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During his two terms as president, Ronald Reagan sharply deviated from his predecessors’ commitment to peaceful coexistence with the Soviet Union. In his view, the communist nation was an "evil empire" that should be met with overwhelming resolve and a financially punishing arms race that only America could afford to win. In this speech, delivered at the Brandenburg Gate in West Germany, Reagan took stock of the cultural and political reforms being made in the Soviet Union by the new Soviet premier, Michael Gorbachev. According to Reagan, the changes were too little, too late. He pointed to the Berlin Wall that divided East and West Berlin and called out, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." This speech exemplified Reagan’s powerful speaking ability and his sharply defined view on foreign policy.
Consider what his definition of freedom for eastern Europeans entailed. How did the reality of life after communism’s fall in 1989 confirm or contradict Reagan’s expectations about life after the Berlin Wall was torn down?
Thank You very much. 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 his turn to Berlin. And today, I, myself, make my second visit to your city.
We come to Berlin, we American Presidents, because it is our duty to speak, in this place, of freedom. But I must confess, we’re drawn here by the other things as well: by the feeling of history in this city, more than 500 years older than your own nation; by the beauty of the Grunewald and the Teirgarten; most of all, by your courage and determination. Perhaps the composer, Paul Linke, 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 hoffer 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 in Eastern Europe, I extend my warmest greetings and good will of the American people. To those listening in Eastern Berlin, 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 you fellow countrymen in the West, in the 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 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 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 a 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….
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, tear down this wall!…
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 safer, 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 and 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 of central Europe….
In these four decades, as I have said, you Berliners have built a great city. You’ve done so 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 presence of this wall. What keeps you here? Certainly there is a great deal to be said about your fortitude, for your defiant courage. But I believe there’s something deeper, something that involves Berlin’s whole look and feel and the 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 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 even finds symbols of love and worship an affront. Years ago, before East Germans began rebuilding their churches, they erected a secular structure: the television tower of Alexander Platz. Virtually ever since, the authorities have been working to correct what they view is the tower’s one major flaw, threatening 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 a cross. There in Berlin, like the city itself, symbols of love, symbols of worship, cannot be suppressed.