Unless you’ve been imbibing 100-proof hope-and-change, you could hardly listen to President — er, make that, Candidate — Obama’s Berlin speech without questioning whether there is anything that he is truly willing to fight for. Not merely fighting metaphorically or deploying persuasive prose, but actually committing American lives to defend a principle that must not be compromised.
When Obama’s campaign appropriated Berlin’s Victory Column as the backdrop for his “citizen of the world” speech, his handlers certainly expected the venue to frame him in a distinctly presidential stature.
Instead, the staging created an unmistakable contrast between courageous presidents who faced down genuine threats from dangerous enemies and the empty, self-aggrandizing platitudes of Obama, who seems to take for granted his election and now awaits transfiguration.
Obama talked about the 1948 Soviet blockade intended to enslave Berliners under communist domination, but he then suggested that “the people of the world” rose up to save Berlin.
The Allies’ initial plan for post-war reconstruction of Germany faltered. (No, George W. Bush isn’t the first president to have trouble transitioning from war against a uniformed enemy to uniting a conquered people and rebuilding their country.)
The Soviet communists, with a numerically superior military, saw the chance to seize control of an isolated people, but President Truman guided America, aided by Great Britain, to sustain a herculean airlift — more than 278,000 flights — that provided food and coal for isolated Berliners for nearly 11 months.
Obama recalled how the mayor of Berlin exhorted his people and “the people of the world” to “stand together united until this battle is one.”
But Obama’s record toward the people of Iraq is just the opposite. Had his view prevailed, the world would have turned its back on the Iraqis, allowing Saddam Hussein to continue his reign of terror, torture, murder and rape. Rather than help Iraqis secure their freedom, Obama’s policy of retreat in the face of adversity would have told the people of Baghdad, “We’re outta here; fend for yourselves.”
So far, nothing about Obama indicates that he places a higher value on courage than on protecting his popularity.
President Kennedy’s 1961 visit demonstrated solidarity with citizens of West Berlin when the Soviets divided the city by constructing the Berlin Wall. Kennedy’s declaration, “ich bin ein Berliner,” was considered too provocative by his own national security advisors.
When President Reagan called upon Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” he was discouraged by his advisors and ridiculed in Europe as a “warmonger.” Whereas Obama’s superfluous speech attracted 200,000, Reagan’s now-historic speech was witnessed by just 20,000 Germans — in contrast to 25,000 who protested against him.
Seventeen months later, Reagan was vindicated when the wall did come down. What could possibly be significant about Obama’s speech 17 months from now?
When Obama claims “a wall came down, a continent came together, and history proved that there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one,” he proves that just because a speaker is captivating, he doesn’t necessarily know what he’s talking about.
The world certainly did not stand “as one” against Soviet communism. Much of the world either was controlled by, supportive of or unwilling to confront the USSR.
Like Obama, Reagan’s predecessor, Jimmy Carter, thought negotiation and accommodation could accomplish more than confrontation. Six months into his first term, Carter criticized our “inordinate fear of communism.” He signed treaties that trusted the Soviets, without verification, to limit their nuclear arsenal. By the end of his term, the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan and Iranian revolutionaries seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran.
Truman, Kennedy and Reagan earned their places in history because they believed that freedom — even for people in a foreign land — was worth fighting for. Freedom’s enemies were moved not by words but by the conviction that our presidents would back their words with action.
Obama’s talk tickles the ears of his audiences, but so far nothing indicates that he is prepared, in the manner of Teddy Roosevelt, to “speak softly and carry a big stick.”
2 Thoughts on “What would Obama fight for?”
As a U.S. Army veteran who was assigned to the 3rd Battalion of the 6th Infantry Regiment in West Berlin, Germany during the Cold War (1981-83), I could not agree more with Mr. Hillman’s article – well said, Sir!
Obama did not speak in front of the Brandenburg Gate, but the Victory Column (German: Siegessäule) — designed by Heinrich Strack after 1864 to commemorate the Prussian victory in the Danish-Prussian War, by the time it was inaugurated on 2 September 1873, Prussia had also defeated Austria in the Austro-Prussian War (1866) and France in the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71), giving the statue a new purpose. Different from the original plans, these later victories in the so-called Unification Wars inspired the addition of the bronze sculpture of Victoria, 8.3 meters high and weighing 35 tonnes, designed by Friedrich Drake. Berliners, with their fondness for giving nicknames to famous buildings, call the statue Goldelse, meaning something like “Golden Lizzy”.
The column itself consists of four solid blocks of sandstone, three of which are decorated by cannon barrels captured from the enemies of the aforementioned three wars. The fourth ring is decorated with golden garlands and was added in 1938–39 when the column was moved to its present location. The relief decoration had to be removed at the request of the French forces in 1945, probably to prevent Germans from being reminded of former victories, especially the defeat of the French in 1871. It was restored for the 750th anniversary of Berlin in 1987 by the French president at that time, François Mitterrand.
That location symbolizes issues regarding victory in times of great struggle through the use of military strength and determination – quite ironic given Obama’s speech catering to the fascist liberals of Europe.
Barely five minutes before the speech was supposed to start, ZDF Berlin studio chief Peter Frey added, “We do estimate that 20,000 [literally, “a couple of ten thousand”] people have turned out.” Frey’s tone reflected the gap between the relatively modest number cited and the lofty predictions that had preceded the event.
During the Cold War, the American, British, and French military forces stationed in West Berlin would hold a parade in Berlin every year, marking the end of WWII. We marched down through the Großer Stern (Great Star), a large intersection on the city axis that leads from the former Berliner Stadtschloss (Berlin City Palace) through the Brandenburg Gate to the western parts of the city.
If any place in Berlin speaks to the legitmate use of military force as a legitimate tool for the extension of state power, the Victory Column would do it. The photos of Obama’s speech clearly shows that only the narrow street filled with people, with gaps – so the 20,000 estimate is more credible.
Thanks again, Mr. Hillman, for a great article!
This is a very well written article which I’ve forwarded to a number of acquaintences after reading it in this morning’s Pueblo Chieftain. President Kennedy visited West Berlin on 26 June 1963 (not 1961, as stated). I was fortunate to be a Soldier of the U.S. Army’s 1st Battle Group, 28th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division assigned to Berlin at the time of JFK’s “Ich Bin Ein Berliner” visit. My impressions are recorded at http://www.berlin-brigade.de/honor/honor14.html#john1
Keep up the good work, Mr. Hillman!
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