One Hundred Monkeys in Texas

July 6, 2008

“That world is gone”

Filed under: History — alancochrum @ 8:16 pm
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A number of my in-laws were visiting over the weekend, and last night my wife’s youngest brother and I decided to watch a movie. We opted for The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, the 1965 version of John le Carre’s novel starring Richard Burton.

The black-and-white film opens at Checkpoint Charlie, that (in)famous connection between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. The scene is dreary and somber, and Burton’s Alec Leamas is forced to watch as one of his agents is gunned down in an effort to enter the American zone.

That was part of the geopolitical reality in which I grew up. When I was in high school, I studied German at a time when there were two Germanies, and no obvious signs that this would change any time soon. But I was reminded last night how completely that reality had evaporated.

The Berlin Wall — it was begun in 1961, my own birth year — fell in late 1989; Germany was reunified in 1990. The Soviet Union disintegrated within the following two years. My oldest child will have no memories of an East Germany or a U.S.S.R., and my other children have always existed in a world without them.

Early in the 1990 book What I Saw at the Revolution, Peggy Noonan describes her childhood and then notes: “And that was the world we pedaled past. A different time, a different place, and it couldn’t be so long ago because it was my life — but you don’t have to be old in America to say of a world you lived in, That world is gone.”

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