August 28, 1962 12:00 AM
The Wall: One Year Later
This article first appeared in the Aug. 28, 1962, issue of NATIONAL REVIEW.
By Norbert Muhlen
To West Berliners, the Wall has become the tip-off: It symbolizes the weakening American will to resist Communist aggression, in Germany, in Cuba, in Laos . . .
Although New Frontiersmen and their cheerleaders may prefer to ignore it, the mood of Berlin has been changing over the past year. The “brave Berliners,” as they have been rightly stereotyped since blockade days, are as brave as ever, and just as eager as always actively to resist Communism; but today they often wonder whether their bravery is still wanted by the Free World.
Most foreign visitors in Berlin hear few of these doubts. The taxi driver and the reception committee official still feel duty-bound to assure them that the city’s fighting spirit remains strong. But among themselves Berliners talk in a different, more disenchanted way. Their confidence in the West seems somewhat shaken. Not that they believe in the outright betrayal of their city — hardly anyone foresees a “deal” at the price of their own freedom. What they are afraid of is that the West will not resist — let alone counterattack — the next and all subsequent minor Soviet moves undercutting their strength until, in the end, Berlin will be ripe for surrender. The “salami technique” by which this would be achieved is a term with which everybody in Berlin seems familiar, and which recurs in every talk about the future.
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According to two consecutive public opinion surveys commissioned by Berlin’s Senate (city government), conducted in depth by independent researchers, and never published, the majority trend is moving from its previous confidence in the Western Allies to a new negative attitude of little hope, much distrust, intermittent cynicism. It follows that the once activist anti-Communism of the city tends to be more passive. This new posture steins in the main from the new image of Washington coming to the fore in Berlin. Characteristic of it was an incident on the seventeenth of last June when Berliners commemorated the ninth anniversary of the East German uprising. Adenauer, whose image as the Cold Warrior has not paled, had gone to Berlin. At his appearance, members of a crypto-Communist Socialist students’ group suddenly unfolded a banner proclaiming: “Kennedy will make this a Free City despite Adenauer’s meddling.” The Soviet objective is, of course, free city status for Berlin, and the President of the United States was made in this way to appear to support this position.
What could have successfully created this image in the eyes of Berliners when even critics of Kennedy’s foreign policy in this country point to his firmness on Berlin as one of the few bright spots on his record? Obviously, the Berliner’s disenchantment with the West began just one year ago in the early Sunday morning hours of August 13, when the Wall was erected to divide their city in two. While Washington patiently explained that the Wall proved the weakness of the East, to Berliners it meant only one thing: a naked symbol of Soviet strength which would stand so long as the Wall itself were permitted to stand. Today, as much as a year ago, a favorite and frequent topic of Berlin conversation is why the West did nothing to meet the challenge other than to send out a few letters of protest which no one took seriously. Much new evidence that has since accumulated, particularly from East German policemen who have fled to the West, leaves little doubt that the Soviets had banked on this supine Western acceptance of their challenge, but would have backed down if the West had defended its rights. To outside observers the Wall may have become an accepted fact of life, but for Berliners — who are reminded of it several times each day, by their morning and their afternoon papers, by radio and TV, by their frequent visits to the corpus delicti — it presents the background for the fearful thought that the West remains silent when the East advances.
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