerable to casualties on our side, as we are with drones attacking into countries with which we have no formal declaration and no formal adherence to civilized rules of engagement--loss of freedom and liberty are inescapable. Information will be controlled. Crowds will be monitored. Events will be recorded. It has an obvious, palpable, chilling impact that only a fool could not appreciate.

      ********

      It's true, Obama, a Democratic President, has said that it is not war if we cannot experience human casualties. Perhaps he should say if we have no conscience?

      Okay, but how many shits is it worth to you?
      Shop Kos Katalogue

      by Words In Action on Sat Jul 27, 2013 at 04:06:44 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  James Madison--April 20, 1795 (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        allenjo, SpecialKinFlag
        "Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes. And armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive [Branch of Government] is extended. Its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds are added to those of subduing the force of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war...and in the degeneracy of manners and morals, engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare."

        Help me to be the best Wavy Gravy I can muster

        by BOHICA on Sun Jul 28, 2013 at 05:18:18 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Very cool diary!!!!! (11+ / 0-)
    How do Americans react when they see people from the Middle East in their neighborhood mall?  Do we surreptitiously watch them or blatantly stare at them?  Do we get nervous if our toddlers get too close to them for our comfort?
     
    Seeing somebody dressed differently always catches my eye, but I don't get nervous or uncomfortable. I had Iranian students when I taught in China and I've had students from Kuwait, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia when I was teaching in grad school. My Pakistani-American student had a really hard time because he grew his beard. He came to me for advice when other students were taunting him with insults I can't repeat.
    Do we care when US drone strikes kill innocent people in Pakistan?  Or, are those people not really people, but merely “collateral damage” in the GWOT?
     
    There was a time when I thought that we weren't to blame for the "collateral damage". My attitude was that people should accept the risk of living with terrorists. But I've grown to realize that our strikes are so imprecise and so illegal that my position was no longer defensible. It needs to end. "Collateral damage" is dead innocent people. That's just wrong.
    When we lose our sense of humanity and our belief in justice for those who are not members of our community, what does that make us?

    It makes us no different than the people we are fighting.
    If we lose our will, or are just simply too disinterested to personally fight for our civil liberties, where will we end up?
     
    We will end up in a very dark place wondering how we got there. By the time we realize it, it will be too late.
    No, of course we aren’t Nazi Germany or East Germany; but does this country now uphold the values you believe it should?
    No. The land of the free and the home of the brave has become the land of the deluded and the home of the paranoid.
    I watched the videos of people being arrested in Wisconsin with my kids yesterday, and the first thing we all wanted to do was get in our car and support those brave citizens of our country.  What are you, personally, willing to do to help make this country what you believe it should be?
    I don't know. I think our situation is pretty hopeless at this pointl

    Tyrion Lannister: "It's not easy being drunk all the time. Everyone would do it if it were easy."

    by psychodrew on Sat Jul 27, 2013 at 02:16:25 PM PDT

  •  There's no denying (9+ / 0-)

    that stuff is getting weirder and weirder.
     It's important to support those people in Wisconsin and NC so that when they get ignored and arrested and slammed to the ground, they know people are there to back them up. If those states' resistance dies down I don't see a healthy future for a long long while.
    I see one takeover after another until what we see today is looked back on fondly as the good old days.

  •  this is one of the most compelling diaries... (8+ / 0-)

    i have read in some time.

    heartily t&r.

    •  Thanks liberaldemdave. (7+ / 0-)

      It was one of those points in time and place where people were very aware that their actions had real meaning.  I met many people from all over the world who needed to visit the wall to write graffiti on it and express their feelings toward it.  

      I met West Germans who went there every day with a chisel to do their part in taking it down.  

      Meanwhile, people who attempted to walk through it were being randomly arrested while others calmly walked through holes in the wall.  It was surreal.

  •  I made the same trip in 1980 after being (8+ / 0-)

    picked soldier of the quarter. When I was on the train we were told to keep the shades down, even at night.

    I had exchanged more money then I could spend, (use it or lose was the rule), so I treated the 3 guys I was with to a lunch at the base of the TV tower. I had no idea what I had ordered, but it came on a sliver plater and feed all four for about $8.00. Still had Ost marks to burn, so we went to the top of the tower to the bar and ordered the most expensive scotch they had.

    The East Berliners must have thought all US Soldiers were rich kids.

  •  Sehr interesant, Herr Soldaten! (6+ / 0-)

    I too took a train trip to West/East Berlin. I took the trip in 1962, as a 10 YO. My dad was teaching at the Frankfurt American High School. I was in 4th grade.

    I remember the cool ability to sleep in a 3-stack high bunk complex on the train. I do remember the wall, but only dimly. We went through Checkpoint Charlie. As a 10 YO American kid on vacation, my trips anywhere except to the bathroom were limited. But I do remember a feeling of menace and danger.

  •  tip rec repub (8+ / 0-)

    to Hellraisers

    A good question for all of us to ask ourselves:

    What are you, personally, willing to do to help make this country what you believe it should be?
    And I believe that to be a truly patriotic question.

    Perhaps we need to pick a weekend for all of us to converge on Wisconsin. There is some good camping in the area.

    I have never been arrested for anything.

    Perhaps it's about damn time I was arrested for the cause of justice.

    God spare me the Heart to fight them... I'll fight the Pirates forever. -Mother Jones

    by JayRaye on Sat Jul 27, 2013 at 02:51:57 PM PDT

  •  so glad this m ade the rec list!!! (6+ / 0-)

    deserves a far wider audience.

  •  The permanent War on Terror is actually (5+ / 0-)

    an endless War OF Terror.

    Can't take credit for that. I heard from BigAlinWA. And it makes complete sense.

    Thanks for an amazing story and good sense of history which so many lack.

    Okay, but how many shits is it worth to you?
    Shop Kos Katalogue

    by Words In Action on Sat Jul 27, 2013 at 03:08:21 PM PDT

  •  In order not to see or viscerally feel what is (4+ / 0-)

    happening, one has to adopt a drone's-eye view.

    From there, high above, disconnected from one's actions and their consequences--like the executives in a distant multinational HQ making decisions that affect remote communities or workforces with which they have no contact--you will not see or feel much of anything except your target and satisfaction when you hit it. If you hit the wrong thing, you simply circle back around and fire again.

    This is how people can take a cool, dispassionate approach to circumstances that would otherwise--up close and personal--engage them in a way that would change their perspective entirely. For one thing, they would be much more vulnerable. They wouldn't be interacting through a throw-away hunk of metal and polymer. When they missed the target and killed three children and their mother, it would be indelibly etched into their minds where the psychic blowback would last a lifetime. They would see the horror in the face of the bystanders. They would know the anger that would follow as if it were already there, if none of them turned on him/her right in that instant. This blowback is an abstract proposition, subject to summary rationale and calculation, like the decision to close a factory in a town in which you not live, or to defer public action on an environment that awaits future generations; detachment is easier from the drone's-eye view, because the falling of bodies to the ground in death and despair, from bullets, financial ruin, or future famine or tsunami become impalpable for those who lack highly developed empathic and moral imagination.

    There was a time when empathy was a much more widely held experience among Democrats, when none of us used or would consider the drone's-eye view but for the most cursory speculation. Now it is just another way of looking at and "dealing with" the world. It is the result of two decades of the Third Way's embrace of Republican "seriousness," a natural state for a conservative but one a progressive much usually learn to adopt. This is also why so many can confine themselves to and settle for remote control democracy, where the horse-race substitutes for publicly confronting and speaking truth to power, even when the consequences are dire.

    Okay, but how many shits is it worth to you?
    Shop Kos Katalogue

    by Words In Action on Sat Jul 27, 2013 at 03:50:57 PM PDT

    •  Good comment. (4+ / 0-)
      From there, high above, disconnected from one's actions and their consequences--like the executives in a distant multinational HQ making decisions that affect remote communities or workforces with which they have no contact--you will not see or feel much of anything except your target and satisfaction when you hit it. If you hit the wrong thing, you simply circle back around and fire again.
      This disconnect from our actions allows to do things we normally won't do.  It allows others to cheer it on like it's a football game also.
  •  And thanks for the link to (7+ / 0-)

    Voices on the Square. I'm thinking I've probably seen this many times before and moved right on past it to the comments. This time I went back afterward and explored. :)

    Okay, but how many shits is it worth to you?
    Shop Kos Katalogue

    by Words In Action on Sat Jul 27, 2013 at 03:57:09 PM PDT

  •  Thanks for the reference to Wisconsin (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kmfmstar, SpecialKinFlag, Redfire

    For the weekday Solidarity Singers, Wisconsin IS a police state

  •  I have made the ride from Hamburg to Berlin (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SpecialKinFlag, Redfire

    by train many times in the late sixties to mid seventies and many times by car before that.

    The fear was palpable for West Germans passing through East Germany all the time. You knew you had to be quiet patient and always low key and polite when you saw an East German Officer. The train made long stops, you were not allowed to leave the train, unless you had permission to visit your East German relatives. You never talked to an East German soldier unasked and tried to avoid any contact and any disputes.

    The feeling of solidarity and comradship you felt as American soldiers being confronted with the realities of a communist state, was very well known to West Berliners, who lived there all their lives after WWII, often with family members in the East Berlin part across the Wall.

    West Berlin had a special feeling to live in for this very reason, it being enclosed by communist states and its citizens being forced to cross those, when they wanted to go to West Germany.

    I remember West Berlin very fondly for those reasons. There was even a specific music culture in that town just for that reason. You could feel very much at home and homey in West Berlin just because for that "we are all in here for it together".  But I can't remember that anyone was really fearful. Unless you were involved in underground work to free some East Germans and help them escape.

    You were lucky to be there, when the Wall came down. I was already in the US for a couple of years when it happened. All the rest I only watched from the US and it caused me to loose my attachment to Germany and my comprehension for the political developments there since then. The whole issue of East Germans and West Germans not getting along very well was beyond my imagination. I still do regret that so much. But then I don't know what it really is, because I haven't been living there to experience it close-up.

    Today, knowing the US a bit, I can way better understand the isolation of US soldiers in Germany. Those bars were well known and ... Ami soldiers were often silently looked at without respect also by West Germans or Berliners   I have to admit...but in comparison to the French soldiers and British soldiers and Russian ones, I believe the Americans were best known and the most easy to socialize with. But the isolation for sure was worse, if you happened to be a black American soldiers. The Fraeuleins who socialized with those in these bars.... oh, oh, that was a no no.

    Yep. lots of memories coming up. Not all good ones.

    Interesting diary, seldom that one see something like it at dailykos.

    "Im Land der Schatten ist die Wahrheit eine Lüge"

    by mimi on Sat Jul 27, 2013 at 08:15:13 PM PDT

    •  A lot to unpack in that comment. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Redfire

      When I first got to Germany, I was stationed in the Gangster Hotel" in Nürnberg.   lol

      I enjoyed the week in Berlin a lot.  The food was better there at the barracks - one way they took care of the soldiers stationed there.  It was also an edgy place to be - I guess that's one way to describe it.

      I spent a few evenings at the Irish Pub there.  The most interesting crowd I've ever seen anywhere.

      It was such a memorable time and place because it was in between what it was and what it was going to be and many still didn't believe it would really change.

      Thanks for your comment.  You brought out some memories for me too.  I haven't heard the word Ami or thought of Ossies for many, many years.

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