Ronald Reagan, Speech at the Brandenburg Gate

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Ronald Reagan, Speech at the Brandenburg Gate (1987)
In 1987, President Reagan visited Berlin on the occasion of the city’s 750th anniversary. The visits of the British queen
and the president of France were meant to reaffirm the Allies’ commitment to the city’s freedom, a token statement
rather than a significant policy decision. Reagan, however, used the opportunity to summarize his administration’s
policies on intermediate nuclear weapons in Europe, on negotiations with the Soviet leadership, and on the changes
that were slowly emerging in the Soviet Union under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev.
No one expected Reagan to call on Gorbachev to take down the Berlin Wall. At the time, this speech appeared to be
one of the president’s dramatic moments. Little did the world know that within three years, the wall would be gone, as
would the Soviet Union itself. The text presented here is a draft prepared for the president by the staff of the National
Security Council. Although it was extensively reworked, the core statements and content remained unchanged.
President von Weizsäcker, 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 . . .
We come to Berlin, we American Presidents, because it is our duty to speak, in this place, of freedom. But I must
confess, we are drawn here by other things as well: By the feeling history in this city, more than 500 years older than
our own Nation. By the sense of energy in your streets. By the beauty of the Grunewald and the Tiergarten. Most of all
by your courage and friendship . . .
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 – that Berlin television can be seen as far to the southeast as Leipzig, as far to the
northeast as Gdansk, that Berlin radio can be picked up as far due east as Moscow.
To those listening throughout Eastern Europe, I extend my warmest greetings and the goodwill of the American people.
I address my remarks to you just as surely as to those standing here before me. For I join you as I join your fellow
countrymen in the West in this firm insistence: Es gibt nur ein Berlin [there is only one Berlin].
Behind me stands a wall that divides this city. To the west, there is another wall that divides the entire continent of
Europe. From the Baltic south it cuts across Germany in one continuous gash of concrete, barbed wire, guard towers,
dog runs, and gun emplacements . . .
President von Weizsäcker has said: The German question is open as long as the Brandenburg Gate is closed, as long as
this scar of a wall is permitted to stand, it is not the German question alone that remains open, but the question of
freedom for all mankind.
Yet I do not come here to lament. For I find in Berlin a message of hope – even, in the shadow of this wall, a message
of triumph.
In this season of spring in 1945, the people of Berlin emerged from their air-raid shelters to find devastation.
Thousands of miles away, the people of the United States reached out to help. In announcing the Marshall Plan,
Secretary of State George Marshall stated precisely 40 years again this week: “Our policy is directed not against any
country or doctrine, but against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos.” . . .
From devastation – from utter ruin – you Berliners have in freedom rebuilt a city that once again ranks as one of the
greatest on Earth. The Soviet may have had other plans . . .
In the 1960’s, 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. The
Soviet Union still cannot feed itself. East Germany has made strides, but at harvest time the news announcers still
speak, to use the well-known phrase, of “the battle to bring in the crops.”
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After these four decades, then, there stands before the entire world one great and inescapable conclusion: Freedom
replaces the ancient hatreds among the nations with comity, peace, and well-being.
Now the Soviets themselves may at last, in their own way, be coming to understand the importance of freedom. We
hear much from Moscow about a new policy of reform and openness. Some political prisoners have been released.
Some foreign news broadcasts are no longer being jammed. Some economic enterprises have been permitted to
operate with greater autonomy.
Are these the beginning of profound changes in the Soviet state? Or are they token gestures, intended to strengthen
the Soviet system without changing it? We welcome real change and real openness. For we believe 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
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. Herr Gorbachev, machen Sie dieses Tor auf! [Mr. Gorbachev, open this
gate!] Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.
I understand the fear of war and pain of division that afflict this continent. And I pledge to you my country’s efforts to
help overcome this burden or we in the West must resist Soviet expansion. So we must maintain defenses of
unassailable strength. Yet I seek peace and we must strive to reduce arms on both sides.
Beginning ten years ago, the Soviets challenged the Western Alliance with a grave new threat: hundreds of new and
deadly nuclear missiles – the triple-warhead SS 20 – capable of striking every capital in Europe. The Western Alliance
responded by committing itself to a counter-deployment unless the Soviets agree to negotiate a better solution –
namely the elimination of such weapons on both sides. For many months, the Soviet refused to bargain in earnestness.
As the Alliance in turn prepared to go forward with its counter-deployment, there were difficult days – days of protests
like those during my 1982 visit to this city – and the Soviets actually walked away from the table.
But through it all, the Alliance held firm. And I invite those who protested then – I invite those who protest today – to
mark this fact: Because we remained firm, the Soviets cam back to the table. Because we remained strong, today we
have within reach the possibility, not merely of limiting the growth of arms, but of eliminating for the first time, an
entire class of nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth.
As I speak, NATO ministers are meeting in Iceland to review the progress of our proposals for the complete elimination
of intermediate-range nuclear forces. At the talks in Geneva, we have also proposed deep cuts in strategic forces. And
the Western Allies have made far-reaching proposals to reduce the danger of conventional war, and to place a total ban
on chemical weapons.
While we pursue these arms reductions, I pledge to you that we will maintain the capacity to deter Soviet aggression
at any level at which it might occur. And in cooperation with many of our Allies, the United States is pursuing a
Strategic Defense Initiative – research that seeks to base deterrence not on the threat of offensive retaliation, but on
defenses that truly defend; on systems, in short, that will protect human lives instead of targeting them.
By these means we seek to make Europe – and the world – safer. But we must remember a crucial fact: East and West
do not mistrust each other because we are armed; we are armed because we mistrust each other. And our basic
differences are not about weapons but about freedom.
Despite all the pressures upon this city, Berlin stands as a shining example of that freedom. And today, freedom itself
is transforming the globe . . .
Copyright © 2009 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.

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