The most striking aspect of the 10th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall is how little coverage it has received.
This is not a critique of journalism. Remembrance of the death of communism has inspired some fine reporting and analysis, notably a powerful series on National Public Radio in which many participants in the original drama reflected on the world then and now.
Rather, the relative lack of attention reflects the main results of the end of communism: a general pulling back from interest in what happens outside our borders, and a sense of normality. Politics, at home and abroad, has lost its epic quality. The world of black and white, evil empires and honorable democracies, has been replaced by the world as it usually is, a complicated place colored more in pastels and grays.
This is not a fact to be mourned. It is an enormous achievement. A politics about grand struggle usually implies the danger that a great evil has a chance of winning. That's what made the struggles against fascism and communism noble. Does anyone doubt we're better off with such evils gone?
Of course foreign policy specialists regularly berate Americans for being too parochial and not interested enough in what happens everywhere else in the world. But Americans are not all that different from anyone else. Most people in most countries look first to their own back yards.
Europeans, for example, were no more eager to intervene in Kosovo or Bosnia than Americans were. You can argue, of course, that the predominant view in both Europe and America was wrong. But you can't sustain the case that Americans were peculiarly inward-looking. We were typically inward-looking.
The end of a black-and-white world is also beneficial because the struggles of politics are cast in a more realistic light. The fact that there is now less paranoia is bad for the thriller writers but good for just about everyone else. Conspiracy theories will always be with us, but it's much harder to sustain really compelling tales of national betrayal without Bolsheviks. It cannot be a bad thing that it's hard now to charge the average social reformer with being a "pinko Commie" or "soft on the Reds." Reformers may well be wrong, but now critics of the reformers have to make their case on the merits.
If the right has been forced to make more nuanced arguments, so has the left. It is no bad thing that the idea of centralized, state-controlled economies has been thoroughly discredited. The discrediting process started long before the wall came down, but communism's utter collapse surely settled the question.
The political alternative to the pure free market is not, and never should have been, statism. Timothy Garton Ash, the brilliant journalistic chronicler of the fall of communism, notes in the current issue of the New York Review of Books that the competing vision offered by the likes of Bill Clinton and Britain's Tony Blair is of "a more socially minded version of reformed capitalism." It's not an idea that sends people to the barricades. But a society forced to go to the barricades is not a place in which most people want to live.
There is one other good thing about our failure to make too much of this anniversary: It reflects a lack of triumphalism. The end of communism did not create Utopia. It did not suddenly rid the world of social injustice or dictatorship or human rights violations or economic threats.
The more normal world in which we now live also has new problems, including some created by the disappearance of the Soviet Union. The Cold War imposed a kind of order on the world. That order has been shattered. To say this is a good thing, which it is, is not to say that the new difficulties (a surge in ethnic conflict and possibilities of more deadly forms of terrorism among them) can be wished away.
The fact that we're giving one or two cheers for the end of communism and not a full-throated three reflects not a lack of appreciation for a great achievement but a surprisingly healthy realism. Forgetting the past is certainly a bad thing. But celebrating past victories too much can be a bad thing, too.