Remembering the Berlin Wall

When we think of the Berlin Wall, we think of one man: Ronald Reagan. It was the American president who, on June 12, 1987, stood at the Brandenburg Gate and said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

Nov. 9, 2009

On the night of Nov. 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall came down. The wall was erected in 1961 and its purpose was unlike that of most other walls – it didn’t keep people out, it kept people in. Prior to 1961, 3.5 million East Germans escaped into West Germany to gain freedom. After the wall was built, thousands attempted to escape and more than 100 died doing so.

When we think of the Berlin Wall, we think of one man: Ronald Reagan. It was the American president who, on June 12, 1987, stood at the Brandenburg Gate and spoke these immortal words:

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!

Unlike today’s “leaders,” Reagan didn’t just use empty rhetoric. He backed up his call by being prepared to defend liberty. And two years after he spoke these words, the wall fell. Another two years later and the Soviet Union itself collapsed into the “ash-heap of history.”

As The Wall Street Journal summed up, “It is a tribute to Reagan’s moral and strategic determination, as it was to everyone else who played their part in bringing down the Wall, that they could see through the sophistries of Soviet propagandists, their Western fellow travelers, and the legions of moral equivocators and diplomatic finessers and simply look at the Wall.”