The Influence Of Giving Up Power
So, our son Andrew who is 14 years old, who very much like his dad has taken a liking to studying history. One of the things that he study was World War II. He has countless books, watches documentaries, and studies it. One of the things that he really is gravitated towards is the tanks. He is taking this and building his own miniature tanks. It’s amazing to watch our kids dig in and study the things that they find interesting at certain parts of their life. I’m not sure where it came from. I love history but I was never a war buff. He studies the leaders and the battles and he will get wrapped up in it like I used to as a kid. What also is intriguing is his grasp and interest in the German side of the war.
So, I’ve learned a lot watching from him because growing up in American culture, we’ve only heard the American side. But what’s interesting from the German side, not necessarily the Nazis but for the rest of the Germans that warrant that were either coerced into it or forced into it and it wasn’t what I was believed that it was just one country that believed this one way. It’s fascinating to hear the different layers to it that I never knew before. So, with that, we try to keep her eye out for different things that go on, things from the past to talk about and discuss. And so much World War II ends around 1945.
But after 1945, Germany after their defeat was split up in 1949 between two countries. There was West Germany and there are Soviet controlled East Germany. So West Germany was a free society and was growing. The economy was growing. But communist East Germany wasn’t and East German start heading over to West Germany for more prosperity. So, to stop the flow, the East Germany government set up a barrier with barbed wire and sometimes even mines to stop people from crossing.
But the interesting thing that happened was Berlin, the capital was deep into the eastern part of the country. But almost like an island, it was divided up after the war as well. So, there was a West Berlin and East Berlin. West Berlin was the free side and East Berlin wasn’t. But there is no barrier there so there was an influx of people leaving East Berlin to West Berlin for prosperity. So, the labor force, these people, these young smart people realize we have a better life if we left East Berlin and went to West Berlin. So, they call this the brain drain. They lost about 3 1/2 million people over to the West because of this loophole. Because there was nothing in Berlin to stop them from going.
But in 1961, East Berliners woke up to find soldiers making a human wall along the line that separates East and West Berlin. They watched stunned as they put barbed wire around the city, creating the beginning of the Berlin wall. So, before they knew it, they were on border guards and there was no leaving back and forth without government approval. And the orders were if anybody tried to leave illegally, they will be shot and killed.
In 1989, it all started to change. Some of you might’ve heard Ronald Reagan’s famous line of “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” There been a lot of social change. A lot of talk of opening up the wall. What also happen is that all the countries around them were losing out their border status and allowing the East Germans to flee. So, there are tremendous protests going on and the East German government decided to relax the travel ban. They thought it will be a good idea so they could stop these massive protests. This was supposed to be temporary, but they made a major mistake from what they wanted to do. They said private trips abroad can be applied for without conditions. So, what supposed to be a temporary, short-term fix turned into a world altering situation. Because essentially with that one saying without conditions, the East Germans had created a paperwork that say that everyone was now free to leave or come back the way that they want. This is put together so quickly that they gave it to spokesman Gunter Schabowski to talk about in just a mundane press conference. Schabowski hadn’t been briefed that deeply what was going on here. So, when they asked him when this will take place, he said immediately, and the press went crazy.
The word started getting out that the walls are coming down and any will be able to crossover. So that evening in front of a live television audience and all the media, he announced the updated travel restrictions. But if he had reviewed it more and had more time, he would have realized that it wasn’t supposed to go into effect until the next day when the passport offices were open. And the anticipation exploded when a television report that night declared, even though it wasn’t true that the doors were wide open.
Tens of thousands of East Germans started flooding towards the wall but the border guards were confused. So, there’s a rush of all these extremely happy people and this confused border guards who have a serious job because they were told protect this wall or kill anyone who tries to escape. so, they have given no instruction to let East Germans to crossover into West Germany.
So, let me tell you the point of why I am even recording this for a podcast for you. That something so amazing, so historic can happen like that. The Berlin wall, the symbol of separation been guarded with arms sold for 28 years how that can happen with no bloodshed. And I heard a lot of this stories before but by doing research on this, there’s a reason why it comes down to certain people. And one of them is a guy by the name of Lieut. Harold Jaeger. He was a border guard and he was on patrol that night on November 9th. So, in his face were thousands of East Germans that were angry because they were unable to get through and they have heard mistakenly that they were allowed to cross over. He attempted over and over again to get clarification on what to do and he got no response. There was this pressure pot boiling and nobody knew what to do. And his decision there was the one who was not been talked about, at least to my knowledge at all.
He decided to put his gun down and open the gate and let them through. And because of his decision, the other guards did the same and let everyone else through. The entire scene went off without any deaths, without any bloodshed and was as seamless as any like that could ever possibly imagined. The point that I learned from studying is this is truly what do you do with the power that is given to you? This guy Jaeger, he had the power. He could’ve shot down many of those people. If he would’ve opened fire, others would have as well. It could’ve been an incredible disaster. If you think about the scope of it and what could’ve happened, it’s unimaginable. He made a choice with the power that he had been given. The choice that he made was to give it up in that moment. I don’t think any of us have ever been put in that spot. It is a pretty rare and unique position to be put in. But we all have power. We have power with our kids. We have power in our jobs, in our friendships or our businesses. But what really matters is what we do we do with that power? Do we make sure that we get ours at the expense of others? Do we take that power when we think clearly and make what could be the right decision even in a really difficult spot? Do we use that power that we have and we follow directions to someone who have power over us even if we don’t believe it? What we do with the power we have is way more important than using it just to get more power. And sometimes giving up the power can be the most powerful thing that we could possibly do. So that’s a little history lesson for you today and I will talk to you tomorrow.