The Tunnels: Escapes Under the Berlin Wall and the Historic Films the JFK White House Tried to Kill
by Greg Mitchell
Print Length: 410 pages
Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (October 18, 2016)
Publication Date: October 18, 2016
Sold by: Random House LLC
FTC: Reviewed for Blogging for Books
In the summer of 1962, the year after the rise of the Berlin Wall, a group of young West Germans risked prison, Stasi torture, and even death to liberate friends, lovers, and strangers in East Berlin by digging tunnels under the Wall. Then two U.S. television networks heard about the secret projects and raced to be first to document them from the inside. NBC and CBS funded two separate tunnels in return for the right to film the escapes, planning spectacular prime-time specials. President John F. Kennedy, however, was wary of anything that might spark a confrontation with the Soviets, having said, “A wall is better than a war,” and even confessing to Secretary of State Dean Rusk, “We don’t care about East Berlin.” JFK approved unprecedented maneuvers to quash both documentaries, testing the limits of a free press in an era of escalating nuclear tensions.
As Greg Mitchell’s riveting narrative unfolds, we meet extraordinary characters: the legendary cyclist who became East Germany’s top target for arrest; the Stasi informer who betrays the “CBS tunnel”; the American student who aided the escapes; an engineer who would later help build the tunnel under the English channel; the young East Berliner who fled with her baby, then married one of the tunnelers. Capturing the chilling reach of the Stasi secret police, U.S. networks prepared to “pay for play” yet willing to cave to official pressure, a White House eager to suppress historic coverage, and the subversive power of ordinary people in dire circumstances, The Tunnels is breaking history, a propulsive read whose themes still reverberate.
May contain spoilers
Do you ever read the description and think you can handle it? Then when you pick up the book, you get an eery feeling when you read inside, "A NOTE TO READERS".
Well, this happened to me when I picked up "The Tunnels".
This is not to say that I did not find a hint of humor in the writing that at times was very graphic. I actually thought the example of Adam and Eve was going to be humorous but instead, it turned out to be a daunting reminder.
I wanted so much from this read and early on it hit me. I'm not 10 pages in... and yet I am having difficulty. The realization is, even when I complete this story...this compilation of accounts of the Cold War... there is not a thing I can change.
Frankly, I have never faced the inclination to escape and the only time I have seen jumpers is footage of people fleeing burning buildings. And as I read these accounts and weep, I think this was indeed a "Street of Tears".
When you pull and push dirt with purpose, to create a pathway, it's possible you may not realize how exhausting and terrifying it can be. I mean, if your purpose is to save another, perhaps it all becomes a blur and the sound of noisy tools goes unnoticed. With a gain of only 6 feet a day, promises to watch each other's back and the fear of lettings others down are likely things you'd have to acknowledge.
One can only hope if ever in a position remotely similar to this that one would wait in silence and be steadfast in the knowledge that somewhere in the distance rings the bells of freedom.