Tags: reagan | kennedy | berlin

Video: Reagan's 'Tear Down This Wall' Berlin Speech

Sunday, 08 Nov 2009 04:05 PM

By Mike Tighe

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The Berlin Wall evoked two of the more famous presidential quotes in U.S. history, right up there with Abraham Lincoln's "Four score and seven years ago," and Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "The only thing to fear is fear itself."

The emotionally charged quotes about the Berlin Wall came from speeches that John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan delivered in West Berlin nearly a quarter century apart, providing verbal bookends to the tortured existence the wall thrust upon Germans.

On June 26, 1963, Kennedy delivered what has come to be regarded as one of his best speeches, underscoring U.S. support for West Germany 22 months after the Soviet-supported Communist government of East Germany erected the wall.

Reagan upped the ante of that statement of solidarity on June 12, 1987, when he threw down the gauntlet to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev during his speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate, the main dividing marker between the Berlins:

"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!"

Later, Reagan would recall that speech, in a reflection posted on the Reagan library's Web site: "Our advance people had put up speakers aimed at East Berlin, hoping that my speech might be heard on the other side. I could see the East German police keeping people away so that they couldn’t hear. They simply don’t realize it’s going to take more than that to keep out the stirrings of freedom.

"There’s a couple sentences in this speech about tearing down the wall and opening the gate that I like quite a bit, and it actually makes the speech. I’m told that the State Department and the National Security Council thought the lines were too provocative.

"Just because our relationship with the Soviet Union is improving doesn’t mean we have to begin denying the truth. That is what got us into such a weak position with the Soviet Union in the first place. The line stayed and got quite a reaction from the crowd.”

In between Kennedy's exhortation and Reagan's challenge were years of angst and death, as nearly 200 people were slain as they tried to cross the no man's land that eventually earned the grim moniker of "death strip."

Until Nov. 9, 1989, when not Mr. Gorbachev, but the people themselves, began to tear down the wall, after the East German Parliament sealed the deal.

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