On the evening of November 9, 1989, thousands stormed the entry points of the wall marking the historic split between West Berlin and East Berlin, the archetypal symbol of the bipolar Cold War. Meanwhile, President George H.W. Bush sat with Secretary of State James Baker, fielding questions from reporters in the Oval Office. On his desk, a binder of briefing information was opened to a standard State Department map of Cold War Germany. Throughout the hastily arranged press conference, the president often gestured toward the map, even tapping on it to emphasize his points about a "whole and free Europe" coming to fruition. Yet, even with the momentous news, Bush's mood was famously subdued. CBS reporter Leslie Stahl asked why he wasn't more "elated," and the president replied, "I'm not an emotional kind of guy." A palpable uneasiness hung over what would purportedly be a jubilant celebration of Western triumph. James Der Derian wrote, "Flash back once more to the Berlin Wall, taking its first hammer blows, President George Bush and Secretary of State James Baker appearing at a televised press briefing with a map of Germany in front of them, seeking in cartography what they could no longer locate in reality: the fixity of former borders and former times.... When events were moving too quickly and too unexpectedly, the map became a more appealing, more plausible home than the world itself."

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Post-print Article

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Copyright © 2016 National Communication Association. Article first published online: 6 JUN 2016.

DOI: 10.1080/15358593.2016.1183884

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Full citation:

Barney, Timothy. "Criticism on the Map." Review of Communication 16, no. 1 (June 6, 2016): 80-82. doi:10.1080/15358593.2016.1183884.