When Ulbricht said in 1961: "Nobody intends to build a wall", is there any truth to the idea that he was being deliberately Machiavellian, knowing that most East Germans would read the signs correctly and interpret this as "We intend to build a wall", then reasoning that if they intended to flee it was now or never, which lead to a surge in numbers which gave Ulbricht the justification he needed to get Khrushchev to authorize it?

I guess if he'd just said "we're going to build a wall" it would have caused mass panic and a possible GDR collapse", but saying it slyly with plausible deniability, before the wall actually went up, gave him the surge in defections he needed to bring things to a head, also getting rid of potential future sources of trouble before the trap closed.

...or was it just a straight up lie...

  • 3
    Isn't this inherently subjective? Is there an objective empirical standard of "machiavellian"? Is it possible to revise this question to one with an authoritative answer?
    – MCW
    Sep 30 at 10:22
  • There might be an interesting question hiding behind the opinon-based framing "Was this Machiavellian": Whether or not the construction of the Berlin wall was already authorized by Khrushchev when Ulbricht made his statement and how that statement affected migration to West-Germany
    – Philipp
    Sep 30 at 13:28
  • 2
    Calling it "Machiavellian" seems to be a considerable overstatement, for what seems to be a simple, ordinary lie.
    – jamesqf
    Sep 30 at 16:22
  • 1
    @Philipp It is believed that Chruschtschow came to the conclusion around the 20th of July 1961, over a month (1961-06-15) after the Press conference, that the border must be closed to avoid the collapse of the DDR. Armeegeneral Iwan I. Jakubowski, was given orders to start preparations, but soon found out that the preparations had allready been made. DA 6/2011 – Wettig: Die UdSSR und die Berliner Mauer - Phase 4: Sperrung der Grenze in Berlin Sep 30 at 17:47

Was "Nobody intends to build a wall" Machiavellian?

It is more in the form of Doublethink: "Truth is What Serves the Party".

It is in the interest of the party for the world to believe that they have no intention of imprisoning their own people.

And since the party is always right, there is no contradiction in the statement (2 + 2 = 5). Later, after it became a reality that couldn't be ignored, this was simply termed as an Anti-fascist barrier (Antifaschistischer Schutzwall).

Note: The text of the song (Lied der Partei, Die Partei hat immer recht) was changed in 1965, removing references to Stalin (who had become a unperson in November 1961).

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