Thirty years ago today, on June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan delivered a speech made in West Berlin calling for the leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, to open up the barrier which had divided West and East Berlin since 1961.
It is largely remembered for one line: “Tear down this wall!”
The address received relatively little media coverage at the time in the Western media although the reaction from the other side of the Iron Curtain was somewhat fierce.
East German Politburo member Günter Schabowski reportedly considered the speech to be “absurd” and the Soviet press agency TASS accused Reagan of giving an “openly provocative, war-mongering speech.”
The communists claimed that the Berlin Wall was erected to protect its population from fascist elements conspiring to prevent the “will of the people” in building a socialist state in East Germany.
In practice, the Berlin Wall served to prevent the massive emigration and defection that had marked East Germany and the Eastern Bloc during the post-World War II period and it stood as a symbol of representing the denial of freedom.
In 1989, a series of revolutions in nearby Eastern Bloc countries—Poland and Hungary in particular—caused a chain reaction in East Germany that ultimately resulted in the demise of the Wall.
After several weeks of civil unrest, the East German government announced on November 9, 1989 that all citizens could visit West Germany and West Berlin.
When the end came, two years later, the message was revived.
On June 6, 1987, David Bowie played a concert close to the Wall. Although other factors were influential in the story, the German Foreign Office tweeted at the time of his death, “Good-bye, David Bowie. You are now among #Heroes. Thank you for helping to bring down the #wall.”
On July 19, 1988, 16 months before the Wall came down, Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band, played Rocking the Wall, a live concert in East-Berlin, which was attended by 300,000 in person and broadcast delayed on television.
Springsteen spoke in German, telling the crowd: “I’m not here for or against any government. I’ve come to play rock ‘n’ roll for you in the hope that one day all the barriers will be torn down.”
Reagan was no rock ‘n roller, but his words were very much on the same note:
“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!”
Some Americans no longer believe that freedom and security go together, as the land of the free and home of the brave has transformed itself into a nation of fear and panic, where simpletons want to build a massive wall along our southern border to keep out immigrants.
They ignore the fact that net immigration has been near zero for about a decade. They ignore the fact that most immigrants who are here without authorization came in legally and merely stayed after their original visa expired. They ignore the fact that immigration is a useful for our economy and largely immaterial to our national defense.
America has no wall along its southern border or in the north. We And as do not have a travel ban that prevents people from one particular religion from entering our country. Instead, we have strong institutions that defy attempts to lock in our citizens and prohibit freedom.
Liberty and justice are in danger, but hope is alive. I believe that more and more people are going to stop chanting “Build The Wall.” As evidence emerges about ethical conflicts, abuses of power and cover ups, maybe those chants will be replaced by another familiar refrain: “Lock Him Up!”
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