MOSCOW, November 8 (RIA Novosti) — Contrary to what many believe, the Berlin Wall did not widen the divide between East and West Germany, but prevented the cold war from turning into a deadly clash between the US and the Soviet Union t,hus paving the way for peaceful reunification of Germany, maintains Thomas Schwartz, professor of history and political science at the Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee.
“You have to keep in mind, when Berlin Wall came about it was actually a solution to a problem,” Schwartz told Radio VR. Indeed, after its construction began in August 1961, then US President John F. Kennedy privately admitted that it was “'not a very nice solution, but… a hell of a lot better than a war,” as quoted by the New York Times. “What he meant was that the collapsing state of East Germany in 1961 could have led to a war between the United States and the Soviet Union. Both countries didn’t have the requisite trust or a sense of desire to work together at that point,” the political scientist explained. To some extent, the Berlin Wall delayed what could have been a very difficult situation, Schwartz said, adding that “by the time it did fall, peaceful possibility was open”.
Hence, the Berlin Wall has a mixed historical message, the professor believes. “On the one hand, it does indicate the failures of communism at the time to really provide the [much needed] economic development for East Germany. At the same time it also stabilized the situation and allowed time for a peaceful solution,” he stated.
The fall of the Berlin Wall now signifies to Germans “a moment when they were actually able to realize national unity,” Schwartz stated. It was denied them for quite some time – in some sense, as a result of their own actions, of WWII, he added. “Nevertheless, it was an important moment and it also was a moment Germans could celebrate because it was achieved peacefully by demonstrators in the East and by peaceful cooperation with the great powers. It was in some way an answer to the famous Deutsche Frage, the German Question, which had plagued Europe since Bismarck.” The German Question was a debate on how to create a unified German state and what German-speaking peoples the new nation should include.
Although the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989, psychological and social divisions between what was once East and West Germany remain. However, these differences are not as significant as they once were, Schwartz insists. “I think, the immediate aftermath of the fall of the wall was very difficult. But you basically have got a new generation, who never saw the wall and never experienced those divisions. And I think the German government has made some excellent moves in terms of integrating East Germany,” he stated.
The Berlin Wall was not the last to fall and will not be the last one to be constructed. For instance, less than a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall Israel constructed a barrier around Gaza. Extended in 2005, it now runs along the entire land border separating the Gaza Strip from Israel and Egypt.
Schwartz insists there is a huge difference between the two walls. “The Berlin Wall was meant to keep people in. It was meant to keep East Berliners from fleeing to the West and from destroying the East German state by simply depopulating it. The Israeli wall is meant to keep the [Palestinians] out,” he explained.
The Israel-Gaza barrier “is not a very practical thing. I’ve been there and I’ve seen it. But on the other hand it is truly a defensive wall. Ultimately, I would hope that if you’ve got a reasonable government in Palestine interested in peaceful development of that state, the wall could come down. But until that point the Israelis will be reluctant to do that,” Schwartz stated. Unfortunately, recent developments indicate that tensions between Israel and Palestine build up and peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not in sight.