In Germany, before the Reunification, today was a somber reminder of what could have been as seen in West Germany and as a non-event in its totality in the East. Heute ist der 17 Juni. Today marks the remembrance of June 17, 1953 when Soviet tanks crushed any illusion anyone in the world had that you can negotiate with sharks.
Without putting too fine a point on it, the rebellion in Libya, the blood between the tank treads in Tiananmen Square (you can only dream the world could ever forget), the slaughter of innocents in Syria, the victims of the Arab Spring, the death and destruction of families and friends in Hungary in 1956 and in the Prague Spring a decade later all began Unter den Linden.
The synthetic separation of one country into two nations that the division of Germany represented created two armed outposts for the military and political blocs that shaped the post World War II dynamic for decades, the Warsaw Pact (Ronald Reagan's "Evil Empire") and in opposition, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (a/k/a The Good Guys).
My service in the US Air Force-for our two children, How I Met Your Mother-was shaped by my years in uniform in places like Greenland where the airbases built on permafrost north of the Arctic Circle kept the Distant Early Warning sites fueled and fed as they warily watched the Russian Bear (and it, us). When I arrived in the Bundesrepublik, there were two full US Army Corps and I don't know how many air wings and Allied men under arms squaring off, we were told, against 22 Soviet divisions and a similar number Ost Bloc soldiers facing us from Poland through Romania and all points in between.
It was in Germany where I first heard the expression, now used everywhere bankrupt political systems operate, that 'a refugee is someone who votes with his feet.' It seemed everyday along a border that stretched forever was, indeed, Election Day and the stream of fleeing humanity threatened to become a deluge. It was obvious even to a thoughtless prat such as I that soon all that would be left from Leipzig to Rostock (and all points in between) were the lame and the lost.
What kind of a government would construct border towers and barbed wire fences with gun emplacements that face its own people? Ask Ulbricht the Geissbock, the liar. Another picture postcard from The Workers' Paradise. So terrified of the truth were the monsters who built "The Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart" that no historical mention of 17 June 1953 was ever permitted and don't wait for an apology. It's been almost six decades since those who yearned were told to shut up and sit down by those who ruled, and, except for the language and location (and weapons of enforcement), little else has changed.
Cairo to Khartoum and beyond. Benghazi can look like a lot like Damascus through a sniper scope. And when the light of day seems too distant to ever get here, just remember there was only one 17 June. Everything changed despite and because of the efforts to hold fast to a past that had stayed in the darkness too long. Each small candle lights a corner of the dark. When the wheel of pain stops turning and the branding iron stops burning, when the children can be children and the billion candles burning lights the dark side of every human mind, it will be time to turn the calendar page and start anew.