We were lucky. Wars typically don’t end so peacefully, nor empires collapse in a wave of optimistic cheers. Certainly not when nuclear weapons are involved. Yet that is how the Cold War ended, largely as soft as velvet, as one poet described. Yet communism’s largely peaceful demise in Europe need not have been so pleasant: protestors and police repeatedly clashed to the brink of real violence, and the Berlin Wall itself opened, signaling more than any other moment the triumph of democracy and a new potential for a unified Germany, by accident. This is the story of how the Wall opened, and how a massacre such as had just recently occurred in Tiananmen Square was ordered for East Germany, but fate—and a fair bit of luck—intervened.
Jeffrey A. Engel is founding director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University and Professor in the Clements Department of History. A Senior Fellow of the Norwegian Nobel Institute and of the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies, he graduated magna cum laude from Cornell University. He additionally studied at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford University, and received his M.A. and Ph.D. in American history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, before holding a John M. Olin Postdoctoral Fellow in International Security Studies at Yale University.
Engel has authored or edited twelve books on American foreign policy, including Cold War at 30,000 Feet: The Anglo-American Fight for Aviation Supremacy (Harvard University Press, 2007), which received the Paul Birdsall Prize from the American Historical Association; Local Consequences of the Global Cold War (Stanford University Press and the Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2008); The China Diary of George H.W. Bush: The Making of a Global President (Princeton University Press, 2008); The Fall of the Berlin Wall: The Revolutionary Legacy of 1989 (Oxford University Press, 2009); with Joseph R. Cerami, Rethinking Leadership and “Whole of Government” National Security Reform (Strategic Studies Institute, 2010); Into the Desert: Reflections on the Gulf War (Oxford University Press, 2012); with Andrew Preston and Mark Lawrence, America in the World: A History in Documents (Princeton University Press, 2014); The Four Freedoms: FDR’s Legacy of Liberty for the United States and the World (Oxford University Press, 2016); with Thomas Knock, When Life Strikes the White House: Presidents and their Personal Crises (Oxford University Press, 2017); When the World Seemed New: George H.W. Bush and the End of the Cold War (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017), which received the 2019 Transatlantic Studies Association Prize; with Richard H. Immerman, Fourteen Points for the 21st Century (University of Kentucky Press, in press); with Jon Meacham, Peter Baker, and Timothy Naftali, Impeachment: An American History (Random House, 2018); and with Timothy Sayle, Hal Brands, and Will Inboden, The Last Card: Inside George W. Bush’s Decision to Surge in Iraq (Cornell University Press, 2019).