Thirty years ago on Nov. 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell, followed by the collapse of the Soviet Union two years later. Today, as we look back on this history, what will we think about? Will we wonder why the West’s victory march was so short-lived, or will we think about the influence that day has had on major global changes happening today?
The fall of the Berlin Wall was seen as an important symbol of the end of the Cold War. So, for a while, the West felt a sense of victory, thinking it had reached the “end of history.” However, the world is in constant transition. With the words “end of history” still ringing in the West’s ears, disappointment and instability spread through the West like a virus. In particular, the Western financial crisis of 2008 that swept the globe caused a collapse of morale from within the walls of its fortress. Those who had once celebrated victory started to use words like “recession” and “failure” to describe the financial system. However, they weren’t willing to accept that the cause of this instability was the failure of the Western system.
Changes in the global economy illustrate this clearly. From 1980 to 2007, developed economies made up 59% of the world’s economic activity on average (based on purchasing power parity), while developing economies accounted for 41%. This ratio has now been reversed. According to the International Monetary Fund’s assessment, in 2018, developed economies made up 41% and developing economies made up 59% of total economic activity. After 500 years, due to major trends in global development, the worldwide expansion of Western civilization has reached a turning point. These same major trends have also determined the direction of global organization post-Cold War.
It’s not easy to persuade certain Western theorists that they should fully accept this change. On the surface, the Cold War was a military confrontation, but at its heart, it was a political confrontation. Its ideology could not have ended merely because the enemy collapsed. French President Emmanuel Macron said that NATO is brain-dead, but that is only because having lost a military enemy, the world’s largest military bloc’s military brain started to fail. However, NATO’s political brain is still alive.
The feeling of victory that came at the end of the Cold War strengthened the West’s drive to spread its values and systems, and and this extended the life of that political brain. The original ideology and the inertia of the system were also extended. While the form seems to have dissolved, the spirit is still alive. Even though reality has taught the West some painful lessons, it’s still not enough to bring thorough change.
The thought patterns and logic of the Cold War developed over a long period of time. In essence, they are products of the expansion of Western civilization. Their greatest harm to the world is how they divide humanity’s different value systems into a hierarchy of good and bad, and use this to create antagonism and division. What’s more dangerous is that there are powerful countries that still use these divisions to determine their global strategy. Since they struggle to adapt to major trends in global development, they respond by trying to duplicate the environment of the Cold War. Particularly when faced with the abrupt rise of developing nations, which China represents, the West always rushes to raise the flags of the Cold War out of habit, longing to forge a new victory.
Some people intentionally search for new enemies, and they even manufacture imaginary foes and create a feeling of crisis in order to encourage staying alert and a feeling of cohesion. Some are holding on to the dated concept of proselytizing their views, stubbornly trying to have the whole world conform to their “universal” way of thinking. That Cold War-era mindset, which at a glance seems to have already disappeared, has in fact merely been temporarily suppressed. With only the slightest provocation, it will quickly emerge again like a demon being exorcised.
Billions of people rely on the Earth to live, and the huge changes brought by globalization prove that the time when two large military blocs made the world go round is gone. No one hopes for the reemergence of such a dangerous equilibrium. It didn’t just cause the people living on either side of the Berlin Wall to live under constant threat; it even once dragged the world into a state of nuclear terror. As the West commemorates the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, it should tear down the wall in its own heart. It should not let the zombies of the Cold War walk openly down the street, frightening those who live in peace.
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