Ronald Reagan’s “Tear Down This Wall” speech, given on June 12th, 1987, happened twenty-five years ago tomorrow.
Yes, a quarter century has passed since Reagan implored Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev of the Berlin Wall dividing East and West Germany to “tear down this wall” in an impassioned speech at the Brandenberg Gate near the Wall.
Historically, the “tear down this wall” speech became one of the most if not the most notable of Reagan’s career, and in context, the President said:
“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, Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!
While some, like Gorbachev, dismiss the oration as a bit of useless theater, the Wall Street Journal spoke to Dieter Elz, who said that for Germans, the “tear down this wall” speech was pivotal:
“Everyone was aware of the suffering in the East,” Dieter said, “but no one could see what to do about it. Reagan made us understand that maybe things could be different. Here is a piece of wall. Why not remove it? Reagan changed—how would you say it in English? In German, Bewusstsein. Consciousness? Yes. He changed our consciousness.”
Ultimately, the “tear down this wall” speech did embolden East Germans, and after protest, the wall’s dismantling began in November of 1989.