It's time to consider not just where we've been but where we are headed and if it's a place we want to go.

WALLS WORK IN TWO DIRECTIONS

by George Kriss

The year is 2020. As I sit by the front porch and walkway, leading from the driveway which is behind large iron gates, or by the pool gazing up through the clear air of the night sky of Tucson with the stars and puffy white clouds it reminds me of looking upward when living in the Middle East. It looked just the same and it was warm there as well. It always reminds me how open air creates a sense of freedom. Of course that's just perspective. In the late 1970's I spent a number of years living in a country ruled by a dictator and the sky was the same offering the occasional look or feeling of freedom.

My advantage at the time was being a guest of the country where someone with my education and professional training was needed. Many of the working class Americans in country had their passport taken upon arrival and returned when they had permission to leave. We were part of a Dept. of Defense (DOD) contract supplying military equipment to the country. Due to my position I had possession of my passport along with a multiple exit/entry visa. There were times it was necessary for me to leave on a moment's notice as a medical emergency, handling the movement of a Prince, a military General or maintenance in Europe on the airplane. You see, I was a professional corporate pilot. It was a job that enabled me to see different countries in the region like Iran, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan, Pakistan and Syria. I'll bet most of my flying friends have never experienced being met on the ramp by armed guards standing in front of the aircraft wings preventing you from leaving until checking in with the authorities and presenting your documents showing prior approval to land. Other countries include Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Switzerland (where I lived for a time), Germany, France, Ireland, UK, Belgium, Iceland, Turkey, Venezuela and more. As well as a number of Asian countries. There were also those in South America, when I lived for several months in Brazil flying to regional cities and countries, like Argentina, Barbados and Mexico to name a few. Some were free and some weren't. A couple that were free now are authoritarian. Oh yes, it really does happen. All of this offered me the opportunity of meeting and seeing the people, their lifestyles and the effects of their government. It gave me a broad perspective in the aspects of living under an authoritarian government versus a democracy. Something most Americans would never fully understand or experience. Well, that's what I believed at the time but we now live in different times and our country could soon be in the forefront of neo-fascism. Don't just listen to me, listen to historians and experts on these subjects. It sure appears many Americans are willing to sacrifice democracy simply to realize their selfish bigotry or idealistic religious desire. Doesn't seem like a very good tradeoff from my experience.

One of the things I quickly noticed after leaving the U.S. and arrival in country was the local people aren't much different throughout the world. They had jobs, the kids went to school, Mom took care of the home and the family enjoyed evenings and weekends together. They had the same dreams so I quickly realized the American Dream was no different or special while Americans are told their dream is somehow exceptional. Of course the people had to obey the demands of the ruler and local authorities. People couldn't gather and protest the King. Religious law was also imposed. If a person violated the "law" harsh punishment was often administered. As a guest in the country we were also expected to respect the "law". Being a westerner didn't give us exception. For example if someone was sentenced to death it was normally by the sword. If you were in town during an execution when the streets in and out of the square were sealed then you witnessed the beheading. I knew people caught in this situation but must admit it was an experience I missed. There were other things I did see.

When we went downtown shopping the street corners had someone in military uniform holding a small machine gun. They normally didn't interfere but with one exception when I had my fancy 35mm Minolta camera hanging from my neck. He stopped me and touched the lens shaking his finger back and forth. There was no doubt about the implication. I looked at him and said in a respectful manner no, no. So, as long as we obeyed orders and kept our thoughts and views to ourselves we stayed out of trouble.

It didn't always go so well. One of the company Vice Presidents said something in a meeting with a couple of young representatives from the government and they apparently found his remarks disrespectful. The next day I received assignment to make a flight to Athens that night. He and his wife were on their way to Greece to catch a flight to the U.S. They were being deported. Here's an example of what can happen that took place in 2020, a prominent Saudi female activist, who campaigned for women's right to drive, was sentenced to more than five years in prison.

In 1978 we had a scheduled flight to Germany and took along one of our young pilots who was leaving the country. He was seen taking a picture of the airport from the cockpit, the film was confiscated and viewed then the next day he was advised he had 48 hours to depart the country. He was so terrified he didn't speak during the entire flight and expressed his utter relief and feeling of safety only upon arriving in Germany. I'd never seen someone that frightened.

Many people over the world live in a controlled manner. Freedom is not something they enjoy. It's something you can learn to live without if necessary. All you need do is tell yourself this is normal and look to the sky. Go to work, school, do the shopping and don't say anything. Is this coming to the United States? As someone said to me "It's what the American people want". If you don't speak out is this what you want? I'm cynical and believe it's too late. I hope I'm wrong but my visions often prove correct. Long story short - I knew someone whose grandfather took his wife and daughter out of their country. He told his relatives they need to get out. They thought it would be okay. He left and eventually made his way to Canada and then to St. Louis where he resumed his dental practice. The relatives who stayed, every last one died in the concentration camp gas chambers. He was a visionary.

During our 1978 trip to Nuremberg, Germany for aircraft maintenance, along with my crew members, we decided to take the weekend and go to Munich for Oktoberfest or travel to West Berlin. We decided on Berlin. I'd driven to Bonn several days before to the U.S. Embassy for a travel visa for our young pilot so the drive across East Germany didn't seem like it would be out of the ordinary. At least not for three naive Americans whom had no idea what to expect. Upon our return the mechanics at the airport were astounded hearing what we had done. Nuremberg is about 100 miles east of Frankfurt (Rein-Main) on the map, the dot under "Main". The drive time to Berlin from Nuremberg, about 260 miles, was a little over four hours.

Off we went to Berlin. We crossed the border into East Germany before long and hadn't even come up to speed in the Mercedes. We were now behind the Iron Curtain. Suddenly, as I looked at the highway ahead there was a fellow in one of those heavy gray flannel coats you've seen in the movies. He was waving his hands above his head in the common "stop" gesture. I stopped and on the side of the road was one of those trucks with the canvas covering and more guards sitting on both sides. You've probably seen this scene in the movies. He didn't speak a word of English. He looked at my passport and kept pointing at the picture and the instrument panel in the car. After a bit of time it came to me he wanted my international driver's license. That did the trick. So now he began filling out his clipboard. He handed me the completed document from which I was able to discern the speed limit was 100 kph and I was going 120 clicks. Oh, the fine was 120 deutschmarks payable before being allowed to leave. Thankfully I hadn't been going over 200 like the day before on the Autobahn.

Turns out when crossing the border the passport stamp includes a time and how long it takes to the Berlin border checkpoint is a given. Speed is tightly controlled with radar. Arrive late and the car will be torn apart looking for a stowaway trying to escape the East. Best to arrive on time. We crossed at the checkpoint and even then received unfriendly looks of scrutiny from the East German border guard as our papers were examined, maybe you've seen the movie.

We began sightseeing and covered the entire length of the wall before realizing it encircled West Berlin which wasn't in West Germany as most Americans believed. It was in East Germany making it an island of sorts. Now, the reason for the Berlin Airlift in 1948 meant something, the roads were closed by the Soviets trying to starve West Berlin. Growing up in the 1940's I didn't understand these things being a youngster. I've been on both sides and climbed on the Berlin Wall taking pictures of the guards in the towers taking pictures of me taking pictures of them. Turned out it was the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the DDR, commonly known as East Germany. There were 100,000 police in East Berlin that weekend. Everywhere we looked, church steeples, open windows of building, etc. we saw a dark figure peering out from the shadows and ducking back when I raised my camera. I looked over the Berlin wall at East Germans only a matter of a few meters away looking out of their apartment windows at me and as our eyes met directly through that unobstructed free clear air I quickly realized "Walls work in both directions". In fact it extended unseen without limit well above the physical top of the barrier. On Saturday evening we could hear the roar of the screams from the celebrating crowd in the large stadium on the east side. It was one of the most chilling sounds I've ever heard. I told my crew members if they ever turn those people loose on us we're in big trouble.

Here it is 42 years later and El Presidente (Dear Leader) held a rally two weeks before the 2020 election in Tucson. Watching the news my adult grandson said the screams and cheers from those people are strange. This triggered my memory of East Berlin. Many words like tyranny, autocracy, fascism, illiberal, populist, despotism and cult can be used to describe these Americans with their crazy religious beliefs who support the destruction of our democracy and still idolize the racist dictator. I never gave it a thought these kind of deplorable people would be turned loose on us from within our own country.
Be careful what you wish for.