Saturday, January 31, 2015

My World View - Amended

This has been a memorable few weeks. It has been filled with events of deep significance for us, beginning with the Christmas holidays when we spent a lot of time together with our family.

We had a special treat the first Saturday in January. Patsy had always longed for a sleigh ride with all the kids here at the Ranch, so I connected with Kim Richins out of Coalville, and he brought a matched team of black Percherons and hitched them to his twenty-passenger sleigh for two hours of fun. It was so great! Andrew and Jessica were taking some holiday time off from the rigors of medical school, and their visit was the catalyst for getting everyone here.

Next up was three weeks of business-related travel for Packsize that took us out to the Eastern Caribbean for the annual sales meeting aboard the Carnival Freedom cruise ship. Our ports of call included San Juan in Puerto Rico, Antigua, St. Thomas, Nassau in the Bahamas, then on to Germany for a week of training with the sales team in the the European Business Unit at Herford. What a cultural feast this past month has been!

The day after our return last week, Jake and Heidi were blessed with yet another miracle baby, Vivienne, who was born three months early, weighing in at 2 lb. 6 oz. at a length of 13 inches! Mother and baby are doing well. You can read all about her and their journey through the vicissitudes of infertility and anencephaly by clicking the link to their blog.

When you travel, if you are like me, you spend a few hours in various ports of call and you come away with distinct impressions that last a lifetime. This last month for me was particularly meaningful because I got to return to ground I had not seen for 46 years!

My parents came to England in 1969 to pick me up from my mission. They had not seen Europe, and thought it would be a memorable time to make that trip, even though it was winter in early February. Our itinerary included England, Holland, Poland, Germany, Switzerland, France, Spain and Portugal. High on their list of things to do was to visit historical sights, including museums, cathedrals, and even a night at the ballet in Paris for me and Mom. Dad wasn't interested in ballet.

My purpose in recalling that memory has everything to do with my week in Germany last week. I had a chance to return to Berlin.

When I was there in 1969, Berlin was a divided city, and Germany had been partitioned after World War II. It was divided among the Allies who defeated Hitler to assure that Germany never repeated that debacle. The Berlin Wall was the iconic symbol representing the worst features of the Cold War raging between America and the USSR. We had just come from Amsterdam and Poland where we reviewed the history of the rise and the fall of the Third Reich, and it was a chilling and sobering chapter. We rode trains from Amsterdam to Poland, where the highlights included visits to Anne Frank's home and Auschwitz. We then went to Dusseldorf and Berlin on trains.

Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin
My youthful mind was filled with those images and, frankly, Germany scared me. As the miles on the crowded trains flew by with my parents I wondered if we would somehow get trapped behind enemy lines and never return to America. Remember, it's 1969, and nothing's really going on in Europe except the Cold War and there's a war in far-off Vietnam nobody cares anything about. I knew as I prepared to return home I would have to go into the Army, but I wasn't nearly as concerned about that as I was about getting out of Germany that day.

The memories of that visit to Berlin in 1969 persisted into my adult life. We went through the Berlin Wall into East Germany on a two-hour visit permit. The warning posted at the checkpoint, "YOU ARE NOW LEAVING THE AMERICAN SECTOR," did nothing but chill me to the bone. On the other side of the Wall, it was so disheartening to observe firsthand the effects of Communism on the buildings, the people and the cold winter scenes we witnessed. People in the streets were huddled around barrels burning whatever they could find to stay warm and scrounging for food. Our guide drove slowly and ignored the pleas for help. "If you help one, you have to help them all," he informed us. Everything was old and dilapidated. There had been little progress under Communist rule since the War had ended. The oppression, the fear and the menacing overhang of soldiers everywhere was foreboding to me. The concrete tenement buildings for the workers were drab and uninviting. Today some of those tenements have been reclaimed and updated as upscale and pricey condominiums, but you get off the main thoroughfares and our tour guide talked about "open ownership" to properties that no one has claimed and they remain as dilapidated as they were in 1969 when I was there last. I couldn't wait to get back out of there. Freedom had never been so precious to me.

Brandenburg Gate today
Fast forward to last week. We picked up a tour bus on a Saturday morning. It was almost the same time of year, once again only two weeks different than my experience in 1969. It was still winter, and Berlin that Saturday morning was very cold with light snow in the air. But this time the difference was there were no soldiers, only their ghosts and my distant memories. We breezed through the streets of the old East Berlin with ease on the tour bus. Because we took that portion of the tour first, our guide let us stop and spend time wherever we chose to do, and we enjoyed that leisurely approach very much.

There are still stretches of the old Berlin Wall left. The tour guide spoke frequently of the "GDR" days and the days since under reunification that began when the Wall finally figuratively disintegrated overnight in 1989. In evidence everywhere is the slow but steady progress that has occurred since my first visit in 1969. However, my colleague in Packsize, Jan Spiekermann, who is a German citizen, informed me last week there is still a deduction from every one of his paychecks for the rebuilding effort that will be ongoing for many years to come.

The train travel has advanced dramatically. We were speeding along in ICE trains at about 125 mph during this visit, a stark contrast to the crowded and slower trains I remembered from my youth.

Victory Column, Berlin
A total of two days in a lifetime spent in Berlin does not an expert make. Let me make that declaration here and now. But the differences in what I observed then and now cannot be denied. These are the reasons I have lamented with amazement so frequently on these pages that America would intentionally embrace socialism and a socialist POTUS in recent years when they could have had Mitt Romney. Didn't we all learn the lesson that Communism was a dismal failure? Did we need any other reminder that socialism, as practiced in Berlin and the GDR in post-World War II years produced nothing but depression and dismal economic failure? Can't we all agree that politicians espousing such economic policies should be ignored and shunned at the ballot box? God help us all that when Barack Obama's term comes to a merciful end in November, 2016, that we never sign up for a repeat of THAT ever again in America.

If you believe there is merit in socialism in the least of its shades and hues to any degree, I'd suggest you study history, then make a visit to Berlin sometime. I think you'll come away from that exercise convinced that socialism offers nothing to those who love freedom. The promise of a better life to the masses by taking from the rich is a lie. It was then, it still is today.

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
Today in Berlin there are reminders everywhere of the horrors of war. I thought it was no more clearly illustrated than a visit to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. Its bombed-out skeletal remains stand next to the modern rebuilt sanctuary as a reminder that war destroys. Those modern memorials also remind Germans that, after all, Hitler was an Austrian in Germany only long enough to claim citizenship that enabled him to stay there legally. He has been totally disavowed by modern-day Berliners. Our past as nations and individuals can define and advise our future in very significant ways to find a more productive and prosperous way forward if we choose it.

Holocaust museums and memorials are abundant there. Germany continues to prosper under the democracy in place there as the anchor to the European Union. These facts alone should be ample evidence, sufficient to tamp down any thoughts of returning to socialism in any way. But government solutions tend to pop up everywhere despite the lessons of history. That reality dismays me, though I can do little but comment about it. I believe, however, the power of ideas related to freedom ultimately appeal to our Father in Heaven's children wherever they live on this earth.

Holocaust Memorial, Berlin
Sadly, however, mankind seems almost incapable of remembering and taking a different course. Conflicts around the globe today persist. We don't call them wars these days, and the current administration in Washington seems reluctant to admit we are in a war with a radical strain of Islam. Make no mistake, however, there are still people out there who would kill Americans if they could. The enemies of freedom will persist because Satan inspires some to think they can conquer and subdue the human spirit by compelling them into bondage that takes many forms. We may not think we are at war with them, but they have no other desire than to topple America and the freedoms she stands for around the world. The ancient and ever-present war between good and evil will always be with us.

It was my children in 1989, who informed me upon returning from school one November day that "some wall in Europe came down today." I said, "You mean the Berlin Wall?" "Yeah, that's it," was their answer. I was stunned. Overnight a miracle had happened, and just that fast the end of the Cold War came without a single shot being fired. The total collapse of the Soviet empire had come to an unbelievable, swift and merciful end.

Ronald Reagan, 1987
Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II had been right to confront the evil of their day. Reagan's bold demand at the Brandenburg Gate to Gorbachev to "tear down this wall," had been miraculously fulfilled. It was shocking. Berliners on both sides of the wall took to the streets in celebration. Freedom at last!

So based upon their tortured past with major wars in nearly every century of their history, let's take a lesson from the Germans - recovering from the effects of wars takes many more years than we can imagine, and the drain on productivity and progress is almost impossible to calculate.

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