The Berlin Wall: 50 Years Later

William Bowmer
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On August 17, 1961—exactly 50 years ago, this Wednesday—East German laborers laid the first concrete blocks of what would soon be called the "Berlin Wall" The wall, cutting West Berlin off from surrounding East Germany, came to be seen as a symbol of Communist tyranny, and for more than a generation the German people grew used to its troubling presence, separating them from old friends and family and marking a moral and philosophical divide as well as a physical one.

Today, two decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, an entire generation of young people has grown up without the "Cold War" mentality that shaped their parents’ and grandparents’ view of the world. Few today can imagine how American writer Whittaker Chambers felt when he left the Communist Party and informed on his old Party associates. Chambers openly acknowledged his sense that the United States was on the losing side of world history. As he told the House Un-American Activities Committee on August 3, 1948, "I know that I am leaving the winning side for the losing side, but it is better to die on the losing side than to live under Communism."

When the Berlin Wall went up, few expected that it would ever come down—at least not as long as a free West Germany existed. No less a world figure than the President of the U.S., John F. Kennedy, called the Wall "a fact of international life"—a fact dwarfed in importance by the looming threat of world war between the Soviet Union and the Western powers. Western diplomats considered the Wall a defeat for their cause, but did not dare to push the Soviets too hard, lest they provoke a confrontation they feared the West might lose. Even when U.S. President Ronald Reagan made his famous Brandenburg Gate speech in June 1987—uttering his famous words, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"—most took it as powerful rhetoric, not as a serious possibility.

The "Cold War" even shaped the preaching of popular evangelists, some of whom claimed that the Bible foretold a final end-times battle between the Soviet Union and the United States preceding the return of Jesus Christ. The notion of a unified Germany as a world power was simply "off the radar" of preachers and politicians alike.

Unless, of course, they were listening to the preaching of Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong. By recognizing the modern identity of the nations discussed in Bible prophecy, Mr. Armstrong put together an end-time scenario that radically contradicted what the politicians, diplomats and generals of his day were saying. Consider:

"No all-out full-scale war is prophesied between Russia and the United States. The famous prophecy of Ezek. 38 and 39 foretells a Russian invasion of Palestine, much later, not against the North American continent" (The Plain Truth, August 1950, p. 2).

"…the world will be dumbfounded to see Germany emerge suddenly in a power never equalled by Hitler—by a union of ten nations in Europe, probably including some at present puppets of Russia—in a gigantic United States of Europe. This definitely is prophesied!" (The Plain Truth, August 1950, p. 4).

"Russia may give East Germany back to the Germans and will be forced to relinquish her control over Hungary, Czechoslovakia and parts of Austria to complete the ten nation union. Europe will have a free hand to destroy America and Britain as prophesied" (The Good News, April 1952, p. 16).

More than 50 years ago, when most saw only the potential for conflict between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, Mr. Armstrong recognized that Bible prophecy put the end-time focus on "Assyria"—Germany, not Russia—as the aggressor that would ultimately put an end to the dominance of the American and British-descended nations (see Psalm 83:8; Isaiah 10–11). When the Berlin Wall was finally opened in November 1989, and dismantled soon after, millions around the world were stunned. But those who had been informed by the ministry of Mr. Herbert Armstrong could say they had seen it coming, in the pages of their Bibles.

To learn more about Germany’s role in end-time prophecy, read our article "Resurgent Germany: A Fourth Reich?" or watch our Tomorrow’s World telecast, "Where Are the Assyrians Today?"