9.1.09

SIGNALLING FAILURE. Politically reliable hacks in charge. Special slush funds for administrators. Neighbors who report deviationism to the authorities, or perform impromptu reeducation on behalf of the authorities. Resources going to sports, while other capital deteriorates for lack of maintenance.

We are not speaking of higher education. This is East Germany. Walter Ulbricht and Erich Honecker would not be able to manage a hot dog stand. The slush funds went to keep up appearances in the sports programs, which took performance enhancement to lengths that would embarrass Tony Mandarich. The Stasi kept better files than Student Affairs, and their officials were better shots.

All this is briefly summarized in The Berlin Wall: A World Divided, 1961-1989. An East German pretty well sums up the entire episode: "So ... they built the Wall to stop people leaving, and now they're tearing it down to stop people leaving. There's logic for you." If you're familiar with the workings of petty tyrants, the book will not provide many additional insights. I don't have to worry about spoilers in Book Review No. 3, as everybody knows that it did come down. The book will provide some background (all the way back to when some Slavic sand-dwellers put a "von" in front of their names and established Berlin) and some amusement (the border police didn't recognize the man with a younger wife who emerged from a limousine to scowl at the wall). The book recognizes the uneasy equilibrium that emerged after Ulbricht and Khrushchev built the wall. The politics of the era were complicated, and this book provides some understanding of that, with no surprises. Popular perception might have had the world closer to war than the generals and politicians were.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

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