Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa notes that human nature demands two things from the world around us.
One is a hero, someone we pray will solve our problems. The other is a villain, someone to blame for creating them. Without both, life lacks the clarity many crave.
For noted German actress Walfriede Schmitt, that's the downside of how the world changed 20 years ago today.
When the Berlin Wall fell, it brought an end to a titanic struggle, one that terrified but also defined and shaped us. The Soviet Union and the United States were the ultimate hero/villain. On one of the most significant anniversaries of the last half century, it's worth celebrating the freedoms that opened to millions of East Germans. The fall of the wall led to once-unimaginable opportunities throughout the old Soviet world.
But it's also worth listening to how the end of one threat brought an unexpected new one to some.
Schmitt, a child from the other side of the Iron Curtain, wants it understood that she clearly remembers and appreciates the elation of that single, defining moment: chunks of reinforced concrete toppling, exposing east to west. As an actress, she appreciated such a finale. As a human, she welcomed the death of fears of nuclear holocaust.
Even so, 20 years later, she and many others look back surprised by a bit of melancholy for a simpler world.
The nature of national struggle was once Eagle and Bear. Today, even our wars are less easily defined: a war on drugs, a war against terrorism, wars in which something as basic as the enemy is difficult to define. What, exactly, is al-Qaida? Is it top-down or loose-knit? Is it an actual organization, or a violent, vile social movement?
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