Go to Top

How The Cold War Ended, And How It Didn’t End

As a young journalist during the last decade of the Cold War, my one ambition that went unfulfilled was to cover Eastern Europe.

I was particularly drawn to Germany because it was the front line of the East-West confrontation. It seemed inevitable to me that, one day, Germans would insist on living in a single country again, and the country they would want to live in would be democratic and free.

I was old enough to remember the summer morning in 1968 when Warsaw Pact troops rolled into Czechoslovakia to crush the "Prague Spring" liberalization movement led by Alexander Dubcek. I started my career as a journalist just before Poland's Solidarity trade union brought the strongest challenge yet to Communist domination in Eastern Europe, which triggered another harsh crackdown. It seemed unlikely that Germans would get their undivided country in my lifetime without a climactic battle between NATO forces and the Soviets.

In November 1983, ABC Television's presentation of The Day After (one of the best made-for-television films ever presented) hypothesized that a devastating nuclear exchange would begin with a showdown over Berlin. If something like that happened, I wanted to be there.

But life and history had other plans. I married, moved to New York, got an MBA and changed careers. The Soviets exhausted themselves in an Afghan quagmire and a fruitless effort to keep up with the American arms buildup led by President Ronald Reagan. By the end of the 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev was in charge in Moscow, residents of Warsaw Pact satellites were streaming westward, and the Iron Curtain was breached. Berliners on both sides of the Wall were permitted to move freely 20 years ago this week, and Germany was reunified shortly thereafter.

Reunification cost the West Germans trillions of dollars as they worked to bring the East's infrastructure up to Western standards. But it also brought prosperity and stability, along with a leading role for Germany in a steadily expanding European Union. The German stock index, the DAX, has increased 268 percent during the last two decades, compared to a rise of only 109 percent for the MSCI World Index. Germany has become the world's leading exporter, ahead of both China and the United States (which it passed in 2003).

On Monday I watched Gorbachev, Hillary Clinton and the heads of state of all 27 European Union member countries attend a celebratory concert at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Wall's demise.

The celebration reminded me to be thankful for the fact that the bang at the end of the Cold War came only from fireworks. Some terrible things have happened since the Wall fell. But, thus far, we have avoided The Day After.

, , , ,