This past week, I have been in Europe to help commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I went into this trip with a great deal of enthusiasm and an expectation that the heroes responsible for that momentous event be justly recognized. Sadly, I was instead reminded of how much we have willingly forgotten.
The Reagan Legacy Foundation has been working hard to ensure that Berliners remember the vital role my father played in bringing down the wall and defeating communism. Amazingly, there are no major statues, memorials or tributes to Ronald Reagan — the president, the man who sided with freedom over tyranny. Thankfully, in partnering with the “Checkpoint Charlie” museum, we have now unveiled a Ronald Reagan permanent exhibit to help educate Berliners and their international guests of what would have been an unpardonable omission in modern historical analysis of that period.
During these ceremonies, I fully expected the legends of this period to be honored … to at least be mentioned. But I heard nary a mention of Reagan or Margaret Thatcher. This was both frustrating and alarming.
One only has to review modern education textbooks to see that this omission is not limited to an important celebration on a cold Berlin night. Rather, it is a trend — a trend that is removing the reference of the great heroes and leaders of the Cold War battle and replacing it with a softer, perhaps less controversial revision.
Last year, a German study revealed how disturbingly little that German youths understand about their divided history just a generation back. Two-thirds of the schoolchildren surveyed did not believe East Germans lived under a dictatorship. Nearly as many thought the East German economic system was preferable to West Germany’s. Communism, preferable?
The facts are what they are. We must not forget that the Soviet Union murdered and oppressed millions of people in an effort to conquer more territories, gain more resources and grab more power. And while the world trembled, a select few leaders of that era finally took a stand.
Germans are not the only ones who have forgotten. This lazy softening of history is equally a problem in our American classrooms. A survey in 2007 concluded fully a third of 17-year-old American students did not know that the Bill of Rights guarantees our freedoms of religion and speech.
I was proud to stand there and remember the fall of that terrible wall. But until we remember in full, we leave ourselves vulnerable to the seditious creep of socialism, communism and oppression.
Michael Reagan, the elder son of the late President Ronald Reagan, is chairman and president of The Reagan Legacy Foundation (www.reaganlegacyfoundation.org).