Reuters this week salutes the one man, the only man, who, against all odds, perservered and stood tall and brought down the Berlin Wall.
Than man is...Bruce Springsteen.
Understandably enough, such rockin' twaddle reduced Media Busters to indignant sputtering. But this child's version of history is nothing new. Back in 2003, then-Hungarian ambassador to the US Andres Simonyi delivered a speech at the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame praising rock as "a decisive factor" in the Cold War--namely, the US triumph over the USSR in the Cold War. More recently, Tom Stoppard has dramatized this theme of rock liberation in a new play. Now, Reuters is comemmorating the 20th anniversary of Bruce Springsteen's concert-strike at the Evil Empire. So why didn't we just deploy him before?
Well, there were such little matters as, for example, the threat of Soviet SS-20 missiles that needed a grown-up like Ronald Reagan to neutralize with Pershing and Tomahawk missiles before the kiddies could go and play tunes....
Which is not to say that the impact of rock was zero. But as a largely and knee-jerkingly anti-American and pro-socialist-to-communist cultural expression, the rock world cannot be seen as having enlisted, let alone, served in the vanguard of American-style freedom. Back in 2003, I wrote in response to Mr. Simonyi, who later graciously invited me to breakfast to discuss the topic further (we didn't get much further):
It's hard to know which constituency would be more distressed by Simonyi's formulation: Square America, thinking that the culturally degrading force of rock music had aided in the West's triumph over communism, or the Rock Culture, thinking that its anti-establishment mantras had furthered the Cold War strategies of Ronald Reagan.
[Note: I'm not sure so sure there is much left of "Square America" to be distressed, but that's another story...]
In his 1996 book "A Tale of Two Utopias" (W.W. Norton, 1996), left-wing journalist Paul Berman touches on this latter dilemma, relating the obvious dismay and unresolved confusion the Rock 'n' Roll Left experienced amid unreservedly pro-American crowds in post-communist Europe. He quotes a nonplussed Frank Zappa telling a 1990 audience of newly liberated Czechs that just as they have been living with secret police, "it will take Americans a while to realize that we have them, too." (Huh?) Berman himself goes to extravagant lengths to dismiss a sea of waving American flags in a Czech town as a joke. It's no stretch to imagine the disappointment both men would likely feel over Simonyi's high regard for, say, Edward Teller, the Hungarian emigre and Strategic Defense Initiative-hero of the Reagan administration, who was, as Mr. Simonyi recently noted, considered by communist Hungary (and liberal Americans) to be "public enemy No. 1," but is now thought of as a national hero.
The American Left's failure to understand that there are people in this world who prefer freedom as championed by the U.S.A. to any workers' paradise isn't the only key point to have been lost in translation. As the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported, all those years Simonyi and his chums were listening to rock 'n' roll, much of it anti-American in spirit, they never knew the meaning of the lyrics. As Simonyi put it, "Most Hungarians didn't understand what these guys were singing about. The real power was in the music." Indeed, Simonyi titled his talk "Rocking for the Free World," a play on a 1989 Neil Young song, "Rocking in the Free World" -- a tune USA Today notes is "a savage attack on the policies of Ronald Reagan and the first President Bush ... (and) anything but a celebration of democracy."
Putting statesmen, chess games, arms races aside: A rational appraisal of rock 'n' roll as a social and cultural force at the very least tarnishes rock's place--yes, even The Boss's--in the history of the Cold War. Not that Reuters is much interested in hisory, which it hits in passing this way:
Other Americans had spoken out against the Wall in Berlin.
But both presidents John F. Kennedy in 1963 (”Ich bin ein Berliner”) and Ronald Reagan in 1987 (”Tear down this Wall”) gave their addresses in West Berlin. Springsteen delivered his words in the heart of East Berlin, where Communist East Germany had long portrayed the United States as a decadent and belligerent “class enemy.”
Well, so did Springsteen! And don't think the East Germans didn't notice. As Reuters also reports, looking back to Springsteen's 1988 concert:
There was even a positive advance review in the Neues Deutschland daily: “He attacks social wrongs and injustices in his homeland.”
This may make Springsteen the perfect Rock Warrior (and appropriate entertainment in the eyes of the already-doomed East German dictators), but it surely doesn't make him the man who tore down that wall.