Tuesday marks the 25th anniversary of one of Ronald Reagan’s finest moments — the day he urged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down” the Berlin Wall in an iconic speech made in front of the city’s Brandenburg Gate.
His words, “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” have entered history as perhaps the most famous words America’s 40th president uttered during his eight years in office.
But the anniversary of the June 12, 1987 speech went largely unnoticed with no ceremonies planned.
Reagan’s own advisers told him he should not include the line, the president’s son Michael Reagan tells Newsmax in an exclusive interview. They felt that Gorbachev was making progress with his reforms in Moscow and adding incendiary words to the speech could hinder his efforts.
Michael Reagan said that the National Security Council sent a memo signed by each of its members, 10 days before the speech was due to be made. “We have read the speech and at best it is mediocre,” the memo read. “It’s certainly a missed opportunity.”
Editor's Note: Reagan: Shocking New Truth about Berlin Wall Speech– See Video.
The memo then suggested several changes, including deleting the “tear down this wall” line. “There would be eight more memos from all different areas of the administration sent prior to that speech, x-ing out that part,” added Michael Reagan.
But the president ignored them and even ad-libbed a line he read from graffiti sprayed on the western side of the wall. “This wall will fall. Beliefs become reality.”
Two years later the Wall fell — “not because Mr. Gorbachev tore it down, but because he did nothing at all,” The New York Times
points out in an article about the anniversary printed Tuesday.
Michael Reagan said the speech marked the culmination of his father’s battle against communism that started as president of the Screen Actors’ Guild and continued through the 1960s and ‘70s before he became president in 1980.
Once in the White House, Reagan shocked his advisers by saying “freedom and democracy will leave Marxism and Leninism on the ash heap of history," in a speech before Britain’s House of Commons on June 8 1982 and then the following year referring to the Soviet Union as “an evil empire,” in a speech to the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando, Fla.
Then in 1986 he walked away from the Reykjavik summit with Gorbachev over the Strategic Defense Initiative.
“There were people in his government who didn’t want him to speak like he did, who wanted him to sign off in Reykjavik,” said Michael Reagan.
“What is important to remember about Ronald Reagan is that he knew who his audience was when he spoke,” added his son. “When he spoke at the Brandenburg Gate there was an audience in front of him in West Germany, but he was talking to the people behind him in East Germany. He was talking to them, the ones who were not enjoying freedom.”
Michael Reagan’s recollections were echoed by Ken Duberstein, who was deputy chief of staff at the time of the Berlin speech.
"The fear was that it was too provocative and that it would undermine Gorbachev's efforts at Glasnost and Perestroika," Duberstein, who rode with Reagan on the way to deliver the speech, told CBS News.
: Reagan: Shocking New Truth about Berlin Wall Speech– See Video.
"We were in the limousine on the way to the Brandenburg Gate and he was reviewing the speech text one last time," said Duberstein. "He was not using a teleprompter — he was using prepared remarks and paper.
“When he got to the section of the speech that was disputed by the State Department, he looked and me said, 'It's gonna drive the State Department boys crazy, but I'm gonna leave it in.'"
The New York Times said most Berliners today credit Gorbachev rather than Reagan for ending their city’s 28-year divide. But the Times says, “Surely some recognition should go to a president who had the good sense to ignore the advice he was given, and read the writing on the wall.”
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