Monday, 9 November 2009

The Fall of the Berlin Wall, and the Search for a New Enemy

Twenty years ago I was in San Diego, preparing to move my parents to an assisted living residence in Bellingham, Washington. My dad was not at all well, and during the summer it had become clear that they had to move 1) out of the place they were and 2) closer to me in Montreal or to my sister Laurie in Vancouver, BC. They vetoed any move east because of the cold and flatly refused to allow us to start the process of bringing them into Canada as sponsored immigrants. That was a mistake, but at that point Laurie and I were still learning how to be adults in relation to our parents, and we didn't argue too much.

Laurie did the footwork and found The Leopold, an 1920ish hotel converted to a retirement residence in downtown Bellingham. Our parents loved it--you can get an idea of the place from the fact that it had a Cheers-style bar downstairs and a ballroom with chandeliers where ballroom dancing still is a feature--and our mother stayed on for a couple years after Dad died in January 1991.

But it's that window in time--November 1989 to January 1991--that I remember today. As we sorted through their belongings and packed boxes in San Diego, we watched the fall of the Berlin Wall and the flood of people from East to West all over Eastern Europe. It was exhilarating, and my parents, who had lived most of their lives under the threat of war, Cold and Hot, were as pleased as everyone else at this promise of a more peaceful planet.

By the time Dad's lung cancer (because that was what was beginning to eat through his body 20 years ago) struck him down 14 months later, that great hope had evaporated. He died the day that George Bush père announced the beginning of the West's first 20th century war in the Persian Gulf, and his funeral was held the day that troops of the US and its friends attacked Iraq.

My mother always said she was glad that he was not aware of what had happened, that the nightly news programs were full of promise for a better world up until the last weeks before his disease removed him from combat.

What opportunities have been squandered in the last 20 years! What happened to the Peace Bonus? Are we as a species constitutionally unable to live without enemies?

1 comment:

lagatta à montréal said...

I remember an interview with old Willy Brandt during that window, in which he said that now that the Cold War was over, the time had come to seriously attack global inequalities, hunger and exploitation of the Third World (see Brandt Report). Willy was a Social Democrat; his reasons for opposing Soviet "Communism" were very different fron those of the plutocrats.

Unfortunately the nasty old Stalinists' defeat meant the victory of those intent on stepping up such inequality and exploitation, such as Reagan, Thatcher and then Bush père.

Enemies are so handy. Not only Saddam and the Mullahs needed their war, Pinochet and Videla were fighting over bits of rock on the South Pacific while perfectly in agreement about extraditing political prisoners between Chile and Argentina. It is a classic.

As for your parents, no, I don't believe adult children have the right to tell their aged parents what to do even if it is for their own good, except in a few exceptional circumstances. And I hope to the cat goddess my will to get a needle in my arm rather than living on addled is respected when the time comes, if I don't die first. I'm going through that tragedy with my 96-year-old mum, a proud woman who would have said the same before a series of strokes. Fortunately she pretty much just sleeps most of the time.

Utterly heavenly day here, by the way. 19 degrees!