It happened today - August 17, 2015

The body of Peter Fechter lying next to the wall Whatever doubt existed about the real meaning of the Berlin Wall should have ended on August 17 1962, almost exactly a year after construction on it began, when East German guards shot a man trying to escape and left him to bleed slowly to death in full public view.

The original excuse for the Wall was to keep spies and saboteurs out. Virtually no one believed that, of course, including Nikita Khrushchev, who knew that a generation of the most talented and energetic young people from Eastern Europe were escaping the metaphorical “Iron Curtain” through Berlin and put a literal one in place to stop them. Khrushchev did genuinely believe in the long-run superiority of the Soviet system. But he knew the truth about the concrete emplacements and barbed wire.

A few “useful idiots” in the West nevertheless took Khrushchev’s excuse at face value, of course. Mind you, despite Lenin’s pungent phrase such people are generally quite useless and, curiously, rarely idiots in the literal sense. Rather, as Orwell noted back in 1945, “One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that. No ordinary man could be such a fool.”

You’d think even they would see the light after this appalling episode, in which one fugitive made it to the west despite numerous barbed wire cuts while the other, shot repeatedly, died slowly in great pain while western guards threw him bandages and a crowd gathered and called for those on the eastern side to help him.

I actually feel sorry for the East German guards, forced to watch because if they had intervened they too would have been shot. It was not they but the regime, and behind it Moscow, that stood staring in stony indifference.

The amazing thing is that for many of the years the Berlin Wall stood its meaning continued to be ignored. It was an unmistakable tribute to the horrors of Bolshevik tyranny, a regime that could not survive with open borders because everyone would leave. And yet academics, pundits, and agitators in the West repeatedly claimed the two systems were fundamentally equivalent, which required them to nod and wink at the lie that the Wall was fundamentally protective even though as acidly notes, “In the nearly 30 years that the wall existed… no one was ever shot trying to enter East Berlin.”

If only such self-delusion were as much a thing of the past as the actual Wall. But it is still with us today and, I imagine, will be as long as freedom and oppression square off over the barbed wire.