It was 25 years on June12, 1987, that President Ronald Reagan delivered his historical speech in Berlin, Germany. Reagan stood at the Berlin Wall with the full weight of the Western world upon his shoulders. He addressed the crowd assembled before him at 2 p.m. The message, however, was directed to one man on the other side. When he arrived at the now famous part of his speech, the bold challenge reverberated throughout the world.
“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.”
What many remember about that part of Reagan’s speech was its tone, the certainty at which he laid down his challenge to his soviet counterpart. Hours before he was to give his speech, he stood on a balcony from the Reichstag to catch a glimpse of Soviet controlled, East Berlin. He was appalled at the dilapidated buildings and the dreariness of the atmosphere as compared to West Berlin, which was democratic, prosperous and free. More importantly, however, Reagan was frustrated upon hearing that Soviet police forced people away from the wall to keep them from hearing the speech. It is said from those acquainted with the moment that Reagan was influenced deeply by those few minutes.
Still many today do not know that these words were almost never said. In the world of diplomats and bureaucrats, the status-quo is always preferable to the unknown. Some within the Reagan administration thought the statements were needlessly provocative since the Berlin Wall would be standing for decades to come. “Containment” was the policy of the US since the Cold War began. Reagan, though, had little use for containment and instead preferred to challenge the Soviet Union into a moral debate on freedom and human destiny.
Earlier this year, I was very fortunate to meet President Reagan’s chief speechwriter for eight-years, Anthony R. Dolan. I asked him about that famous speech. Mr. Dolan recalled every detail as if it happened yesterday. I finally asked him about Reagan the person, why was he successful in foreign policy when so many during that time disagreed. He told me that Reagan was a strange hybrid. He always sought the ideal while being a realist at heart. To him Reagan was not so much as challenging the Soviets; he was inviting them.
Mr Dolan wrote in 2009 for the Wall Street Journal, “Accordingly, Reagan spoke formally and repeatedly of deploying against criminal regimes the one weapon they fear more than military or economic sanction: the publicly-spoken truth about their moral absurdity, their ontological weakness. This was the sort of moral confrontation, as countless dissidents and resisters have noted, that makes these regimes conciliatory, precisely because it heartens those whom they fear most–their own oppressed people.”
Reagan knew the spoken-word matched with truth would tear down any wall.