Reagan at ‘this wall’

Thirty-two years ago this Thursday, President Ronald Reagan challenged the Soviet Union’s Mikhail Gorbachev to take a giant step toward peace and freedom by tearing “down this wall.”

“This wall,” of course, was the infamous Berlin Wall, erected in 1961 at the height of the Cold War. It was a symbol of the imprisonment, the enslavement of the people of East Germany. Citizens of East Berlin could not travel to West Berlin to work or visit friends or family. The wall divided the city.

Reagan and Gorbachev had engaged in strategic arms limitations talks for several years. In Gorbachev, Reagan felt he had seen a different sort of Soviet leader — one who would entertain reductions of nuclear arms, one who might liberalize life for the wretched citizens of Eastern Europe.

On June 12, 1987, Reagan kept the pressure on the Soviet leader by traveling to the Brandenburg Gate of the wall and speaking:

“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. . . .

“There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. . . 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. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

Of course, the wall did not come tumbling down the next day. But two years later in 1989, the gate was opened and the citizens of Berlin tore down the wall. Germany was reunified in 1990.

The Soviet Union fell and the scourge of communism was cleansed from Eastern Europe.

(Source for speech quotes: www.historyplace.com/speeches/reagan-tear-down.htm)

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.


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