Monday, November 30, 2009

Under Harper: Canada Will Remain a Global Environmental Pariah

As long as Stephen Harper’s government holds the reigns of power, Canada will remain a global environmental pariah.

The reasons why this is so are not hard to find, but they are seldom analyzed in public discourse on the issue.

To the extent that the Harper government has an economic strategy, beyond letting the marketplace take the country where it will, it is to make Canada an “energy superpower.” That goal, in turn, rests almost entirely on the massive development of the Alberta oil sands to extract oil for export to the United States. Finally, under the terms of NAFTA, the more oil Canada exports to the United States, the more oil it will be required to export in the future. Large scale oil sands development is incompatible with the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. Indeed, Canada is en route to passing the United States as an emitter of greenhouse gases on a per capita basis.

Let’s examine each of the links in this chain of inter-connected realities.

With its close ties to the multinational and national petroleum companies operating in Alberta, the Harper government is dedicated to the proposition that Canada should be a secure base for rising petroleum exports to the United States, in short an “energy superpower.”

Indeed, over the past couple of decades, the American reliance on Canadian oil has grown steadily larger. In July 2006, at 1.6 million barrels a day, Canada was the largest single exporter of crude oil to the United States. Rounding out the top five exporters to the U.S. were Mexico with just over 1.5 million barrels daily, Saudi Arabia at over 1.2 million barrels, Venezuela with nearly 1.2 million barrels, and Nigeria with just over 1.0 million barrels. These five countries were the source of sixty-six per cent of American oil imports. What these totals make clear is the high dependence of the United States on Canada and other Western Hemisphere sources of oil and its relatively low reliance on Middle Eastern sources.

The Harper government’s vision of Canada as a major world petroleum exporter is based on the Alberta oil sands. As oil, national security and the war on terror have become tightly aligned in the thinking of American political leaders, Canada’s largest petroleum deposit, the oil sands, has been ever more closely scrutinized from Washington. Located across an enormous region of north-eastern Alberta---in three major areas spread over 140,800 square kilometers, an area larger than the state of Florida---centred on Fort McMurray about three hundred kilometers north of Edmonton---the oil sands contains almost as much oil as the conventional reserves of Saudi Arabia.

In the early years of this century, oil sands investments totaled nearly $200 billion. By the spring of 2008, oil sands production reached 1.3 million barrels a day, more than half of Canada’s oil production. Ten per cent of North American crude oil production already comes from the oil sands. Incredible as it may seem, the Alberta government produced one scenario that concluded that by 2050, the oil sands could produce eight million barrels of oil a day, transforming Alberta into a North American Saudi Arabia.

The vision of Canada as a vast supplier of petroleum from the oil sands for a thirsty United States is one that promotes dreams of enormous profits in the minds the executives of the petroleum companies and the investors in those companies.

But it is a truly dark vision for the simple reason that the industrial process by which oil is produced from the oil sands results in the release of an enormous volume of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Pursuing the vision commits Alberta, indeed Canada as a whole, to the emission of greenhouse gases on a gargantuan scale, exactly what the earth does not now need. Not only is the production of oil sands oil very expensive, it involves strip mining on a vast scale and the reduction of huge tracts of land to a scarred horror. The production of oil from the oil sands requires enormous inputs of fresh water and natural gas.

The oil sands has become by far the biggest source of greenhouse emissions in Canada. It is no exaggeration to say that without a steep reduction in the production of synthetic crude oil from the oil sands, all other programs in Canada to reduce emissions will be fruitless. Oil sands development has directly shaped the environmental policies of the Harper government.

Let’s look further into this matter of greenhouse gas emissions. The way to do this meaningfully in the lead up to the Copenhagen climate change conference is to tally the metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per country per capita per year. Then we can examine the total emissions of key countries.

Using 2006 figures, the per capita CO2 emissions of the United States were 19.78 metric tons, Canada 18.81, and Australia 20.58. These were the top emitters per capita among the major advanced countries. Further down the list were other major industrialized countries: Japan, 9.78; Germany, 10.40; U.K., 9.66; Italy, 8.05; and France, 6.60. Then we come to the major developing countries: China, 4.58; India, 1.16; Mexico, 4.05; and Brazil, 2.01.

Here are the total emissions of these countries for 2006 in millions of metric tons of CO2: China, 6017.69; United States, 5902.75; India, 1293.17; Japan, 1246.76; Germany, 857.60; Canada, 614.33; United Kingdom, 585.71; Italy, 468.19; Mexico, 435.60; France, 417.75; Australia, 417.06; and Brazil, 377.24.

When we break out the Canadian per capita emissions further, we find that between them Alberta and Saskatchewan (with Saskatchewan higher than Alberta) come in at a staggering 70. The rest of Canada scored 16.

What the figures tell us is that on a per capita basis, developed countries are much more serious emitters of greenhouse gases than are developing countries and that includes the two giants China and India. On the other hand, because of their gigantic populations, China and India are enormous emitters of CO2, respectively ranking number one and number four among the countries of the world.

The nub of the problem is that the developed countries established their high living standards by polluting, on a per capita basis, much more wantonly than the rest of the world. Developing countries are not prepared to allow developed countries to acquire a “grandfather” clause in climate change agreements that would allow them to go on polluting much more per capita than anyone else.

Developed countries, the United States in particular, is determined to be allowed to go on spewing out CO2 emissions, per capita, at a vastly higher rate than China, India or Brazil. The Europeans, who pollute less, are less committed to their right to pollute because they got there first, but they too pollute, per capita much more than China or India.

The Harper government is the worst of the bunch. Our government is determined to insert a rising rate of CO2 emissions right into the heart of our economic strategy. Right now, Canada’s per capita emissions of CO2 are close to five times as high as those of China. The emissions of Alberta and Saskatchewan are fifteen times as high as China’s on a per capita basis.

Any government committed to increasing the production of oil from the oil sands, precisely the position of the Harper government, is dedicated to the proposition that Canada should have the right for decades to come to pollute far more per capita than other countries. On this agenda, Canada will certainly pass the United States, per capita, in greenhouse gas emissions and will likely overtake Australia. Admittedly, it will be as a supplier of dirty oil to the United States that Canada will make itself a “pollution superpower”.

The members of the Harper government did not arrive at their environmental policy, relying on so-called intensity targets, which allow oil sands production to keep on rising as long as emissions-per-barrel go down, for nothing. They did it for the oldest of political reasons. As a government, they are serving the interests of oil companies that have tens of billions of dollars in future profits at stake. It’s as simple as that.

Finally, there’s the matter of NAFTA. Under the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement, Canada has to continue exporting as much petroleum to the United States as it has been exporting on a rolling average of the previous three years. This means, among other things, that Canada would be required to continue its exports of petroleum to the U.S. even if imports of petroleum to eastern Canada from overseas were cut off as a consequence of a supply crisis generated by falling supplies or a geo-political conflict. This stipulation means that Canada has to make the supplying of the American petroleum market a higher priority than meeting the requirements of Canadian markets experiencing a shortage.

If, as the Harper government fervently wishes, the expansion of oil sands projects dramatically increases Canadian petroleum production, the country’s commitment to export more petroleum to the United States will rise in lock step. The whole point of more oil sands operations is to meet the oil requirements of the U.S.

The plain fact is that when you combine the Harper government’s economic strategy with the stipulations of NAFTA, this country is being locked into rising, not falling, CO2 emissions. Anyone who wants to change the course Canada is on with respect to climate change needs to come to terms with these hard realities. Anything else is nothing more than hot air.

Stephen Harper is going to Copenhagen because the presidents of the United States and China are going. He will be there to try to prevent a binding agreement on greenhouse gas emissions from being achieved. As long as he remains in power, Canada will be a global pariah on the issue of climate change.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Harper and MacKay Have a Wicked Sense of Humour

Sometimes Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Defence Minister Peter MacKay are given insufficient credit for their wry sense of humour. The serious, literal-minded members of the opposition need to lighten up.

Yesterday, three Canadian generals testified before the parliamentary committee that is hearing testimony on the allegations that detainees handed over to the Afghans by Canadian soldiers were tortured and that the top soldiers and government ministers failed to heed the warnings coming to them from diplomat Richard Colvin in 2006-2007.

The soldiers---Major General, See No Evil, Lieutenant General, Hear No Evil, and General General Speak No Evil---seemed genuinely mystified at what Colvin said in his testimony last week. The generals didn’t get Colvin’s message at the time, they told the committee. In fact, Colvin didn’t even use the word “torture”, Lieutenant General Hear No Evil insisted.

Two of the generals are now retired, but that didn’t stop them from being allowed to read Colvin’s missives so they could prepare for their testimony.

Meanwhile, Colvin is being blocked by the government from releasing those missives so that we can all learn what he said in them. And the government won’t let the members of the parliamentary committee read them either.

In a perfectly realized military operation, the generals aimed their heavy fire power at Colvin, but no one on the other side could shoot back.

That’s because in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister and the Minister of National Defence were carrying out their own maneuver---denying the MPs the Colvin documents, while insisting that the opposition was trying to block those on the anti-Colvin side from testifying.

Peter MacKay plays a great straight man to Harper’s straight man. Droll. So much wit and leger de main that the plodding opposition members don’t stand a chance.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Beyond the Bubble: Imagining a New Canadian Economy

(Here is a brief summary of my new book, published earlier this month by Between The Lines Publishing, Toronto.)

Beyond the Bubble: Imagining A New Canadian Economy, makes the case that the economic crash of 2008 marked the end of one world age and the beginning of another. What has ended is the neo-liberal age of globalization and the American-centred global economy. What lends weight to this thesis is both the nature of the system of finance whose collapse is at the centre of the global crisis and the crushing problems that face the United States, making the re-assertion of an American-centred global economy exceedingly improbable.

The book is a study of the changing political economy of our time.

The book documents the causes and consequences of the vast and multi-layered problem of American indebtedness. The three peaks of the American debt mountain are as follows: the national debt, owed by the federal government, which totals about U.S.$11 trillion and is set to climb much higher with the prospect of annual deficits in coming years of more than one trillion dollars; the swiftly increasing net indebtedness of Americans to the rest of the world, totaling trillions of dollars; and the indebtedness of individual Americans, amounting to about eleven trillion dollars, centred on the explosive use of credit cards.

The book makes the case that Canadians need to consider the choices available to them in this volatile environment. The choice ahead is as crucial as the choices facing Canadians when the British Empire lapsed into economic decline at the end of the First World War.

Beyond the Bubble presents an overview of past Canadian economic policies in the crucial areas of resource exports and manufacturing. It makes the argument that in the early years of the 21st century Canada is continuing to export the staple products that other countries need without figuring out how to use the resources to further our own development qualitatively. The book asserts that the Harper government’s attempt to turn Canada into an energy superpower is a failure, a failure whose reliance on the Alberta oil sands makes it impossible for this country to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

The book makes the case that at a time when the global automotive industry is being completely restructured it is perilous for Canada to simply follow the policies being mounted by the Obama administration in the United States. Canada needs an integrated approach to transportation equipment industries, not only so that autos, rail and aircraft can play their roles effectively, but also so that the transportation sectors are developed in conjunction with the other major changes underway. Among those changes are the pressures of climate change and Peak Oil---the passing of the age of readily accessible petroleum on a scale sufficient to meet global needs. Industrial societies, Canada included, are being forced to rebuild their cities and their transportation systems.

Beyond the Bubble concludes with the argument that the neo-liberal approaches of recent decades need to be replaced with new and progressive policies aimed democratizing the control of capital in Canada and around the world. That alone can establish the basis for a sustainable economy that avoids the vast inequalities of the age that has ended.

(The book is now available in bookstores and online from a number of sites including that of the publisher Between the Lines:

Friday, November 20, 2009

To the Torture Charges, the Harper Government's Response is to Deny, Smear and Bully

Respected Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin, a highly credible source, told a House of Commons committee on Wednesday that all of the captives Canadian soldiers transferred to local authorities in 2006-2007 likely ended up being tortured. Colvin, who served in Afghanistan for 17 months, began sending warnings that this was happening in May 2006. He transmitted reports to senior members of the Canadian military including Lieutenant-General Michel Gauthier, who was then the commander of Canadian Expeditionary Force Command, which oversees foreign deployments. Colvin told the committee that he believes that Gauthier would have relayed these highly disturbing warnings to General Rick Hillier, who was then the country’s top soldier. Others who were alerted to Colvin’s reports included: David Mulroney, former deputy minister of the Afghanistan Task Force in the Privy Council Office; and Margaret Bloodworth, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s national security advisor.

This matter went right to the top. It doesn’t pass the laugh test that Hillier and Harper were not informed about these warnings.

Colvin told the committee that the government’s response to the warnings was to try to shut him down: “At first, we were mostly ignored. However, by April 2007, we were receiving written messages from the senior Canadian government co-ordinator for Afghanistan to the effect that I should be quiet and do what I was told, and also phone messages from a DFAIT assistant deputy minister suggesting that, in future, we should not put things on paper, but instead use the telephone.”

Having failed to block Colvin from testifying, the Conservative machine has gone into overdrive to blacken his name, to smear his reputation.

Rejecting opposition demands for an inquiry into Colvin’s allegations, Defence Minister Peter MacKay told the House that “there are incredible holes in the story that have to be examined.”

In any self-respecting democracy, an inquiry would be the automatic response to charges of this seriousness. Remember, Colvin remains a trusted employee of the government who works on intelligence files at the Canadian Embassy in Washington.

But the Conservatives are renowned for smearing critics. A couple of years ago, they derided the leader of the NDP as “Taliban Jack” for his suggestion that NATO should negotiate with elements of the Taliban. That is now the policy not only of Canada in Afghanistan, but of the Karzai government in Kabul.

If MacKay’s response is to dismiss the charges and shut the door to hearing anything further about them, Rick Hillier depicted the fuss about the allegations as mere “howling at the moon.”

“I don't remember reading a single one of those cables [from Mr. Colvin] ... He doesn't stick out in my mind,” Hillier said.

Then he made the incredible statement that “Even in our own prisons [in Canada] somebody can get beaten up. We know that.” The nation’s former top soldier apparently doesn’t know the difference between life in a Canadian prison and the gruesome and systematic torture of detainees, many of whom were innocent bystanders when picked up by Canadian soldiers, according to Colvin.

Former Conservative Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor rushed to protect the higher-ups in the Harper government when he said: “Reports like this [Colvin’s] may have occurred and gone through the system and people at lower levels may have decided there’s no credibility to different reports.”

The mention of Gordon O’Connor brings to mind the fact that this is not the first time we have heard credible evidence of Canadians handing over prisoners to be tortured in Afghanistan.

In the winter of 2007, serious allegations were made that the Canadian forces in Afghanistan had been handing over captured insurgents to the Afghan authorities only to have them tortured. In a series of articles that shone the spotlight on the issue, the Globe and Mail created a political firestorm for the Harper government.

From the early days of Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan, the military had advised the government that the task of building and running Canadian detention facilities to house captured insurgents was prohibitively expensive and beyond the military’s existing expertise. The practice, therefore, was to turn prisoners over to the Americans or to the Afghan government of Hamid Karzai.

In 2005, Bill Graham, Canada’s Liberal Minister of National Defence, was concerned with the detainee issue and badly wanted an agreement with the Afghan authorities. The minister sought a transfer arrangement that would specify that detainees turned over by Canada would enjoy Geneva Convention rights. The deal would have to include an understanding that both Canada and Afghanistan would maintain written files on all prisoners, and that the prisoners could be visited by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and by the Karzai government’s Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.

As it turned out, the deal with the Afghans was only reached in December 2005 by Chief of Defence Staff, General Rick Hillier, who signed the understanding with Afghanistan’s Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak in Kabul. While the deal finalized by the General included the stipulations that Graham had wanted, it was to prove disastrously inadequate. Unlike agreements signed by other NATO countries with the Afghans including the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, Canada’s agreement contained no stipulation that Canada could follow-up on transferred detainees to ensure that they were not being tortured in Afghan prisons. By the time the deal was signed, the federal election that would bring Stephen Harper’s Conservatives to office was underway, and it was the Harper government that would be roiled by the fallout in the early months of 2007.

Evidence mounted that prisoners in Afghan hands were being mistreated. In their book, The Unexpected War, Janice Gross Stein and Eugene Lang reported that the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International, and Canadian Louise Arbour, the UN Commissioner for Human Rights “had concluded that abuse, torture, and extrajudicial killing were routinely inflicted on people in Afghan custody.”

Pointing the finger directly at the Canadian government was University of Ottawa Law Professor Amir Attaran. Using the federal Access to Information Act, Professor Attaran obtained documents from which he concluded that Afghan detainees appear to have been beaten while detained and interrogated by Canadian soldiers. The professor used this information to request an investigation into the treatment of the detainees by the Military Police Complaints Commission, a civilian body established to investigate complaints against the Canadian military. In light of these allegations, in February 2007, the Canadian military launched investigations into the matter of detainee abuse by Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan.

The allegations brought to light by Professor Attaran stemmed from an incident in April 2006 when Canadian soldiers captured three Afghans. The heavily redacted record Professor Attaran obtained through Access to Information referred to injuries sustained by the prisoners while they were under Canadian custody. Subsequently, the three men were handed over to the Afghans. In the winter of 2007 when officers from the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service set out to talk to the men about the allegations that they had been injured while in Canadian custody, the men could not be found.

The Globe and Mail continued to unearth information that heightened the pressure on the Harper government. A Globe reporter managed to find and interview thirty former detainees who said they had been transferred from Canadian to Afghan jurisdiction and then had been tortured while in Afghan hands. While these allegations could not be independently verified, a powerful case was being made that Canada had turned over prisoners with little thought for their fate and that the government had tried to cover up its own shoddy performance.

Making matters much worse for Ottawa was the performance of Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor in the House of Commons. On the matter of the treatment of detainees handed over to the Afghans, the minister told MPs that the International Committee of the Red Cross was monitoring the condition of these detainees. In May 2006, O’Connor declared in the Commons that “the Red Cross or the Red Crescent is responsible to supervise their treatment once the prisoners are in the hands of the Afghan authorities. If there is something wrong with their treatment, the Red Cross or Red Crescent would inform us and we would take action.”

In early March 2007, however, the rug was pulled out from under that position when Simon Schorno, a spokesperson for the ICRC, told the Globe and Mail that “we were informed of the agreement, but we are not a party to it and we are not monitoring the implementation of it.” On March 19, 2007, O’Connor apologized to the House of Commons for the misleading statements he had made on the issue. “I fully and without reservation apologize to the House for providing inaccurate information for members,” he said, adding that “the International Red Cross Committee is under no obligation to share information with Canada on the treatment of detainees transferred by Canada to Afghan authorities.”

To staunch the public-relations and political calamity that had befallen them, the Harper government rushed to conclude a new agreement with the Karzai government on May 3, 2007. On paper at least, the new agreement contained additional protections for transferred detainees. Under its terms, representatives of Canada were to be accorded unfettered access to the prisoners including the right to hold private interviews with them.

That seemed to be the end of the matter, but not quite. As reported by Stein and Lang in their book, Ahmad Fahim Hakim, the deputy chair of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission told them that the commission could not guarantee that prisoners were not being tortured in Afghan detention centres. The commission, he said, had too few monitors, and could take up to twenty days after being notified of a problem to pay a first visit to a detainee.

Considering the unhappy history of the torture question in Afghanistan, you would think that Colvin’s allegations would be received respectfully by the government and then aired before an inquiry.

But that is not how this government operates.

Deny, smear, bully. Those are the watchwords of a government that cares nothing about the truth.

I have been watching parliamentary debates for over forty years---both from the galleries and on television. No government over that span of time has come remotely close to this one in its disregard for the institution. Ministers in the Harper government don’t answer the questions they are asked in the House. Instead, they deny, smear and bully.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

In Afghanistan: The U.S. is Once Again Misbranding a War

In Afghanistan, the U.S. government is putting the wrong brand on a war. It is the third time that the U.S. has done this since the early 1960s. In each case---in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan---the consequences have been disastrous.

In the first case, the administration of Lyndon Johnson dispatched hundreds of thousands of American troops to fight against the National Liberation Front in South Vietnam. Over the course of the war, the United States dropped a greater tonnage of bombs on North Vietnam than were dropped during the whole of the Second World War. In South Vietnam, civilian casualties vastly outnumbered military casualties. Much of the countryside was defoliated by the use of chemical weapons, among them Agent Orange. In the end the United States lost the war.

The case of the Johnson administration to justify American intervention was that this was a war against International Communism, the combined forces of the Soviet Union, China and the local government in North Vietnam. Victory for the North Vietnamese and the National Liberation Front would cause other countries throughout South East Asia to fall, like a row of dominoes, under the sway of International Communism.

By the time the Johnson administration used this justification for its mission in Vietnam, China and the Soviet Union had fallen out with each other. The enormous tension between the two Communist giants soon led to fighting between the armed forces of the two countries along their lengthy boundary, some of which was in dispute. Following the fall of South Vietnam and the integration of the country under the forces of the North, Vietnam and China fought a war on their common border.

In the early 1970s, the Nixon administration, following the realpolitik prescriptions of Henry Kissinger, opened the door to a new relationship between the United States and China, concluding that it was better to play the Chinese and the Soviets off against each other than to falsely brand Communism as a united global force. Not long after winning its war in Vietnam, the regime in Hanoi sought better relations with the U.S., among other things, seeking an inflow of American investments.

In 2003, the administration of George W. Bush justified its invasion of Iraq on two grounds. First, the White House claimed that the regime of Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction that could threaten the United States and its allies. Soon after the American occupation of Iraq, that claim was shown to be entirely specious. Second, key members of the administration, Vice President Dick Cheney among them, insisted that there were close ties between the Hussein regime and Al Qaeda. That too was false. Saddam Hussein’s secular dictatorship was, in reality, an implacable foe of Al Qaeda’s messianic Islamism.

Misbranding Iraq and its regime led the Bush administration into a strategic catastrophe. Not only did the United States stretch its military too thin and mire itself in a war it could not afford, a conflict that pushed the country toward economic crisis, it vastly enhanced the power of Iran in the Middle East. Today’s divided Iraq is much more likely to become an ally of Tehran than was Saddam’s Iraq.

In recent days, the administration of Barack Obama has been contemplating whether to send as many as forty thousand additional troops to fight in Afghanistan. Again, the war in that country has been falsely branded. The United States and its allies, Canada included, have made the case that they are fighting on behalf of a regime in Kabul that is committed to the rule of law, human rights (in particular the rights of women) and the establishment of democracy. The Taliban foe is portrayed as the ally of Al Qaeda, a pillar in the forces of international terrorism and therefore a threat to the West.

While the ties between the Taliban and Al Qaeda are not in dispute, there is no evidence to suggest that the Taliban is committed to an agenda of global terrorism. The insurgency in the south of Afghanistan and in the border regions of Pakistan is motivated by ethnic nationalism and the pursuit of a social agenda inspired by an extreme version of Islam. The members of the Taliban are sustained by their drive to establish a political entity dominated by ethnic Pashtuns on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan frontier, and to rule their territory as an Islamist state. What they have in mind is authoritarian and misogynist, but their aspirations are local not global.

Meanwhile the West is allied with a regime in Kabul that is corrupt, implicated in the narcotics trade, and that clings to power on the basis of a flawed election. Once again the United States has misbranded a war, whose implications are largely regional. The Obama administration is considering escalating that war in the expenditure of additional blood and treasure that the U.S. can ill afford to invest in such a quagmire.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Twenty Years Later: The Opening of the Berlin Wall

(This post is Chapter 1 of my book Inventing Europe: The Rise of a New World Power, published by Lester Publishing in 1991. The chapter on the opening of the Berlin Wall was written at the time.)


Berlin is a phoenix. A city of ashes and ruins at the end of history’s greatest war, its destruction was brought on itself by a regime that planned conquests, concentration camps, and the Final Solution from its inner sanctums of power. Hitler’s fondest dream was to crown his empire with a completely rebuilt Berlin, a city of enormous boulevards, massive structures, giant monuments---a totalitarian vision, a focus for the rule of a megalomaniac. Hitler’s legacy, instead, was a destroyed Berlin rent in two, a partitioned Germany, and a divided Europe. In place of the demolished Nazi empire, two superpowers were to anchor their global systems in Berlin. During the decades of their Cold War rivalry, Berlin was the most intimate meeting ground for the United States and the Soviet Union, the most likely flashpoint should their deadly antagonism become uncontrollable. The city became the symbol of irreconcilable ideologies. For the capitalist world, West Berlin became an oasis, a materialistic temptress in the antechamber of Stalin’s communist empire. For the East, West Berlin was a choke-point, the target for skilful threats that could extract concessions elsewhere. Twice the Soviet Union tried to bring West Berlin to its knees. First, it used a strategy of annihilation when it closed off land routes to the city in 1948, forcing the West to supply the metropolis by air in the famed Berlin airlift. Second, it deployed a strategy of attrition when it placed the city under long-term siege with the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961. In both cases, West Berlin rebounded to become more brilliant, more culturally significant: because of the failure of the assaults, this city under siege was gaining the upper hand, negating the legitimacy of the East German system by its very presence. These assaults transformed the former Nazi capital into a symbol of freedom. As Berliners responded to menacing encirclement with grace under pressure, they started down the long road to rehabilitation in the eyes of the world. Time would be needed before other Europeans would again accept Berliners and other Germans simply as neighbours and not as invaders and murderers. Time would be needed for the Communist empire in the East to corrode.

In the end, West Berlin prevailed over its surrounding Communist hinterland. On the day the Berlin Wall was opened, November 9, 1989, the city celebrated as one. It would be whole again. The consequences were legion. Berlin was again the heart of Germany. Beyond that, it was the city around which the New Europe was to be constructed. The bipolar world of American and Soviet global power was in its twilight days. On November 9, it became clear that Europe as well as Berlin could be whole again. With Germany at its centre, Europe could become a vast and effective global power. The Berliners who celebrated that night as they danced by the Wall, popping champagne corks and shouting delirious cheers as bewildered East Germans crossed into West Berlin, were feting the coming together of their city. The celebrations heralded the birth trauma of a new era of global power. Berlin, Germany, and Europe would no longer have their fate determined principally in Washington and Moscow, as had been the case since the end of the Second World War. The era in which the Germans were the losers of a global war was over. They would chart their own course, while an anxious world waited to see how they would use their new found power.

Those who reveled that night in Berlin could not escape the ghosts of history, nightmarish ghouls whose shadows intruded on the glittering celebrations. Just a few meters west of the Wall was the Reichstag building, reconstructed after the notorious fire of February 1933 that served as a pretext for the Nazis to tighten their dictatorship. Only a short distance from here, but on the other side of the Wall, was the Brandenburg Gate, the symbol of German unity. Not far away was the site of Hitler’s destroyed bunker, where the Nazi leader took his own life. From the time before the Nazi era, were the ghosts of earlier days. It was down the Unter den Linden, the grand boulevard that passes around the Brandenburg Gate, that German officers drove their vehicles on August 1, 1914, as they exulted in the news that mobilization for war had been proclaimed. The echoes of Bismarck’s triumphs were here, as were the memories of tragic Weimar, the febrile, ill-fated cultural capital of the world during the 1920s.

From the day the Wall was opened, the process of exorcizing the ghosts began. It was not that the past would ever be forgotten. Too many people, Germans and non-Germans, were determined never to lose the lessons of two world wars and the Holocaust for that to happen. Germany’s most distinguished writer, Gunter Grass, sounded a lonely protest against the creation of a single, powerful Germany: “no one of sound mind and memory can ever again permit such a concentration of power in the heart of Europe. Certainly the great powers cannot; nor can the Poles, the French, the Dutch, the Danes.” Despite the eloquent warning, however, Berlin was moving ineluctably away from its past towards its future at the centre of the continent, with the potential to play a pre-eminent global role.

The exorcism took different forms. One was the sound of hammers ringing as enterprising Berlin students worked round the clock, chipping fragments from the Wall and selling them to passers-by for a few marks each. They were all too willing to stop their work to philosophize with astonished visitors about the future of their city and the future of Europe. “You foreigners are too worried about German reunification,” one serious student told me as he chipped away at the Wall near the Brandenburg Gate. “We have learned our lessons, and it hurts us that we are still not trusted,” he said, stopping to warm his hands. It made a great impression on me, this sober youth, the grandchild of those who had lost the war, reassuring an older visitor from one of the victorious countries. History had come full circle.

Just up the Wall from the serious young men, revelers in red and white Father Christmas outfits were singing carols to two bemused East Berlin border guards who stood atop an observation point, right beside the Wall. Not far from them, near the Reichstag building, simple memorials marked the places where people desperate to escape from East Berlin had been shot down by border guards. One person who would not be enjoying the reveling that night was a young man of twenty-two who had been killed at the Wall in February 1989. The words “Honecker Murderer” were scrawled across the memorial.

Exorcism took political forms as well. Just six weeks after the opening of the Wall, the West German Social Democratic Party held its national congress in West Berlin, having transferred it there from Bremen at the last minute. The congress opened on the seventy-sixth birthday of Willy Brandt, the former mayor of West Berlin, who had become the first Social Democratic chancellor of West Germany in 1969. Brandt was a special kind of godfather for German social democracy, indeed for German democracy as a whole. “Lieber Willy, dear Willy, we love you,” said Herta Daubler-Gmelin as she opened the party congress, embracing Brandt and presenting him with a bouquet of roses. There was no artificiality in the gesture. Brandt had spent a long time fighting for German democracy and now he was there to preside over the exorcism of the past. He had gone into exile during the Nazi era. Mayor when the Wall was built, Brandt had stood at John F. Kennedy’s side when the president delivered his famous “I am a Berliner” speech. Even in those tense days, Brandt had fought to keep up a modicum of communication with those on the other side. As chancellor, he had challenged Cold War orthodoxy with his Ostpolitik, his historic opening to East Germany and Eastern Europe. On November 10, 1989, he had stood by the newly breached Wall to proclaim: “What belongs together, grows together.”

As long as the Germans were on the front lines of two geo-political systems centred elsewhere, they were safely contained. They were history’s ultimate potential cannon fodder, all too aware than any war between the superpowers would begin with Germans killing Germans. Suddenly, the opening of the Wall made them no longer victims, but the most important political actors in Europe.

Berliners felt the change in the status of the Germans more acutely than anyone else. For more than four decades, Berlin was a city to which things were done. It was a crucial piece on the Cold War chessboard. It symbolized two social systems and, in a characteristically German way, managed to push both of them to their limits. No bureaucracy has ever made itself so coldly ugly at that in East Germany. Crossing by car from West Berlin to East Berlin was an education in itself. At Checkpoint Charlie, you would pass the small allied control hut without having to stop, and then encounter the East German bureaucratic maze on the other side of the Wall. Handing your passport and car-ownership papers to one guard after another, you would finally be motioned to stop and get out of the car to buy Ostmarks for Deutschmarks. Typically, the officials in the wickets were facing the other way and would turn to make the currency exchange only after interminable delays. At last, you were signaled to drive into East Berlin. The city was stilted and lifeless in a way that had to be experienced to be believed. There was an emptiness at the heart of this metropolis that no perfectly preserved opera house or museum of German history could ever dispel.

West of the Wall, by contrast, was capitalism at its most orgiastic. The matchless way to experience the full high of West Berlin was to set out by car from West Germany, passing through East Germany to reach the city. After the long journey that took you past the dreary, smoky East German towns and through the ugly checkpoints---if passport processing were a growth industry, this country’s future would have been assured---the entry into West Berlin was mind altering. All at once you were cruising down the Kurfurstendamm. The brilliant lighting, the opulence of the breathtaking structures, the explosiveness of the contrast brought you fully alive to the oasis that was West Berlin. New York had nothing on the Kurfurstendamm, where capitalism felt as bright and new as it did on Tokyo’s great thoroughfares. Here were the neon gods calling down the names of the world’s great corporations from on high. On the street, the sleek Audis and Mercedes swept past crowds of window shoppers.

Behind the fa├žade, however, there was another story. The decades-long, Soviet-sponsored siege of West Berlin exacted a toll. Even though its symphony orchestra was probably the finest in Europe, and its museums, theatres, and nightclubs were without equal, West Berlin entered a period of long-term industrial and commercial difficulty as a consequence of the interminable Berlin crises and the building of the Wall. Over time, Berlin-based industries suffered decline, sometimes falling on hard times, closing their doors or moving elsewhere. The West Berlin economy became increasingly dependent on highly mobile multinational corporations whose commitment to the city was no greater than to any other specific location. In part as a consequence of the claustrophobia that went with living in a city under siege, many Berliners left for West Germany. The German-born population of West Berlin stagnated. The city came to have a much higher proportion of those over sixty-five and a much lower proportion of those under fifteen than did the cities of West Germany. Many of the newcomers were Turkish and Yugoslavian guest workers, whose influx provoked a nativist reaction among some Berliners, fuelling the development of an important constituency for the extreme right wing. Many other newcomers were students from West Germany who often drank deeply at the well of Berlin culture and intellectual life and then took disturbing ideas back to the stolid West German communities from which they came. Hard-drug use was much higher in West Berlin than in the Federal Republic. The city became a spawning ground for a proliferation of subcultures and political protest movements. West Berlin became associated with violent demonstrations, the occupation of buildings by protesters, street battles involving the police, and terrorism. To help the city withstand the siege, the West German government poured money into it, setting up programs to entice people to move there from the Federal Republic. West German taxpayers ended up paying about $2 billion a year for the nurturing of West Berlin. Considering the long-existing feelings of estrangement between Berliners and other Germans, this tax was a very real irritant. Berliners had thought of themselves as more intelligent, more cultured, more alive than the comfortable burghers of other German cities and towns. For their part, other Germans often saw Berlin as a city of anarchists, drug pushers, and spawners of dangerous ideas.

Despite the costs extracted as a consequence of the siege, however, West Berlin sparkled, becoming every more a jewel of freedom. In East Berlin, it was instantly obvious that a terrible social experiment had been carried out. And the Wall and the social corruption in East Germany made it evident that the experiment had been stillborn from the start. The regime that had gunned people down for attempting to flee to West Berlin ruled from behind an unchallengeable arsenal of Soviet weaponry. While its leaders were making the monstrous claim that East Germany was breeding the “new socialist man,” they were themselves living luxuriously in perfumed villas north of Berlin, in secluded Wandlitz, where all the pleasures of the West were sumptuously present. The barbecues, double bathrooms, bars, aquariums, and satellite dishes were installed and serviced by West German workers so that East Germans would not be tainted by acquaintance with these luxuries. I could not help thinking of Wandlitz as I was driving across East Germany one rainy afternoon in early December, just weeks after the Wall had been opened. I stopped at what was called a restaurant, actually a trailer that served no coffee, only lemon tea as a hot beverage. What turned out to be quite good toffee was the only thing to eat. Posted up a this peculiar establishment was a sign warning parents to guard against the television advertising of the West and to take seriously the task of rearing socialist children. Along the side of the highway, people could often be seen working under the hoods of their Trabant cars, trying to coax a few more kilometers out of these two-stroke pollution-generating machines. The families sitting in them, often with their belongings on the roof or in the rear window, did not look like West Germans. They had that genuine proletarian appearance---old-fashioned moustaches, haircuts, and clothes that had long since disappeared in the West. These were characters out of a Steinbeck novel, for whom the phrase “the people” would not seem embarrassing or out of place. The leaders who had hidden out at Wandlitz had presided over a system that made people wait fifteen years for a Trabant. In the end, it was “the people” working in the most polluting factories in Europe who could stand it no longer. Even more than in relatively well-supplied East Berlin, it was in miserable, industrial Leipzig that implacable hatred for the regime had boiled over into the streets.

The regime had specialized in grand and petty tyrannies. Locking people up so they could not travel, and transforming their country into a prison where they could not speak or publish or meet freely, made East Germany a grand tyranny. Deciding how scarcity would be allocated so that the friends of the regime were more likely to be rewarded with consumer goods made it a petty tyranny.

One dissident who was finally expelled from East Germany in 1977, and now lives in West Berlin, where she is an author of children’s books, told me how she explains the difference between the two Berlins to her youthful audience. Franziska Groszer recounted the story of buying food for her family. In East Berlin, she would have to spend an hour each day in long line-ups to purchase food. Occasionally, she would be lucky and buy a large fish. When she reached home, she would call her friends at once to make the fish the occasion for an instant party. In West Berlin, she would find the fish she wanted easily enough, but might have to go to five or six stores to find one she could afford, since she had no job.

As the story shows, neither social system seemed ideal to her. She had, however, the kind of appreciation for the freedoms of the West that only those who have lived without them can ever feel. In the East, her children’s bookstore was closed on the order of the authorities, her efforts to publish or to present children’s puppet shows blocked. In the maze of bureaucratic repression she experienced, she was never given the satisfaction of being told what rules of the East German state her cultural activities had violated. She was simply told that she could not continue them.

Her description of the dissident circle of which she was a part in the mid-1970s was a testament of hope and hopelessness. Her circle included thirty or forty people, for the most part intellectuals, who would gather in people’s houses. While they had no concrete basis for optimism during what was the heart of the Brezhnev era, they tenaciously clung to a belief that someday something would have to give. Their main weapon against a system that enjoyed an overwhelming monopoly of coercive power was to try to raise the consciousness of people, to counteract the mind-numbing message of the regime that any well-being they could hope for came from an unassailable power above them. For the dissidents, reading to children and putting on puppet shows were acts of subversion, aimed at instilling the idea that people could be self-sufficient, that they did not depend on largesse from on high. During these years, Franziska Groszer would never go to see the Wall. She avoided it, always aware that it was there. She and her friends were well-informed, and knew a great deal about other countries. But they could not reach out to them. For her, the Wall meant the loss of the world. She felt diminished by it. Everything she lived was shrunken. While the Germans were clearly one people, it was evident that those who had survived the experience of being dissidents in East Germany had no intention of giving up the hard-won lessons of their experience. That experience would always mark them off from other Germans.

The euphoria, the sense of possibility that accompanied the opening of the Wall, was worth savouring. It would not last; the practical difficulties ahead, the calculations of the powerful, the dislocation of the powerless would foster new and often dark emotions. But for those who experienced the opening of the Wall, the wonder of the moment could never be taken away. However briefly, people without positions of power had seized control of their fate and, in the process, they had toppled not only a local system of tyranny, but a world order: they had opened the way not only for a new Germany, but for a new Europe, a Europe that would be invented not only in the streets, but at the highest political levels.