OPINION: Ocasio-Cortez Doesn’t Seem To Understand The Berlin Wall

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Nicholas Waddy Associate Professor of History, SUNY Alfred
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Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) — America’s socialist sweetheart — startled historians with her claim that President Trump’s proposed southern border wall is a “moral abomination” akin to the Berlin Wall. She opined, “I think it’s like any other wall designed to separate human beings and block out people who are running away from the humanitarian disasters.”

All walls are designed to create separation. Is AOC advocating the universal abolition of walls? Since she has also called for the reconstruction of every building in America in order to achieve greater energy efficiency — and since buildings generally incorporate walls in their design — we presume not.

The more important point, though, is that AOC claimed that both the southern border wall and the Berlin Wall are and were designed to “block out people who are running away from the humanitarian disasters.” This suggests she is grossly misinformed about both walls, but especially the Berlin Wall, as any competent historian can tell you.

The Berlin Wall was built by (communist) East German authorities in 1961, with Soviet permission and support, to stop the emigration of ordinary East German citizens to free and capitalist West Germany. Over three million East Germans had already fled to West Germany from 1945 to 1961, and so the East German regime understandably came to the conclusion that their “socialist paradise” was no longer sustainable unless the citizenry was held there against its will. Young, skilled East German workers were among the most likely to emigrate. Communist authorities needed them to stay put and to accept meager wages, substandard housing and social services and unrelenting political tyranny.

Despite the privations and oppression that East Germans endured, there was no “humanitarian disaster” in East Germany. There was adequate, if unexciting, food, shelter, clothing, health care and education for all. In fact, East Germany was one of the most prosperous of socialist states. While the totalitarian influence of the Socialist Unity Party — which dominated the public sphere — was grating, crime levels were low and few East Germans feared for their personal safety. Thus, any comparison between the refugees fleeing from East Germany to West Germany, and the migrants fleeing from Central America to the United States, is wildly off-base.

The bigger problem with AOC’s wall analogy is one she, as a socialist, should have anticipated: it was socialism that held East Germans in bondage from 1961 to 1989 (the year the wall came down and the Cold War ended). Socialism was thus not the solution to East Germans’ plight — it was the cause.

Some things never change. Latin America’s biggest current refugee crisis — and here we speak of real refugees from political chaos and oppression, not phony refugees seeking a better life — involves Venezuela.

Once the wealthiest country in Latin America, Venezuela has been led by socialists since 1999, and its descent into poverty, violence, dictatorship and instability has been steady and mortifying. Four million Venezuelans have fled to neighboring countries, especially Colombia, to escape these socialist horrors. I met some of them during a recent visit to Bogota. One wonders, in fact, if AOC might be more sympathetic to a wall designed to keep Venezuelans in, than she is to a southern border wall designed to keep economic migrants — illegal immigrants — out.

AOC should be commended in one sense: by referencing the Berlin Wall, she is reminding Americans of the monstrous crimes and exorbitantly high social costs attributable to socialism and allied philosophies. It’s estimated that 100 million people died in the 20th century as a direct result of socialist oppression and bloody-mindedness. AOC feels no qualms about recommending socialism as the solution to most American challenges.

AOC claims the Berlin Wall showed that walls are bad. She needs to re-read her high school history texts. The real lesson of the Berlin Wall is that human beings instinctively resist and recoil from tyranny — and the world has known no greater impetus for tyranny than the philosophy of socialism propounded by Karl Marx, and naively trumpeted by millennial agitators like AOC.

Dr. Nicholas L. Waddy is an associate professor of history at SUNY Alfred. He holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Rochester in New York.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.