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President Reagan to Gorbachev: 'Tear down this wall'

President Reagan to Gorbachev: 'Tear down this wall'

On June 12, 1987, in one of his most famous Cold War speeches, President Ronald Reagan challenges Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down” the Berlin Wall, a symbol of the repressive Communist era in a divided Germany.

In 1945, following Germany’s defeat in World War II, the nation’s capital, Berlin, was divided into four sections, with the Americans, British and French controlling the western region and the Soviets gaining power in the eastern region. In May 1949, the three western sections came together as the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), with the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) being established in October of that same year. In 1952, the border between the two countries was closed and by the following year East Germans were prosecuted if they left their country without permission. In August 1961, the Berlin Wall was erected by the East German government to prevent its citizens from escaping to the West. Between 1949 and the wall’s inception, it’s estimated that over 2.5 million East Germans fled to the West in search of a less repressive life.

READ MORE: Collapse of the Soviet Union

With the wall as a backdrop, President Reagan declared to a West Berlin crowd in 1987, “There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace.” He then called upon his Soviet counterpart: “Secretary General Gorbachev, if you seek peace–if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe–if you seek liberalization: come here, to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Reagan then went on to ask Gorbachev to undertake serious arms reduction talks with the United States.

Most listeners at the time viewed Reagan’s speech as a dramatic appeal to Gorbachev to renew negotiations on nuclear arms reductions. It was also a reminder that despite the Soviet leader’s public statements about a new relationship with the West, the U.S. wanted to see action taken to lessen Cold War tensions. Happily for Berliners, though, the speech also foreshadowed events to come: Two years later, on November 9, 1989, joyful East and West Germans did break down the infamous barrier between East and West Berlin. Germany was officially reunited on October 3, 1990.

Gorbachev, who had been in office since 1985, stepped down from his post as Soviet leader in 1991. Reagan, who served two terms as president, from 1981 to 1989, died on June 5, 2004, at age 93.

READ MORE: The Myth That Reagan Ended the Cold War With a Single Speech


President Reagan to Gorbachev: 'Tear down this wall' - HISTORY

This speech by President Ronald Reagan to the people of West Berlin contains one of the most memorable lines spoken during his presidency. The Berlin Wall, referred to by the President, was built by Communists in August 1961 to keep Germans from escaping Communist-dominated East Berlin into Democratic West Berlin. The twelve-foot concrete wall extended for a hundred miles, surrounding West Berlin, and included electrified fences and guard posts. The wall stood as a stark symbol of the decades-old Cold War between the United States and Soviet Russia in which the two politically opposed superpowers continually wrestled for dominance, stopping just short of actual warfare.


Chancellor Kohl, Governing Mayor Diepgen, ladies and gentlemen: Twenty-four years ago, President John F. Kennedy visited Berlin, speaking to the people of this city and the world at the City Hall. Well, since then two other presidents have come, each in his turn, to Berlin. And today I, myself, make my second visit to your city.

We come to Berlin, we American presidents, because it's our duty to speak, in this place, of freedom. But I must confess, we're drawn here by other things as well: by the feeling of history in this city, more than 500 years older than our own nation by the beauty of the Grunewald and the Tiergarten most of all, by your courage and determination. Perhaps the composer Paul Lincke understood something about American presidents. You see, like so many presidents before me, I come here today because wherever I go, whatever I do: Ich hab noch einen Koffer in Berlin. [I still have a suitcase in Berlin.]

Our gathering today is being broadcast throughout Western Europe and North America. I understand that it is being seen and heard as well in the East. To those listening throughout Eastern Europe, a special word: Although I cannot be with you, I address my remarks to you just as surely as to those standing here before me. For I join you, as I join your fellow countrymen in the West, in this firm, this unalterable belief: Es gibt nur ein Berlin. [There is only one Berlin.]

Behind me stands a wall that encircles the free sectors of this city, part of a vast system of barriers that divides the entire continent of Europe. From the Baltic, south, those barriers cut across Germany in a gash of barbed wire, concrete, dog runs, and guard towers. Farther south, there may be no visible, no obvious wall. But there remain armed guards and checkpoints all the same--still a restriction on the right to travel, still an instrument to impose upon ordinary men and women the will of a totalitarian state. Yet it is here in Berlin where the wall emerges most clearly here, cutting across your city, where the news photo and the television screen have imprinted this brutal division of a continent upon the mind of the world. Standing before the Brandenburg Gate, every man is a German, separated from his fellow men. Every man is a Berliner, forced to look upon a scar.

President von Weizsacker has said, "The German question is open as long as the Brandenburg Gate is closed." Today I say: As long as the gate is closed, as long as this scar of a wall is permitted to stand, it is not the German question alone that remains open, but the question of freedom for all mankind. Yet I do not come here to lament. For I find in Berlin a message of hope, even in the shadow of this wall, a message of triumph.

In this season of spring in 1945, the people of Berlin emerged from their air-raid shelters to find devastation. Thousands of miles away, the people of the United States reached out to help. And in 1947 Secretary of State--as you've been told--George Marshall announced the creation of what would become known as the Marshall Plan. Speaking precisely 40 years ago this month, he said: "Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine, but against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos."

In the Reichstag a few moments ago, I saw a display commemorating this 40th anniversary of the Marshall Plan. I was struck by the sign on a burnt-out, gutted structure that was being rebuilt. I understand that Berliners of my own generation can remember seeing signs like it dotted throughout the western sectors of the city. The sign read simply: "The Marshall Plan is helping here to strengthen the free world." A strong, free world in the West, that dream became real. Japan rose from ruin to become an economic giant. Italy, France, Belgium--virtually every nation in Western Europe saw political and economic rebirth the European Community was founded.

In West Germany and here in Berlin, there took place an economic miracle, the Wirtschaftswunder. Adenauer, Erhard, Reuter, and other leaders understood the practical importance of liberty--that just as truth can flourish only when the journalist is given freedom of speech, so prosperity can come about only when the farmer and businessman enjoy economic freedom. The German leaders reduced tariffs, expanded free trade, lowered taxes. From 1950 to 1960 alone, the standard of living in West Germany and Berlin doubled.

Where four decades ago there was rubble, today in West Berlin there is the greatest industrial output of any city in Germany--busy office blocks, fine homes and apartments, proud avenues, and the spreading lawns of parkland. Where a city's culture seemed to have been destroyed, today there are two great universities, orchestras and an opera, countless theaters, and museums. Where there was want, today there's abundance--food, clothing, automobiles--the wonderful goods of the Ku'damm. From devastation, from utter ruin, you Berliners have, in freedom, rebuilt a city that once again ranks as one of the greatest on earth. The Soviets may have had other plans. But my friends, there were a few things the Soviets didn't count on--Berliner Herz, Berliner Humor, ja, und Berliner Schnauze. [Berliner heart, Berliner humor, yes, and a Berliner Schnauze.]

In the 1950s, Khrushchev predicted: "We will bury you." But in the West today, we see a free world that has achieved a level of prosperity and well-being unprecedented in all human history. In the Communist world, we see failure, technological backwardness, declining standards of health, even want of the most basic kind--too little food. Even today, the Soviet Union still cannot feed itself. After these four decades, then, there stands before the entire world one great and inescapable conclusion: Freedom leads to prosperity. Freedom replaces the ancient hatreds among the nations with comity and peace. Freedom is the victor.

And now the Soviets themselves may, in a limited way, be coming to understand the importance of freedom. We hear much from Moscow about a new policy of reform and openness. Some political prisoners have been released. Certain foreign news broadcasts are no longer being jammed. Some economic enterprises have been permitted to operate with greater freedom from state control.

Are these the beginnings of profound changes in the Soviet state? Or are they token gestures, intended to raise false hopes in the West, or to strengthen the Soviet system without changing it? We welcome change and openness for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace.

General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

I understand the fear of war and the pain of division that afflict this continent-- and I pledge to you my country's efforts to help overcome these burdens. To be sure, we in the West must resist Soviet expansion. So we must maintain defenses of unassailable strength. Yet we seek peace so we must strive to reduce arms on both sides.

Beginning 10 years ago, the Soviets challenged the Western alliance with a grave new threat, hundreds of new and more deadly SS-20 nuclear missiles, capable of striking every capital in Europe. The Western alliance responded by committing itself to a counter-deployment unless the Soviets agreed to negotiate a better solution namely, the elimination of such weapons on both sides. For many months, the Soviets refused to bargain in earnestness. As the alliance, in turn, prepared to go forward with its counter-deployment, there were difficult days--days of protests like those during my 1982 visit to this city--and the Soviets later walked away from the table.

But through it all, the alliance held firm. And I invite those who protested then-- I invite those who protest today--to mark this fact: Because we remained strong, the Soviets came back to the table. And because we remained strong, today we have within reach the possibility, not merely of limiting the growth of arms, but of eliminating, for the first time, an entire class of nuclear weapons from the face of the earth.

As I speak, NATO ministers are meeting in Iceland to review the progress of our proposals for eliminating these weapons. At the talks in Geneva, we have also proposed deep cuts in strategic offensive weapons. And the Western allies have likewise made far-reaching proposals to reduce the danger of conventional war and to place a total ban on chemical weapons.

While we pursue these arms reductions, I pledge to you that we will maintain the capacity to deter Soviet aggression at any level at which it might occur. And in cooperation with many of our allies, the United States is pursuing the Strategic Defense Initiative--research to base deterrence not on the threat of offensive retaliation, but on defenses that truly defend on systems, in short, that will not target populations, but shield them. By these means we seek to increase the safety of Europe and all the world. But we must remember a crucial fact: East and West do not mistrust each other because we are armed we are armed because we mistrust each other. And our differences are not about weapons but about liberty. When President Kennedy spoke at the City Hall those 24 years ago, freedom was encircled, Berlin was under siege. And today, despite all the pressures upon this city, Berlin stands secure in its liberty. And freedom itself is transforming the globe.

In the Philippines, in South and Central America, democracy has been given a rebirth. Throughout the Pacific, free markets are working miracle after miracle of economic growth. In the industrialized nations, a technological revolution is taking place--a revolution marked by rapid, dramatic advances in computers and telecommunications.

In Europe, only one nation and those it controls refuse to join the community of freedom. Yet in this age of redoubled economic growth, of information and innovation, the Soviet Union faces a choice: It must make fundamental changes, or it will become obsolete.

Today thus represents a moment of hope. We in the West stand ready to cooperate with the East to promote true openness, to break down barriers that separate people, to create a safe, freer world. And surely there is no better place than Berlin, the meeting place of East and West, to make a start. Free people of Berlin: Today, as in the past, the United States stands for the strict observance and full implementation of all parts of the Four Power Agreement of 1971. Let us use this occasion, the 750th anniversary of this city, to usher in a new era, to seek a still fuller, richer life for the Berlin of the future. Together, let us maintain and develop the ties between the Federal Republic and the Western sectors of Berlin, which is permitted by the 1971 agreement.

And I invite Mr. Gorbachev: Let us work to bring the Eastern and Western parts of the city closer together, so that all the inhabitants of all Berlin can enjoy the benefits that come with life in one of the great cities of the world.

To open Berlin still further to all Europe, East and West, let us expand the vital air access to this city, finding ways of making commercial air service to Berlin more convenient, more comfortable, and more economical. We look to the day when West Berlin can become one of the chief aviation hubs in all central Europe.

With our French and British partners, the United States is prepared to help bring international meetings to Berlin. It would be only fitting for Berlin to serve as the site of United Nations meetings, or world conferences on human rights and arms control or other issues that call for international cooperation.

There is no better way to establish hope for the future than to enlighten young minds, and we would be honored to sponsor summer youth exchanges, cultural events, and other programs for young Berliners from the East. Our French and British friends, I'm certain, will do the same. And it's my hope that an authority can be found in East Berlin to sponsor visits from young people of the Western sectors.

One final proposal, one close to my heart: Sport represents a source of enjoyment and ennoblement, and you may have noted that the Republic of Korea--South Korea--has offered to permit certain events of the 1988 Olympics to take place in the North. International sports competitions of all kinds could take place in both parts of this city. And what better way to demonstrate to the world the openness of this city than to offer in some future year to hold the Olympic games here in Berlin, East and West? In these four decades, as I have said, you Berliners have built a great city. You've done so in spite of threats--the Soviet attempts to impose the East-mark, the blockade. Today the city thrives in spite of the challenges implicit in the very presence of this wall. What keeps you here? Certainly there's a great deal to be said for your fortitude, for your defiant courage. But I believe there's something deeper, something that involves Berlin's whole look and feel and way of life--not mere sentiment. No one could live long in Berlin without being completely disabused of illusions. Something instead, that has seen the difficulties of life in Berlin but chose to accept them, that continues to build this good and proud city in contrast to a surrounding totalitarian presence that refuses to release human energies or aspirations. Something that speaks with a powerful voice of affirmation, that says yes to this city, yes to the future, yes to freedom. In a word, I would submit that what keeps you in Berlin is love--love both profound and abiding.

Perhaps this gets to the root of the matter, to the most fundamental distinction of all between East and West. The totalitarian world produces backwardness because it does such violence to the spirit, thwarting the human impulse to create, to enjoy, to worship. The totalitarian world finds even symbols of love and of worship an affront. Years ago, before the East Germans began rebuilding their churches, they erected a secular structure: the television tower at Alexander Platz. Virtually ever since, the authorities have been working to correct what they view as the tower's one major flaw, treating the glass sphere at the top with paints and chemicals of every kind. Yet even today when the sun strikes that sphere--that sphere that towers over all Berlin--the light makes the sign of the cross. There in Berlin, like the city itself, symbols of love, symbols of worship, cannot be suppressed.

As I looked out a moment ago from the Reichstag, that embodiment of German unity, I noticed words crudely spray-painted upon the wall, perhaps by a young Berliner: "This wall will fall. Beliefs become reality." Yes, across Europe, this wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom.

And I would like, before I close, to say one word. I have read, and I have been questioned since I've been here about certain demonstrations against my coming. And I would like to say just one thing, and to those who demonstrate so. I wonder if they have ever asked themselves that if they should have the kind of government they apparently seek, no one would ever be able to do what they're doing again.

Thank you and God bless you all.

President Ronald Reagan - June 12, 1987

Post-note: Two years later, in November 1989, East Germans issued a decree for the wall to be opened, allowing people to travel freely into West Berlin. In some cases, families that had been separated for decades were finally reunited. The wall was torn down altogether by the end of 1990 upon the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe and in Soviet Russia itself, marking the end of the Cold War era.

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“Tear Down This Wall”

By Peter Robinson

Behind me stands a wall that encircles the free sectors of this city, part of a vast system of barriers that divides the entire continent of Europe. . . . Standing before the Brandenburg Gate, every man is a German, separated from his fellow men. Every man is a Berliner, forced to look upon a scar. . . . As long as this gate is closed, as long as this scar of a wall is permitted to stand, it is not the German question alone that remains open, but the question of freedom for all mankind. . . .
General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate.
Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate!
Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

In April 1987, when I was assigned to write the speech, the celebrations for the 750th anniversary of the founding of Berlin were already under way. Queen Elizabeth had already visited the city. Mikhail Gorbachev was due in a matter of days.

Although the President hadn't been planning to visit Berlin himself, he was going to be in Europe in early June, first visiting Rome, then spending several days in Venice for an economic summit. At the request of the West German government, his schedule was adjusted to permit him to stop in Berlin for a few hours on his way back to the United States from Italy.

I was told only that the President would be speaking at the Berlin Wall, that he was likely to draw an audience of about 10,000, and that, given the setting, he probably ought to talk about foreign policy.

Later that month I spent a day and a half in Berlin with the White House advance team—the logistical experts, Secret Service agents, and press officials who went to the site of every presidential visit to make arrangements. All that I had to do in Berlin was find material. When I met the ranking American diplomat in Berlin, I assumed he would give me some.

A stocky man with thick glasses, the diplomat projected an anxious, distracted air throughout our conversation, as if the very prospect of a visit from Ronald Reagan made him nervous. The diplomat gave me quite specific instructions. Almost all of it was in the negative. He was full of ideas about what the President shouldn't say. The most left-leaning of all West Germans, the diplomat informed me, West Berliners were intellectually and politically sophisticated. The President would therefore have to watch himself. No chest-thumping. No Soviet-bashing. And no inflammatory statements about the Berlin Wall. West Berliners, the diplomat explained, had long ago gotten used to the structure that encircled them.

After I left the diplomat, several members of the advance team and I were given a flight over the city in a U.S. Army helicopter. Although all that remains of the wall these days are paving stones that show where it stood, in 1987 the structure dominated Berlin. Erected in 1961 to stanch the flow of East Germans seeking to escape the Communist system by fleeing to West Berlin, the wall, a dozen feet tall, completely encircled West Berlin. From the air, the wall seemed to separate two different modes of existence.

On one side of the wall lay movement, color, modern architecture, crowded sidewalks, traffic. On the other lay a kind of void. Buildings still exhibited pockmarks from shelling during the war. Cars appeared few and decrepit, pedestrians badly dressed. When he hovered over Spandau Prison, the rambling brick structure in which Rudolf Hess was still being detained, soldiers at East German guard posts beyond the prison stared up at us through binoculars, rifles over their shoulders. The wall itself, which from West Berlin had seemed a simple concrete structure, was revealed from the air as an intricate complex, the East Berlin side lined with guard posts, dog runs, and row upon row of barbed wire. The pilot drew our attention to pits of raked gravel. If an East German guard ever let anybody slip past him to escape to West Berlin, the pilot told us, the guard would find himself forced to explain the footprints to his commanding officer.

That evening, I broke away from the advance team to join a dozen Berliners for dinner. Our hosts were Dieter and Ingeborg Elz, who had retired to Berlin after Dieter completed his career at the World Bank in Washington, D.C. Although we had never met, we had friends in common, and the Elzes had offered to put on this dinner party to give me a feel for their city. They had invited Berliners of different walks of life and political outlooks—businessmen, academics, students, homemakers.

We chatted for a while about the weather, German wine, and the cost of housing in Berlin. Then I related what the diplomat told me, explaining that after my flight over the city that afternoon I found it difficult to believe. "Is it true?" I asked. "Have you gotten used to the wall?"

The Elzes and their guests glanced at each other uneasily. I thought I had proven myself just the sort of brash, tactless American the diplomat was afraid the President might seem. Then one man raised an arm and pointed. "My sister lives twenty miles in that direction," he said. "I haven't seen her in more than two decades. Do you think I can get used to that?" Another man spoke. Each morning on his way to work, he explained, he walked past a guard tower. Each morning, a soldier gazed down at him through binoculars. "That soldier and I speak the same language. We share the same history. But one of us is a zookeeper and the other is an animal, and I am never certain which is which."

Our hostess broke in. A gracious woman, she had suddenly grown angry. Her face was red. She made a fist with one hand and pounded it into the palm of the other. "If this man Gorbachev is serious with his talk of glasnost and perestroika," she said, "he can prove it. He can get rid of this wall."

Back at the White House I told Tony Dolan, then director of presidential speechwriting, that I intended to adapt Ingeborg Elz's comment, making a call to tear down the Berlin Wall the central passage in the speech. Tony took me across the street from the Old Executive Office Building to the West Wing to sell the idea to the director of communications, Tom Griscom. "The two of you thought you'd have to work real hard to keep me from saying no," Griscom now says. "But when you told me about the trip, particularly this point of learning from some Germans just how much they hated the wall, I thought to myself, 'You know, calling for the wall to be torn down—it might just work.'"

When I sat down to write, I'd like to be able to say, I found myself so inspired that the words simply came to me. It didn't happen that way. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall. I couldn't even get that right. In one draft I wrote, "Herr Gorbachev, bring down this wall," using "Herr" because I somehow thought that would please the President's German audience and "bring" because it was the only verb that came to mind. In the next draft I swapped "bring" for "take," writing, "Herr Gorbachev, take down this wall," as if that were some sort of improvement. By the end of the week I'd produced nothing but a first draft even I considered banal. I can still hear the clomp-clomp-clomp of Tony Dolan's cowboy boots as he walked down the hallway from his office to mine to toss that draft onto my desk.

"What's wrong with it?" I replied.

"I just told you. It's no good."

The following week I produced an acceptable draft. It needed work—the section on arms reductions, for instance, still had to be fleshed out—but it set out the main elements of the address, including the challenge to tear down the wall. On Friday, May 15, the speeches for the President's trip to Rome, Venice, and Berlin, including my draft, were forwarded to the President, and on Monday, May 18, the speechwriters joined him in the Oval Office. My speech was the last we discussed. Tom Griscom asked the President for his comments on my draft. The President replied simply that he liked it.

"Mr. President," I said, "I learned on the advance trip that your speech will be heard not only in West Berlin but throughout East Germany." Depending on weather conditions, I explained, radios would be able to pick up the speech as far east as Moscow itself. "Is there anything you'd like to say to people on the other side of the Berlin Wall?"

The President cocked his head and thought. "Well," he replied, "there's that passage about tearing down the wall. That wall has to come down. That's what I'd like to say to them."

I spent a couple of days attempting to improve the speech. I suppose I should admit that at one point I actually took "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" out, replacing it with the challenge, in German, to open the Brandenburg Gate, "Herr Gorbachev, machen Sie dieses Tor auf."

"What did you do that for?" Tony asked.

"You mean you don't get it?" I replied. "Since the audience will be German, the President should deliver his big line in German."

"Peter," Tony said, shaking his head, "when you're writing for the President of the United States, give him his big line in English." Tony put "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" right back in.

With three weeks to go before it was delivered, the speech was circulated to the State Department and the National Security Council. Both attempted to squelch it. The assistant secretary of state for Eastern European affairs challenged the speech by telephone. A senior member of the National Security Council staff protested the speech in memoranda. The ranking American diplomat in Berlin objected to the speech by cable. The draft was naïve. It would raise false hopes. It was clumsy. It was needlessly provocative. State and the NSC submitted their own alternate drafts—my journal records that there were no fewer than seven—including one written by the diplomat in Berlin. In each, the call to tear down the wall was missing.

Now in principle, State and the NSC had no objection to a call for the destruction of the wall. The draft the diplomat in Berlin submitted, for example, contained the line, "One day, this ugly wall will disappear." If the diplomat's line was acceptable, I wondered at first, what was wrong with mine? Then I looked at the diplomat's line once again. "One day?" One day the lion would lie down with the lamb, too, but you wouldn't want to hold your breath. "This ugly wall will disappear?" What did that mean? That the wall would just get up and slink off of its own accord? The wall would disappear only when the Soviets knocked it down or let somebody else knock it down for them, but "this ugly wall will disappear" ignored the question of human agency altogether. What State and the NSC were saying, in effect, was that the President could go ahead and issue a call for the destruction of the wall—but only if he employed language so vague and euphemistic that everybody could see right away he didn't mean it.

The week the President left for Europe, Tom Griscom began summoning me to his office each time State or the NSC submitted a new objection. Each time, Griscom had me tell him why I believed State and the NSC were wrong and the speech, as I'd written it, was right. When I reached Griscom's office on one occasion, I found Colin Powell, then deputy national security adviser, waiting for me. I was a 30-year-old who had never held a full-time job outside speechwriting. Powell was a decorated general. After listening to Powell recite all the arguments against the speech in his accustomed forceful manner, however, I heard myself reciting all the arguments in favor of the speech in an equally forceful manner. I could scarcely believe my own tone of voice. Powell looked a little taken aback himself.

A few days before the President was to leave for Europe, Tom Griscom received a call from the chief of staff, Howard Baker, asking Griscom to step down the hall to his office. "I walked in and it was Senator Baker [Baker had served in the Senate before becoming chief of staff] and the secretary of state—just the two of them." Secretary of State George Shultz now objected to the speech. "He said, 'I really think that line about tearing down the wall is going to be an affront to Mr. Gorbachev,'" Griscom recalls. "I told him the speech would put a marker out there. 'Mr. Secretary,' I said, 'The President has commented on this particular line and he's comfortable with it. And I can promise you that this line will reverberate.' The secretary of state clearly was not happy, but he accepted it. I think that closed the subject."

When the traveling party reached Italy (I remained in Washington), the secretary of state objected to the speech once again, this time to deputy chief of staff Kenneth Duberstein. "Shultz thought the line was too tough on Gorbachev," Duberstein says. On June 5, Duberstein sat the President down in the garden of the estate in which he was staying, briefed him on the objections to the speech, then handed him a copy of the speech, asking him to reread the central passage.

Reagan asked Duberstein's advice. Duberstein replied that he thought the line about tearing down the wall sounded good. "But I told him, 'You're President, so you get to decide.' And then," Duberstein recalls, "he got that wonderful, knowing smile on his face, and he said, 'Let's leave it in.'"

The day the President arrived in Berlin, State and NSC submitted yet another alternate draft. "They were still at it on the very morning of the speech," says Tony Dolan. "I'll never forget it." Yet in the limousine on the way to the Berlin Wall, the President told Duberstein he was determined to deliver the controversial line. Reagan smiled. "The boys at State are going to kill me," he said, "but it's the right thing to do."

Not long ago, Otto Bammel, a retired diplomat, told me what he had witnessed in November 1989, some two-and-a-half years after President Reagan delivered the Brandenburg Gate address. Representing the government of West Germany, Bammel was living with his wife and two sons, both of whom were in their early twenties, in an East Berlin home just a few hundred yards from the wall. During the evening of November 9, as the East German state council met in emergency session—a few days earlier there had been peaceful but massive demonstrations throughout East Berlin—Bammel and his oldest son, Karsten, watched television as an East German official held a press conference.

"It was so boring," Bammel said, "that I finally couldn't take any more. So I said, 'Karsten, you listen to the rest. I'm going into the kitchen for something to eat.' Ten minutes later Karsten came to me and said, 'The official just announced everyone can go through the wall! It's a decision made by the state council!' I didn't believe this could happen. It was an unbelievable event." Certain that his son had somehow misunderstood, Bammel took his wife to the home of a neighbor, where they were expected for dinner.

"When we got back at midnight we saw that our boys were still out," Bammel continued. "And we were surprised that there were so many cars driving within the city, but where the traffic goes and why it was, we did not know. We went to bed. When we got up at seven o'clock the next morning, we saw a piece of paper on our kitchen table from our youngest boy, Jens, telling us, 'I crossed the wall. I jumped over the wall at the Brandenburg Gate with my friends. I took my East Berlin friends with me.'

"I said to my wife, 'Something is wrong.' Without eating we took our bicycles and went to the border. And that was the first time we saw what happened in the night. There were people crossing the border on foot and in cars and on bicycles and motorbikes. It was just overwhelming. Nobody expected it. Nobody had the idea that it could happen. The joy about this event was just overwhelming all other thoughts. This was so joyful and so unbelievable."

There is a school of thought that Ronald Reagan only managed to look good because he had clever writers putting words in his mouth. But Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Bob Dole, and Bill Clinton all had clever writers.

Why was there only one Great Communicator?

Because Ronald Reagan's writers were never attempting to fabricate an image, just to produce work that measured up to the standard Reagan himself had already established. His policies were plain. He had been articulating them for decades—until he became President he wrote most of his material himself.

When I heard Frau Elz say that Gorbachev should get rid of the wall, I knew instantly that the President would have responded to her remark. And when the State Department and National Security Council tried to block my draft by submitting alternate drafts, they weakened their own case. Their speeches were drab. They were bureaucratic. They lacked conviction. The people who wrote them had not stolen, as I had, from Frau Elz—and from Ronald Reagan.

Peter Robinson, an author and former White House speechwriter, is a Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. In 1983 Robinson joined President Ronald Reagan's staff, serving almost five years as speechwriter and special assistant to the President, an experience he recounts in his 2003 book, How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life. Robinson provided the chief executive with more than 300 speeches, including the 1987 Berlin Wall address.


June 15, 1940

Nazis invade Paris Britain will fight on if France quits

The main armies of France fell back June 14 far below abandoned, German-invaded Paris in fighting retreat that by be their last movement of the war.

Other forces far to the east were declared to have thrown back, with “tremendous losses,” a German head-on attack against the Maginot Line.

All but broken under the mightiest assault ever thrown against men, the Poilus who fought the main battle of France counter-attacked with a desperate fury as they retired under the Nazi pressure.

The did not even know whether their command could continue the struggle.

Paris, from which the government long since had fled, was gone – occupied by Germans and ringed by their armored units and infantrymen.

Tours, the new emergency seat of the ministers from which Premier Reynaud sent a “last appeal” to President Roosevelt last night for American aid, was being abandoned for yet another refuge – presumably the far southern seaport of Bordeaux….

Front page of the Wilmington Morning News from June 15, 1940. (Photo: The News Journal/delawareonline.com archives, Delaware News Journal)

This “blackest week in history” for Britain and France drew from officials circles today the dogged assertion that “whatever happens Britain will fight on” against Nazi Germany, while press and radio turned eager, speculative eyes on “the prospects of American intervention.”

Confronted with the fall of Paris hard in the wake of Italy’s entry into the war as a foe of the Allies, the British flung open their war chest to make immediate purchases of everything needed to prosecute the conflict….


Contents

The "tear down this wall" speech was not the first time Reagan had addressed the issue of the Berlin Wall. In a visit to West Berlin in June 1982, he stated, "I'd like to ask the Soviet leaders one question [. ] Why is the wall there?". [4] In 1986, 25 years after the construction of the wall, in response to West German newspaper Bild-Zeitung asking when he thought the wall could be removed, Reagan said, "I call upon those responsible to dismantle it [today]". [5]

On the day before Reagan's 1987 visit, 50,000 people had demonstrated against the presence of the American president in West Berlin. The city saw the largest police deployment in its history after World War II. [6] During the visit itself, wide swaths of Berlin were closed off to prevent further anti-Reagan protests. The district of Kreuzberg, in particular, was targeted in this respect, with movement throughout this portion of the city in effect restrained completely (for instance the subway line 1 was shut down). [7] About those demonstrators, Reagan said at the end of his speech: "I wonder if they ever asked themselves that if they should have the kind of government they apparently seek, no one would ever be able to do what they are doing again".

The speech drew controversy within the Reagan administration, with several senior staffers and aides advising against the phrase, saying anything that might cause further East-West tensions or potential embarrassment to Gorbachev, with whom President Reagan had built a good relationship, should be omitted. American officials in West Germany and presidential speechwriters, including Peter Robinson, thought otherwise. According to an account by Robinson, he traveled to West Germany to inspect potential speech venues, and gained an overall sense that the majority of West Berliners opposed the wall. Despite getting little support for suggesting Reagan demand the wall's removal, Robinson kept the phrase in the speech text. On Monday, May 18, 1987, President Reagan met with his speechwriters and responded to the speech by saying, "I thought it was a good, solid draft." White House Chief of Staff Howard Baker objected, saying it sounded "extreme" and "unpresidential", and Deputy U.S. National Security Advisor Colin Powell agreed. Nevertheless, Reagan liked the passage, saying, "I think we'll leave it in." [8]

Chief speechwriter Anthony Dolan gives another account of the line's origins, however, attributing it directly to Reagan. In an article published in The Wall Street Journal in November 2009, Dolan gives a detailed account of how in an Oval Office meeting that was prior to Robinson's draft Reagan came up with the line on his own. He records impressions of his own reaction and Robinson's at the time. [9] This led to a friendly exchange of letters between Robinson and Dolan over their differing accounts, which The Wall Street Journal published. [10] [11]

Arriving in Berlin on Friday, June 12, 1987, President and Mrs. Reagan were taken to the Reichstag, where they viewed the wall from a balcony. [12] Reagan then made his speech at the Brandenburg Gate at 2:00 p.m., in front of two panes of bulletproof glass. [13] Among the spectators were West German President Richard von Weizsäcker, Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and West Berlin Mayor Eberhard Diepgen. [12] The current title of the speech comes from Reagan's rhetorical demand of Gorbachev and the Soviet Union:

We welcome change and openness for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall! [14]

Later on in his speech, President Reagan said, "As I looked out a moment ago from the Reichstag, that embodiment of German unity, I noticed words crudely spray-painted upon the wall, perhaps by a young Berliner, 'This wall will fall. Beliefs become reality.' Yes, across Europe, this wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom." [14]

Another highlight of the speech was Reagan's call to end the arms race with his reference to the Soviets' SS-20 nuclear weapons, and the possibility "not merely of limiting the growth of arms, but of eliminating, for the first time, an entire class of nuclear weapons from the face of the earth."

The speech received "relatively little coverage from the media", Time magazine wrote 20 years later. [15] John Kornblum, senior US diplomat in Berlin at the time of Reagan's speech, and US Ambassador to Germany from 1997 to 2001, said "[The speech] wasn't really elevated to its current status until 1989, after the wall came down." [12] East Germany's communist rulers were not impressed, dismissing the speech as "an absurd demonstration by a cold warrior", as later recalled by Politburo member Günter Schabowski. [16] The Soviet press agency TASS accused Reagan of giving an "openly provocative, war-mongering speech." [13]

Former West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl said he would never forget standing near Reagan when he challenged Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall. "He was a stroke of luck for the world, especially for Europe." [17]

In an interview, Reagan claimed that the East German police did not allow people to come close to the wall, which prevented the citizens from experiencing the speech at all. [15] The fact that West German police acted in a similar way has, however seldom, been noted in accounts such as these. [7] [ citation needed ]

Peter Robinson, the White House speech writer who drafted the address, said that the phrase "tear down this wall" was inspired by a conversation with Ingeborg Elz of West Berlin in a conversation with Robinson, Elz remarked, "If this man Gorbachev is serious with his talk of Glasnost and perestroika he can prove it by getting rid of this wall." [18]

In a 2012 article in The Atlantic, Liam Hoare pointed to the many reasons for the tendency for American media to focus on the significance of this particular speech, without weighing the complexity of the events as they unfolded in both East and West Germany and the Soviet Union. [19]

Author James Mann disagreed with both critics like Hoare, who saw Reagan's speech as having no real effect, and those who praised the speech as key to shaking Soviet confidence. In a 2007 opinion article in The New York Times, he put the speech in the context of previous Reagan overtures to the Soviet Union, such as the Reykjavik summit of the previous year, which had very nearly resulted in an agreement to eliminate American and Soviet nuclear weapons entirely. He characterized the speech as a way for Reagan to assuage his right-wing critics that he was still tough on communism, while also extending a renewed invitation to Gorbachev to work together to create "the vastly more relaxed climate in which the Soviets sat on their hands when the wall came down." Mann claimed that Reagan "wasn't trying to land a knockout blow on the Soviet regime, nor was he engaging in mere political theater. He was instead doing something else on that damp day in Berlin 20 years [before Mann's article] – he was helping to set the terms for the end of the cold war." [20]

In 2019, a bronze statue of Reagan was unveiled near the site of the speech. [21]


Reagan to Gorbachev: ‘Tear down this wall’!

The wall was erected in 1961 to separate the communist, Russian-backed East from the democratic, western-supported West Berlin.

East Germany's government described it as an “anti-fascist protective wall” – but its true purpose was to stop citizens of the German Democratic Republic fleeing to the West via the West Berlin exclave.

Travel between the two halves of the city was strictly controlled and heavily restricted. Reagan used his speech to call on the Eastern Bloc to allow “the Eastern and Western parts of the city closer together.”

Reagan’s visit in 1987 was his second in five years, and was originally meant to be an uneventful stop on the way back to the US from a G7 meeting in Venice.

And he wasn't exactly a welcome guest.

Over 50,000 west Berliners demonstrated against Reagan’s visit the day before he arrived. The western district of Kreuzberg was locked down, with the U1 metro line being closed on the day of his arrival.

Nevertheless, Reagan gave his stirring speech calling for freedom to return to Germany at 2pm – although it was from behind two panes of bulletproof glass to protect him from Eastern snipers.

“We come to Berlin, we American presidents, because it's our duty to speak, in this place, of freedom,” he began.

He depicted the Berlin Wall as the visible symbol of the massive Iron Curtain of borders and armed forces that divided Europe through the Cold War, saying that „every man is a Berliner“ when confronted with the evidence at the Brandenburg Gate.

He called West Berlin “a city that once again ranks among the greatest on Earth” – in part thanks to the US Marshall Plan that helped rebuild Germany and Europe starting in 1947.

Contrasting it with the moribund East Germany that surrounded it, he welcomed the budding changes in the Soviet Union that had followed Gorbachev's coming to power.

“Now the Soviets themselves may, in a limited way, be coming to understand the importance of freedom,” he said.

But the time was ripe for a further exhortation to change.

“General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate!

“Mr Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

Looking out from the Reichstag building earlier in the day, Reagan said, he had seen graffiti – “crudely spray-painted upon the wall, perhaps by a young Berliner,” reading “This wall will fall. Beliefs become reality.”

“The wall cannot withstand freedom,” Reagan pronounced – and took the opportunity for a final jab at those who had demonstrated against his coming just the day before.

“I wonder if they have ever asked themselves that if they should have the kind of government they apparently seek, no-one would ever be able to do what they're doing again.”

Reagan later recalled that police on the other side were restraining throngs of East Berliners from approaching the Wall to hear his words.

But on the West side, he wrote, “I addressed tens and tens of thousands of people – stretching as far as I could see.

“I got a tremendous reception – interrupted 28 times by cheers.”

At the time, the speech didn't earn Reagan the garlands or achieve the impact that its valorisation since would suggest.

The Soviet TASS press agency called it “an openly provocative, war-mongering speech.”

And the American press didn't focus on the exhortation to remove the wall at the time, with many Americans completely unaware that the president had uttered those words – as TIME reported in 2007 on the 20th anniversary.

In fact, it was only with hindsight that the speech began to appear significant.

It took 29 more months for resistance among the East German population to the communist regime to finally reach boiling point and force the panicked government to open the gates.

East Germany – and the whole Eastern Bloc – had bigger, deeper reasons for collapsing than a punchy speech from a US president.

Nevertheless, reading Reagan's words again today exposes the fundamental differences of his policy from that of previous leaders.

He extended a hand to engage with a changing Soviet Union under Gorbachev where his predecessors had been stuck in an implacable confrontation.

If those two men had not been in the right place at the right time, who knows how many years longer the wall might have stood?


This week in history: Reagan tells Gorbachev, 'Tear down this wall!'

On June 12, 1987, U.S. President Ronald Reagan stood before the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin and challenged the Soviet Union and its general secretary, Mikhail Gorbachev, to tear down the Berlin Wall.

The Berlin Wall had been erected in 1961 in response to the Republikflucht (republic flight), the mass migration of East Germans to West Germany. Between the end of World War II in 1945 and the creation of the Berlin Wall in 1961, approximately 3.5 million East Germans escaped to the West. One of the easiest ways for East Germans to do this was simply to go to East Berlin, cross the street into West Berlin, then take a flight from Tempelhof airport to West Germany.

Most of the people who defected to the West were educated professionals, people who realized that they and their families could enjoy a much greater standard of living in the West, as well as the basic freedoms they had been denied. From the communist perspective, since these people had been educated at state expense, they were thieves who had stolen their education. Also, these people — doctors, engineers, architects and more — were essential to running a modern state. East Germany found it hard to replace these professionals and found it deeply humiliating that its society's most educated people rejected the communist system and fled West in droves.

Throughout the 1950s the problem became increasingly serious for the East German government and, by extension, the Soviet Union, which dominated the smaller communist nation. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev constantly spoke to U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower about the need for a permanent peace treaty with Germany (a permanent peace treaty officially ending World War II would not be signed between the U.S. and Germany until 1991). Theoretically, such a treaty would hand West Berlin to the East German state and end the defections.

Eisenhower's position, and John F. Kennedy's after him, was that the United States was not occupying West Berlin by leave of the German people or East German government. Rather, Americans had fought and died to defeat Nazism in World War II, and the U.S. was justly administering its portion of Berlin in line with the wartime agreements with the Soviets, the French and the British. The United States was determined to protect West Berliners from the spread of an unjust communist system.

With no permanent solution in sight, Khrushchev and the East German chancellor, Walter Ulbricht, built the Berlin Wall to physically prevent East German residents from crossing into the West and freedom. In 1963, Kennedy visited Berlin and pointed out the stark contrast in standards of living and liberty that existed on the east and the west sides of the wall. The city became a visible example of the moral and literal poverty of the communist system.

By the 1980s, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe were in a state of economic decline. Standards of living had been higher in the 1960s than they were 20 years later. After the death of a number of Soviet leaders due to age, the Soviet politburo turned to 54-year-old Mikhail Gorbachev, the first Soviet leader born after the 1917 Russian Revolution and the first since Vladimir Lenin to have a college education.

Gorbachev was given a mandate by the Politburo to find a way to make the communist economy dynamic and improve standards of living. To this end he introduced two new policies: glasnost (openness), which called for greater transparency in the Soviet government, and perestroika (restructuring), which called for more liberal economic policies designed to jump-start the Soviet economy. These policies were not intended to destroy the communist system, or transition it into a capitalist economy, but rather to buoy up traditional Marxist-Leninist economics.

First elected to the White House in 1980, Reagan took a hard line against communism and the Soviet Union. In a 1983 speech to the National Association of Evangelicals, he called the Soviet Union a “dark and evil empire.” But he didn't just spout rhetoric Reagan actively supported Afghanistan’s mujahedeen fighters with weapons in their war against the Soviets and gave aid to anti-communists in central America. When a pro-communist coup toppled the moderate government in the Caribbean island nation of Grenada, United States forces invaded and restored freedom.

Reagan and Gorbachev first met during a summit in Geneva, Switzerland, in November 1985. They met again a year later in Reykjavík, Iceland, and together agreed on certain arms-control measures. Many of Reagan’s advisers, and many of his constituents, feared that perhaps the president was taking a softer line on communism. Reagan’s anti-communist rhetoric had indeed toned down, and even British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher feared that Reagan was giving up too much to the Soviets. After all, the agreements Reagan and Gorbachev made dealt with nuclear weapons and did not address the large Soviet conventional forces in Eastern Europe.

Reagan therefore felt the need to shore up his base and remind the anti-communists back home and U.S. allies that he still stood firmly against the Soviet Union. In 1987 he traveled to a G-7 Summit in Venice, Italy, and received an invitation from the West German government to speak in West Berlin, commemorating the city's 750th anniversary. In his book “Reagan: The Life,” biographer H.W. Brands wrote:

“(Reagan) insisted on reminding the world of the moral difference between the United States and the Soviet Union. (White House Chief of Staff) Howard Baker read a draft of the speech that included a challenge to Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall. Supposing the phrase to be the work of an overzealous speechwriter, Baker sought to strike it out. The State Department seconded his caution. 'But Reagan was tough on it,' Baker recalled. The language was the president’s, he learned. 'Those were Reagan's words.' And Reagan didn't want them tampered with. 'He said leave it in.'"

Reagan began the roughly 27-minute speech before the Brandenburg Gate, which was the most iconic landmark in the divided city, and cited Kennedy's 1963 visit. He then talked about the Marshall Plan, America's $13 billion postwar aid package to Europe, and cited Khrushchev's speech to the United Nations in which said, “We (the Soviets) will bury you (the West).” Reagan then addressed the modern political situation, with the apparent beginnings of liberalization in the Soviet Union:

“And now the Soviets themselves may, in a limited way, be coming to understand the importance of freedom. We hear much from Moscow about a new policy of reform and openness. Some political prisoners have been released. Certain foreign news broadcasts are no longer being jammed. Some economic enterprises have been permitted to operate with greater freedom from state control.”

Reagan noted that the West welcomed such changes, but he cautioned that perhaps their ultimate purpose was not to destroy the Soviet system but to strengthen it. He then stated that there was one thing the Soviets could do to send an undeniable message to the world about their desire to liberalize. In the speech's most stirring passage, Reagan said:

“General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

Reagan noted that the process would be difficult, but that the United States would help in any way it could. The speech then continued for several more minutes, with Reagan re-emphasizing the need for arms-control agreements and the importance of German unity. Reagan's direct challenge to Gorbachev, however, became the center, the moral gravity of the speech. Indeed, the phrase “tear down this wall!” placed the Soviet system's moral bankruptcy at center stage, and despite the Soviet media agency Tass' dismissal of the speech as unnecessary warmongering on Reagan's part, it forced Soviet leaders to face the hypocrisy of their policies.

Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan noted in her book “When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan”: “What a moment. Reagan found that as he stood near the wall and looked at it an anger welled within him, and he was certain it was reflected on his face. (I recently looked at a tape of the speech and realized it was true, his anger showed.)”

The Berlin Wall fell over two years later, in November 1989. Its destruction, and indeed that of the entire Eastern Bloc's communist system, resulted from many factors. There is no denying, however, the role that the West's moral leadership played during the Cold War and in those final, crucial years of the Soviet regime. Further, there is no denying Reagan's leadership. Like Abraham Lincoln over a century earlier, Reagan had the ability to cut to the moral heart of the matter, making the complex issues of the Cold War understandable to the common man and drawing a distinct contrast between the liberty of the Untied States and the despotism of the Soviet Union.


ྒྷ: Reagan Challenges Gorbachev to 'Tear Down This Wall'

On this day in 1987, in one of his most famous Cold War speeches, President Ronald Reagan challenges Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down” the Berlin Wall, a symbol of the repressive Communist era in a divided Germany.

In 1945, following Germany’s defeat in World War II, the nation’s capital, Berlin, was divided into four sections, with the Americans, British and French controlling the western region and the Soviets gaining power in the eastern region. In May 1949, the three western sections came together as the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), with the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) being established in October of that same year. In 1952, the border between the two countries was closed and by the following year East Germans were prosecuted if they left their country without permission. In August 1961, the Berlin Wall was erected by the East German government to prevent its citizens from escaping to the West. Between 1949 and the wall’s inception, it’s estimated that over 2.5 million East Germans fled to the West in search of a less repressive life.

With the wall as a backdrop, President Reagan declared to a West Berlin crowd in 1987, “There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace.” He then called upon his Soviet counterpart:

Reagan then went on to ask Gorbachev to undertake serious arms reduction talks with the United States.

Most listeners at the time viewed Reagan’s speech as a dramatic appeal to Gorbachev to renew negotiations on nuclear arms reductions. It was also a reminder that despite the Soviet leader’s public statements about a new relationship with the West, the U.S. wanted to see action taken to lessen Cold War tensions. Happily for Berliners, though, the speech also foreshadowed events to come: Two years later, on November 9, 1989, joyful East and West Germans did break down the infamous barrier between East and West Berlin. Germany was officially reunited on October 3, 1990.

Gorbachev, who had been in office since 1985, stepped down from his post as Soviet leader in 1991. Reagan, who served two terms as president, from 1981 to 1989, died on June 5, 2004, at age 93.


The speech that helped bring down the Berlin Wall

President Reagan acknowledges the crowd after his speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin, June 12, 1987. (© Ira Schwartz/AP Images)

“Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate.” So said President Reagan, addressing the Soviet general secretary at the Brandenburg Gate, near the Berlin Wall. “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

Reagan’s stark challenge to tear down the Berlin Wall gave shape to increasing international pressure on Moscow to make good on its promises of openness and reform. The wall, which had become a symbol of Soviet oppression, came down two years later, on November 9, 1989.

To honor the 30th anniversary of the end of the Berlin Wall, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo unveiled a statue of Ronald Reagan at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin during his visit to Germany this week.

Peter Robinson, who wrote Reagan’s “tear down this wall” line, said his team knew what tone worked for the president: clarity, a sense of vision and a moral purpose.

Robinson also knew that sometimes great speechwriting requires breaking rules and following your instincts. Robinson had been advised by numerous diplomats not to mention the Berlin Wall in the speech. In spite of the advice, he left the line “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” in every draft.


Reagan Speech: “Tear down this wall,” 1987

President Ronald Reagan’s “Tear Down This Wall” speech marked his visit to the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on June 12, 1987, following the G7 summit meeting in Venice. As Reagan spoke, his words were amplified to both sides of the Berlin Wall, reaching both East and West Germans. The President noted recent Soviet progress toward “a new policy of reform and openness,” but wondered, “Are these the beginnings of profound changes in the Soviet state? Or are they token gestures, intended to raise false hopes in the West, or to strengthen the Soviet system without changing it?” Reagan declared that the Berlin Wall offered the Soviets and their president, Mikhail Gorbachev, an opportunity to make a “sign” of their sincerity and “advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace.” The “sign” Reagan proposed was simple: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

A full transcript is available.

Excerpt

In the 1950s, Khrushchev predicted: “We will bury you.” But in the West today, we see a free world that has achieved a level of prosperity and well-being unprecedented in all human history. In the Communist world, we see failure, technological backwardness, declining standards of health, even want of the most basic kind--too little food. Even today, the Soviet Union still cannot feed itself. After these four decades, then, there stands before the entire world one great and inescapable conclusion: Freedom leads to prosperity. Freedom replaces the ancient hatreds among the nations with comity and peace. Freedom is the victor.

And now the Soviets themselves may, in a limited way, be coming to understand the importance of freedom. We hear much from Moscow about a new policy of reform and openness. Some political prisoners have been released. Certain foreign news broadcasts are no longer being jammed. Some economic enterprises have been permitted to operate with greater freedom from state control.

Are these the beginnings of profound changes in the Soviet state? Or are they token gestures, intended to raise false hopes in the West, or to strengthen the Soviet system without changing it? We welcome change and openness for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace.

General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

Ronald Reagan, “Tear Down this Wall” speech at the Brandenburg Gate of the Berlin Wall, West Berlin, June 12, 1987.


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Watch the video: Ronald Reagan: Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall! (December 2021).