Kennedy’s big issue in the 1960 election was the alleged “missile gap” between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Khrushchev, and everyone else in the Soviet government, knew it was just American politics, and they knew it was a lie. But so did Kennedy. He felt he had to lie to win, and he felt he had to affect a stern anti-Communist line. The Soviet Union was obsessed with security, not surprising, as there was hardly a family in the country that had not lost at least one brother, sister, father, or mother in the war.
When Willy Brandt, the well-remembered but erstwhile loose-tongued Mayor of West Berlin, said “The road to Moscow leads straight through Berlin!”, it was not one of his more considered ejaculations.
Kennedy’s hard line and Brandt’s verbal diarrhea gave Khrushchev and Ulbricht the pretext they needed. East Germany had been bleeding from the exodus of skilled workers for years. But they couldn’t build a wall to keep people in: that wouldn’t have gone over well even in East Germany.
I was in East Berlin in 1979 and had the good fortune to speak with the editor of Neue Zeitung, the most read daily newspaper in that sad, bleak capital. She was adamant that, had the wall not been built, the West would have invaded. She showed articles with Kennedy’s speeches and Brandt’s, too.
I realized then that the wall was built by both sides.
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