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Jewish World Review Nov. 9, 1999 /28 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

Ben Wattenberg

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The first universal holiday -- TEN YEARS AGO TODAY, on Nov. 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall was battered down by the people it had imprisoned. The event is regarded as the moment the Cold War ended. For Americans without sentient memories of World War II, the end of the Cold War has been the most momentous historical event of their lifetimes, and so it will likely remain.

Long yearned for, the end of the Cold War has more than lived up to expectations: Democracy is on the march globally, defense budgets are proportionately down, market economics are beginning to flourish most everywhere, everyday people are benefiting, every day.

The end of the Cold War was a process, not an event. By early 1989, Gorbachev had pulled Soviet troops from Afghanistan, whipped. Poles elected a non-communist government; the Soviets did nothing. Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany and later Bulgaria installed non-communist governments. It was called "the Velvet Revolution," with only Romania the exception; Nicolae Ceausescu and his empress were executed.

For almost two years, the U.S.S.R. remained a one-party communist state, gradually eroding. Hard-liners attempted to resist the slow motion dis-memberment. On Aug. 19, 1991, Boris Yeltsin stood on a tank to resist a hard-line coup. The hammer-and-sickle came down; the Russian tri-color went up. Other Soviet republics declared independence, including the big guy on the block, Ukraine.

American diplomats did not "gloat" about it. The sovereign state of Russia would be unstable enough without America rubbing it in.

On Dec. 4, 1991, I proposed in a column that a new national holiday be established to commemorate the end of the Cold War. I asked readers to participate in a contest to: 1. name it; 2. pick a date; and 3. propose a method of celebration.

Several hundred submissions came in. Some of the most imaginative entries for a name were: "Defrost Day," "Thaw Day," "Ronald Reagan Day," "Gorbachev Day," "Borscht Day," "Peace Through Strength Day," "E Day" (which would stand for "Evil Empire Ends Day"), "E2D2" ("Evil Empire Death Day"), "Jericho Day," "Pax Americana Day" and "Kerensky Future Freedom Day" (recalling that Yeltsin was not the first pro-democratic leader of Russia). Scores of respondents offered "Liberty Day," "Democracy Day" and, mostly, "Freedom Day." In June of 1992, I publicly proclaimed "Freedom Day" the winner.

One suggestion for the date of the new holiday was June 5, for Adam Smith's birthday. But the most votes went for Nov. 9, the day the wall fell. So today I proclaim that date Freedom Day.

There were ideas about how to celebrate and commemorate Freedom Day: build a sibling sculpture to the Statue of Liberty; eat potatoes, the universal food; build a tunnel to Russia across the Bering Strait; thank G-d for peace; welcome immigrants; meditate; issue a U.N. stamp; build ice sculptures; send money to feed Russians; and do something you can't do in an unfree country -- make a public speech, see a dirty movie, celebrate a religion, travel across a border.

I propose that discussion about the mode of celebration be put on hold until we get the holiday established.

How? Because all the major presidential candidates participated in the Cold War, they should endorse the holiday. Legislators ought to push for it. Anyone who worked in a defense industry, or paid federal taxes from 1945 to 1989, ought to support it. President Clinton ought to go to the Reagan Library to endorse it.

I met with Mark Burman of the Reagan Presidential Foundation. He says they are on board for a campaign. The other great presidential libraries -- Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter -- should join in.

So should anyone concerned with the teaching of American history. The holiday will remind American children that their recent ancestors preserved freedom. The Cold War generation may not be "the greatest" but they did their job -- victory without a major hot war.

Americans can only create an American holiday. But we ought to invite all other countries to join in, Russia first. The citizens of Russia won the Cold War as surely as we did. If I were a Chinese dissident I'd promote the idea; it might give their leaders a clue. It would be the First Universal Holiday.

If you like the idea, or have ideas, you may e-mail by clicking below. I'll pass the correspondence along to the appropriate persons, as soon as I figure out who they are.

Ben Wattenberg is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and is the moderator of PBS's "Think Tank." You may comment by clicking here.

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