The media was all atwitter this past week about Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama’s speech in Germany. In his speech, he referenced the two most famous speeches by American presidents in Berlin, Ronald Reagan’s inspiring “Tear down this wall!” and John F. Kennedy’s declaration that “I am a jelly doughnut.”
The Cold War was a fifty-year struggle against a powerful and monstrous enemy. Harry Truman, often despised in his day but loved in retrospect, laid out the basic blueprint that would be followed, to differing extents, by all presidents who followed him until the collapse of the Soviet Union, and made the risky decision to airlift humanitarian aid to Berlin. John F. Kennedy faced down the Soviets in Cuba and declared that we would “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” Ronald Reagan threw out the strategy of détente favored by his immediate predecessors in favor of a more aggressive approach, and is largely credited with America’s final victory over Communism.
While presidents are certainly part of the Cold War story, there are many more heroes. Staunch allies such as Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul the Second. The brave troops who fought in Korea, where we kept the South free even if we didn’t achieve everything we would have liked, and Vietnam, where we lost the battle in a larger war we would eventually win. Dissidents such as Václav Havel, who, at great personal risk, stood up and spoke out against Soviet tyranny. Union workers in Poland, who, in fighting for their cause, taught me the meaning of the word “solidarity” when I was a child.
But in the many written histories of the Cold War, there is one name that has been wrongfully omitted. Brave freedom fighter that he is, he isn’t taking this lying down:
“I find it a bit sad that there is no photo of me hanging on the walls in the Berlin Museum at Checkpoint Charlie.”
Who is this underappreciated hero?
Hasselhoff was already a singing star in Austria and Switzerland when, in 1989, he had the wisdom to cover a 1970s German hit, Auf Der Strasse Nach Suden.
Renaming it Looking for Freedom, with Hasselhoff singing in English, the song raced up the charts in the late summer, just as a wave of revolt began sweeping through Eastern Europe.
By the time Berliners started hacking away at the concrete wall that had divided their city for a generation, the torch-bearing anthem had been number one for several weeks in West Germany.
With its lament, “I’ve been lookin’ for freedom; I’ve been lookin’ so long; I’ve been lookin’ for freedom; still the search goes on,” the song embodied the frustrations of Germany’s years of division.
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The singer himself has powerful memories of the performance. “It was the first time Germany had been unified, and close to a million East and West German fans stood together in the freezing cold at midnight watching me perform. I was overcome with emotion,” he recalls.
When, oh when, will this injustice be rectified?