Berlin Wall Now in Pieces Across USA

At Westminster, students will put up a replica of the wall next to the real one and tear it down. A celebration will follow, with German food and beer and unusual party favors: concrete bits from the college's stockpile of pieces of the Berlin Wall.

'I have a message'

In early 1946, President Truman forwarded to Churchill, Britain's wartime prime minister, an invitation to speak at a small liberal arts college in Truman's home state. "I will introduce you," Truman wrote.

"I have a message to deliver," Churchill replied. "There is an opportunity for doing some good to this bewildered, baffled and breathless world."

The end of World War II had exacerbated tensions among the Allies — the United States and Britain on one hand, the Soviet Union on the other — and now Soviet dictator Josef Stalin was consolidating his hold on the Eastern European nations that were behind Soviet lines when Germany surrendered.

In the 1930s, Churchill had warned in vain about German dictator Adolf Hitler. Now, at 71, Churchill's political career apparently over (he would become prime minister again in 1951), he again would sound the alarm.

His message that day in Fulton: Soviet Russia respects nothing more than military strength and nothing less than military weakness. Only America, backed by the British Commonwealth, could deter communist aggression. Churchill sparked an uproar.

The Chicago Sun-Times said the objective of his "poisonous" speech was "world domination through arms." The liberal Nation and the conservative Wall Street Journal both objected. Stalin called his old ally "a warmonger."

The speech, however, proved prophetic. Stalin tightened his grip on nations such as Poland, and the USA responded by creating the Marshall Plan to rebuild Western Europe and forming the NATO military alliance.

Eventually, two powers holding thousands of long-range missiles equipped with nuclear warheads developed the ability to destroy each other and the world. In the U.S., students practiced duck-and-cover drills under their desks, and their parents built home fallout shelters.

Once, heartland towns such as Fulton had felt safe from foreign attack. Now, with 64 B-52 bomber bases scattered around the country and Minuteman missile silos buried across the Plains, no one was far from a target.

Berlin, which like Germany had been split by the Allies after the war, was at the center of this struggle.

By 1961, living standards in the West had so far surpassed those behind the Iron Curtain that East Germany was emptying out. So the Communist regime closed the border and built a 96-mile wall around West Berlin.

It was a propaganda disaster. Democracy might not be perfect, President Kennedy admitted on a visit to Berlin, but "we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in."

On a visit in 1987, President Reagan called on his Soviet counterpart: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

On Nov. 9, 1989, it happened. After years of rising unrest and economic stagnation, the East German government said its citizens could freely visit the West. Crowds of East Berliners climbed onto the wall, where they were joined by West Berliners.

In the weeks and months that followed, people kept chipping away at the wall, to destroy it, collect souvenirs or obtain pieces to sell in the United States as Christmas stocking stuffers.

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