On Oct. 7, 1989, members of the East German Politburo looked on approvingly as sharply dressed soldiers and shiny military hardware paraded by them in a gaudy display of military might to mark the 40th anniversary of the German Democratic Republic.
To the world, the 1989 celebration may have looked no different than any of the countless East German military parades that had come before it. But inside East Germany, this one was different. That night, demonstrations demanding political reform spread to the capital for the first time. Whispered calls for democracy were becoming shouts. Whether the rest of the world knew it or not, the days of the German Democratic Republic were numbered.
Within weeks, the Berlin Wall fell. Less than a year later, agreements for the reunification of East and West Germany were signed. And just like that, there was one fewer communist nation threatening Europe.
When it comes to ostentatious displays of military might these days, no one outdoes North Korea, where parades are only the beginning. When leader Kim Jong-un wants a macho show of military strength, he’s likely to order nuclear tests, or rocket launches, or the firing of short range missiles into the sea as he did this week.
What the former East Germany and North Korea have in common is that they both have relied on shows of military might to divert domestic dissent while propping up regimes that face enormous challenges, both internal and external. Could North Korea collapse with as little warning as East Germany did 24 years ago? It’s possible.